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Busbee v. Clark

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

August 28, 2019

KELLY M. CLARK Defendant.


          Timothy M. Cain United States District Judge

         This matter is before the court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (ECF No. 12) and Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees (ECF No. 15). Defendant is represented by counsel while the Plaintiff proceeds pro se. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g), D.S.C., this matter was referred to a magistrate judge for pretrial handling. Before the court is the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report”), which recommends that the court grant Plaintiff's Motion to Remand and deny Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees. (ECF No. 26). The magistrate judge notified the parties of their right to file objections to the Report. Id. at 21. Defendant filed timely objections to the Report. (ECF No. 29). Plaintiff did not file objections to the Report but filed a response to Defendant's objections (ECF No. 30). Accordingly, the matter is now ripe for review.

         The report has no presumptive weight and the responsibility to make a final determination in this matter remains with this court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261-71 (1976). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which a specific objection is made, and the court may accept, reject, modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the magistrate judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C § 636(b)(1). In the absence of objections, this court is not required to provide an explanation for adopting the Report. See Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983). Rather, “in the absence of a timely filed objection, a district court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a summons and complaint in the Oconee County Court of Common Pleas on April 9, 2019, alleging a state law claim for defamation. (ECF No. 1-1 at 3 - 7). Thereafter, Plaintiff served the summons and complaint on Defendant through the Oconee County Sheriff's Office on April 14, 2019. (ECF No. 10-1). Defendant filed its Notice of Removal (ECF No. 1) with this court on April 24, 2019, on diversity jurisdiction grounds.

         The court issued an Order to Show Cause (ECF No. 8), dated April 29, 2019, directing Defendant to explain why the case should not be remanded to state court. On May 2, 2019, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand, arguing that the elements of diversity jurisdiction as laid out in 28 U.S.C § 1332 are not met in this case due to Defendant being a South Carolina resident and the amount in controversy being less than $75, 000. (ECF No. 12). On May 7, 2019, Defendant replied to Plaintiff's Motion to Remand, arguing that diversity jurisdiction is warranted because Defendant is a resident of Florida and the amount in controversy is $150, 000. (ECF No. 19). On May 13, 2019, Plaintiff filed a reply to Defendant's response (ECF No. 24).


         A. Diversity

         District courts enjoy “original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of all interest and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different states.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332. This statute requires complete diversity. Cent. W.Va. Energy Co., Inc. v. Mountain State Carbon, LLC, 636 F.3d 101, 103 (4th Cir. 2011).

         To satisfy the complete diversity requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 1332, “the citizenship of every plaintiff must be different from the citizenship of every defendant.” Id. “To be a citizen of a State, a person must be both a citizen of the United States and a domiciliary of that State.” Id. “Domicile requires physical presence, coupled with an intent to make the State a home.” Id. As one court noted, “it is quite settled that mere residence in a state is not enough for purposes of diversity, and that the more elusive concept of ‘domicile' is controlling.” Miller v. Lee, 241 F.Supp. 19, 22 (W.D.S.C. 1965); see also Johnson v. Advance Am., 549 F.3d 932, 937 n.2 (4th Cir. 2008) (holding residency is not sufficient to establish citizenship). When a party's citizenship is in question, a court must consider several factors to accurately determine citizenship including voter registration, location of property, location of current residence, bank accounts, church affiliation, place of employment, and location where taxes are paid. Scott v. Cricket Commc'ns, LLC, 865 F.3d 189, 195 (4th Cir. 2017).

         In her Report, the magistrate judge determined that the Defendant is a South Carolina resident because Defendant owns and occupies a residence in South Carolina, participates in community meetings in South Carolina, pays utility bills in South Carolina, drives South Carolina registered vehicles, and pays taxes in South Carolina. (ECF No. 26 at 9). Additionally, the Report notes that despite the Defendant stating otherwise, due to the Defendant's choice to participate in community meetings and discussions in her South Carolina residential community, the Defendant appeared to have an intent to be domiciled in South Carolina. Id. at 10.

         Defendant filed objections to the Report. (ECF No. 26). Most of Defendant's objections are nonresponsive to the Report and simply reiterate the claims and facts that were already considered by the magistrate judge. Defendant does object, however, to the magistrate judge's determination that Defendant is domiciled in South Carolina. (ECF No. 29 at 3). Specifically, Defendant argues that she is not domiciled in South Carolina because she has a Florida driver's license, owns land in Florida, has not claimed preferential tax treatment for her lot in South Carolina, has vehicles registered in Florida, receives her pet's medication from a veterinarian in Florida, and has a Florida address[1] for many important documents. Id. at 2-3. Moreover, Defendant maintains that Plaintiff has failed to present sufficient evidence that Defendant intended to change her Florida domicile, noting that “mere absence from a fixed home, however long continued” does not constitute a change in domicile. (ECF No. 29 at 1-2).

         In response, Plaintiff argues that Defendant has had no residence other than her home in Oconee County, South Carolina, since 2016. (ECF Nos. 12-2 at 2; 30 at 2). Plaintiff further contends that the Defendant maintains connections to Florida merely for income tax advantages and that this Florida address is nothing more than a mail-forwarding service run out of a retail outlet, found at 411 Walnut Street #11017, Green Cove Springs, FL 32043. (ECF No. 12-2 at 2).

         District courts must construe the removal statute strictly against removal because removing a case from state court implicates “significant federalism concerns.” Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., Inc., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994) (citing Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108-09 (1941)); see also Cheshire v. Coca-Cola Bottling Affiliated, Inc., 758 F.Supp. 1098, 1102 (D.S.C. 1990) (holding strict interpretation of the removal statute calls for any doubts about federal jurisdiction being resolved against removal, with the case being remanded to state court). Defendant has not contested the assertion that the redacted address is in fact not an established Florida residence. Indeed, the evidence reflects that the Defendant has no “fixed home” or place of abode in Florida. At ...

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