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Funderburk v. South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

June 14, 2019

Sharon Funderburk and Thomas Funderburk, Plaintiffs,
v.
South Carolina Electric & Gas Company, The County of Lexington, SC, and CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendants. John P. Cantwell, Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, The County of Lexington, SC, and CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendants. Robert Sherr and Kristi Sherr, Plaintiffs,
v.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, The County of Lexington, SC, and CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendants. Harry Crosby, Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, The County of Lexington, SC, and CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendants. Leonard Anderson and Karen Anderson, Plaintiffs,
v.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, The County of Lexington, SC, and CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendants. Carol Bausinger and Scott Bausinger, Plaintiffs,
v.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, The County of Lexington, SC, and CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendants. Richard Miranda and Dorothy Miranda, Plaintiffs,
v.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, The County of Lexington, SC, and CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendants. Calvin Nesbit and Jane Nesbit, Plaintiffs,
v.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, The County of Lexington, SC, and CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendants. Harry A. Plexico, Jr. and Margaret S. Plexico, Plaintiffs,
v.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, The County of Lexington, SC, and CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendants. Carlo J. Seigfried, Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, The County of Lexington, SC, and CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendants. Faron Warwick and Dana Warwick, Plaintiffs,
v.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, The County of Lexington, SC, and CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendants. Jeanne West, Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, The County of Lexington, SC, and CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendants. Warren Boyeson and Christine M. Boyeson, Plaintiffs,
v.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, The County of Lexington, SC, and CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendants. Karl Hagenmeyer and Willette Hagenmeyer, Plaintiffs,
v.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, The County of Lexington, SC, and CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendants. Lucas J. Snyder and Lesley M. Snyder, Plaintiffs,
v.
South Carolina Electric and Gas and The County of Lexington, South Carolina, Defendants. Demario Benjamin and Kerochedia Amaker, Plaintiffs,
v.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, The County of Lexington, SC, and CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendants. Ann Dennis, Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, The County of Lexington, SC, and CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendants. Richard Green, Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, The County of Lexington, SC, and CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Plaintiffs filed these now consolidated actions seeking monetary compensation from Defendants South Carolina Electric and Gas Company (“SCE&G”), The County of Lexington, SC (“Lexington County), and CSX Transportation, Inc. (“CSX”) for the damage caused to their homes by flood water released from Lake Murray Reservoir in October 2015.

         This matter is before the court pursuant to Plaintiffs' Motions to Remand their cases to the Lexington County (South Carolina) Court of Common Pleas. (3:15-cv-04660-JMC, ECF No. 171; 3:15-cv-04694-JMC, ECF No. 155; 3:15-cv-04695-JMC, ECF No. 154; 3:15-cv-04877-JMC, ECF No. 154; 3:15-cv-04887-JMC, ECF No. 155; 3:15-cv-04888-JMC, ECF No. 153; 3:15-cv-04892-JMC, ECF No. 154; 3:15-cv-04893-JMC, ECF No. 153; 3:15-cv-04894-JMC, ECF No. 153; 3:15-cv-04896-JMC, ECF No. 153; 3:15-cv-04897-JMC, ECF No. 154; 3:15-cv-04898-JMC, ECF No. 154; 3:15-cv-04920-JMC, ECF No. 156; 3:15-cv-04922-JMC, ECF No. 155; 3:15-cv-04926-JMC, ECF No. 132; 3:16-cv-01141-JMC, ECF No. 149; 3:16-cv-01142-JMC, ECF No. 158; 3:16-cv-01143-JMC, ECF No. 149.[1]) Defendants Lexington County and CSX oppose the Motions to Remand and ask the court to retain jurisdiction. (3:15-cv-04660-JMC, ECF Nos. 184, 187.) For the reasons set forth below, the court DENIES Plaintiffs' Motions to Remand.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND OF PENDING MOTIONS

         On or about April 15, 2016, the court entered an Order denying Plaintiffs' earlier-filed Motions to Remand. (3:15-cv-04660-JMC, ECF No. 17.) In the April 15, 2016 Order, the court made the following observations in affirming that it possessed subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' claims:

Plaintiffs have not identified any source for the duty of care owed by SCE&G to properly manage and operate the Lake Murray Dam other than a “license” and “governmental regulations.” However, under the artful pleading doctrine, a plaintiff may not defeat removal by omitting necessary federal questions. Franchise Tax Bd., 463 U.S. at 22. In this case, Plaintiffs' attempt to avoid reference to federal law through artful pleading is not compelling since the FERC “set[s] the appropriate duty of care for dam operators.” Simmons v. Sabine River Auth. La., 732 F.3d at 476-77 (citing 16 U.S.C. § 803(c) (“[T]he licensee . . . shall conform to such rules and regulations as the Commission may from time to time prescribe.”)).
As a result, the court finds that the only currently ascertainable source of a duty of care for Plaintiffs' negligence claim against SCE&G for its maintenance and operation of the Lake Murray Dam stems from its status as a licensed FERC project, thereby subjecting SCE&G to the rules and regulations of the FPA and the FERC. See 16 U.S.C. § 797(e); see also 18 C.F.R. § 12.1. Therefore, in any assessment of the merits of Plaintiffs' claim for negligence regarding the maintenance and operation of the Lake Murray Dam, the terms of SCE&G's FERC license, in conjunction with the relevant laws, rules, and regulations provided by the FPA and the FERC, are federal issues necessarily raised in the claim.

(3:15-cv-04660-JMC, ECF No. 17 at 11.)

         During the course of the litigation of these matters, Plaintiffs filed Second Amended Complaints on January 16, 2019, asserting individual claims of negligence, inverse condemnation, trespass, strict liability, and nuisance against SCE&G, CSX, and Lexington County. (3:15-cv-04660-JMC, ECF No. 132.) Then on May 30, 2019, the parties stipulated and/or consented “to the dismissal with prejudice of all claims” against SCE&G pursuant to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (3:15-cv-04660-JMC, ECF No. 159 at 1.) Thereafter, on June 6, 2019, Plaintiffs filed the instant Motions to Remand wherein they argue that the cases should be remanded because there is no federal subject matter jurisdiction over their claims against CSX and Lexington County. (3:15-cv-04660-JMC, ECF No. 171 at 4.) On June 12, 2019, Defendants filed opposition to Plaintiffs' Motions to Remand. (3:15-cv-04660-JMC, ECF Nos. 184, 187.)

         The court considers the merits of Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand below.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A federal court should remand a previously removed case if federal jurisdiction is doubtful. See, e.g., Mulchaey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994); Marshall v. Manville Sales Corp., 6 F.3d 229, 232 (4th Cir. 1993) (noting Congress's “clear intention to restrict removal and to resolve all doubts about the propriety of removal in favor of retained state court jurisdiction”). 28 U.S.C. § 1331 provides that federal district courts “have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” To determine whether an action presents a federal question under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, courts look to the allegations in the plaintiff's well-pleaded complaint to determine whether the action “arises under” federal law or the United States Constitution.[2] Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 9-10 (1983). In cases where federal law creates the cause of action, the courts of the United States unquestionably have federal subject matter jurisdiction. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 808-09 (1986).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. The Parties' Arguments

         1. ...


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