United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on plaintiff Elizabeth Cox's
(“Cox”) motion to remand, ECF No. 7. For the
reasons set forth below, the court grants the motion to
brought this action against her former employer, Bishop
England High School (“Bishop England”), after she
was fired over a political post she made to her Facebook
page. In addition to Bishop England, Cox named as defendants
Patrick Finneran, the school's principal, and four
unknown defendants (collectively, together with Bishop
England, “defendants”) to represent those
individuals who own and operate the school and/or were
involved in the decision to discharge Cox. On July 8, 2019,
Cox filed this action in the Berkeley County Court of Common
Pleas. ECF No. 1-1.
alleges two causes of action against the defendants. Her
first cause of action alleges that Cox was wrongfully
terminated. As part of that claim, Cox asserts that her
discharge was wrongful because it was done in violation of
S.C. Code Ann. § 16-17-560, a criminal statute.
Cox's second cause of action alleges that defendants
breached her employment contract. Both claims arise under
August 6, 2019, defendants removed this action to this court.
ECF No. 1. On August 13, 2019, Cox filed the instant motion
to remand. ECF No. 7. On August 26, 2019, defendants
responded to the motion, ECF No. 16, to which Cox replied on
August 28, 2019, ECF No. 18. This motion is ripe for review.
Defendants have several other motions currently pending with
the court, including a motion to dismiss, ECF No. 4, a motion
for default judgment, ECF No. 11, and a second motion to
dismiss, ECF No. 15. Before the court can address those
motions, it must address whether it has the authority to do
courts are of constitutionally limited jurisdiction.
“The party seeking removal bears the burden of
demonstrating that removal jurisdiction is proper, ”
In re Blackwater Sec. Consulting, LLC, 460 F.3d 576,
583 (4th Cir. 2006), and doubts regarding the propriety of
removal are to be resolved in favor of retained state court
jurisdiction. Baxley v. Advance Auto Parts, Inc.,
2011 WL 586072 at *1 (D.S.C. Feb. 9, 2011) (citing
Marshall v. Manville Sales Corp., 6 F.3d 229, 232
(4th Cir. 1993)).
any civil action brought in a state court of which the
district courts of the United States have original
jurisdiction may be removed by the defendant to the district
court of the United States for the district and division
embracing the place where such action is pending. 28 U.S.C.
§ 1441(a). Original jurisdiction exists where a claim
arises from federal law, see 28 U.S.C. § 1331,
or where the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value
of $75, 000 and the claim is between citizen of different
states, see 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
argue that the court has federal jurisdiction over each of
Cox's claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Although
defendants concede that Cox's claims do not “arise
under” federal law in the traditional sense, they rely
on a narrow exception that confers federal jurisdiction to
state law claims where those claims necessarily involve a
substantial question of federal law. For the reasons
discussed below, neither of Cox's claims fit into this
narrow exception. Thus, because Cox's claims neither
arise under federal law nor necessarily raise a substantial
question of federal law, the court is without jurisdiction
and remand is necessary.
Wrongful Discharge Claim
argue that this court has original jurisdiction over
Cox's wrongful discharge claim under 28 U.S.C. §
1331 because the claim raises a substantial question of
federal law and necessarily cannot be resolved without the
adjudication of federal rights. The wrongful discharge claim
necessitates resolution of a substantial federal issue,
defendants argue, because it potentially infringes on their
own federal rights under the United States Constitution. In
other words, federal law is implicated by the defendants'
constitutional defense. Defendants' contention misses the
mark based on two well-settled principles of law. First, a
wrongful discharge claim in South Carolina does not
necessarily raise a substantial question of federal law.
Second, claims that fail to receive federal jurisdiction
under 28 U.S.C § 1331 cannot be redeemed by the
assertion of a federal defense. By arguing otherwise,
defendants seek to complicate what is a straight- forward
application of the well-pleaded complaint rule. Put simply,
federal jurisdiction does not extend to Cox's wrongful
discharge claim because her right to relief does not arise
from federal law.
question jurisdiction extends to “all civil actions
arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the
United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. “Under
what has become known as the well-pleaded complaint rule, [28
U.S.C.] § 1331 federal question jurisdiction is limited
to actions in which the plaintiff's well-pleaded
complaint raises an issue of federal law . . . .”
In re Blackwater, 460 F.3d at 584 (4th Cir. 2006)
(citing Louisville & Nashville R.R. Co. v.
Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 152 (1908)). “The
[well-pleaded complaint] rule makes the plaintiff the ...