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SANDERS v. AFSCME

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania


August 16, 2004.

STACY SANDERS and TYRONE SANDERS, Plaintiffs,
v.
AFSCME and PHILADELPHIA HOUSING AUTHORITY, Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBERT KELLY, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Presently before this Court is the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment filed by Philadelphia Housing Authority. In examining the Motion and Plaintiffs' Response thereto, it is evident that federal question subject matter jurisdiction is lacking in this case. Since this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the action will be dismissed without prejudice. As a result of the dismissal, Philadelphia Housing Authority's Motion will be denied as moot.

I. BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff, Stacy Sanders, has brought this action against her former employer, Philadelphia Housing Authority ("PHA"), and her former union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 47 and Local 2187 ("AFSCME").*fn1 Stacy Sanders' lawsuit arises out of the termination of her employment with PHA for the alleged falsification of her mileage reports. In general, Stacy Sanders premises her lawsuit against PHA upon the allegation that it discriminated against her on the basis of her union membership and activity. As for the claims asserted against AFSCME, they arise out of its representation and handling of Stacy Sanders' unemployment and arbitration proceedings.

  On or about January 30, 2004, Plaintiffs commenced an action against AFSCME and PHA in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, Civil Action No. 004191 (January Term 2004). (Notice of Removal, at 1). On May 15, 2004, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. (Id. at 2). The Amended Complaint included the following causes of action against AFSCME: Count I — negligent misrepresentation under Pennsylvania law; Count II — intentional misrepresentation under Pennsylvania law; Count III — unjust enrichment under Pennsylvania law; Count IV — negligence; and Count V — loss of consortium. (Am. Compl.) As for the causes of action against PHA, the Amended Complaint included the following two counts: Count VI — breach of the collective bargaining agreement and Count VII — violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn2 (Id.).

  Relying upon the addition of the Section 1983 claim to the Amended Complaint, PHA, with the consent of AFSCME, removed the action from the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (Notice of Removal, at 1). The Notice of Removal states that "[b]ased on Count VII [violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983] of Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, this action is being removed to this Court pursuant to federal question and supplemental jurisdiction."*fn3 (Id. at 2). That is, Defendants asserted that "[t]his Court . . . has federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1441" because "[o]n its face, Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint alleges conduct prohibited by the Constitution and laws of the United States, in particular, the Fourteenth Amendment and Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act." (Id. at 2-3).

  After the action was removed to this Court, PHA filed the instant Motion and Memorandum of Law pertaining to the dismissal of Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint or in the alternative request for summary judgment. PHA's Motion seeks its dismissal from this action by arguing that Plaintiffs' two claims against it, Count VI — breach of the collective bargaining agreement and Count VII — violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, fail as a matter of law. Plaintiffs filed a Response to the Motion on July 20, 2004. Plaintiffs' Response asserts that PHA should not be dismissed from the case because their Count VI — breach of the collective bargaining agreement is a viable claim against PHA. Regarding Count VII — violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiffs voluntarily withdrew this Count from their Amended Complaint. (Pls.' Resp. PHA' Mot. Dismiss or in the Alternative Mot. for Summ. J. at 6). According to Plaintiffs, they withdrew their Section 1983 claim in light of their utilization of the administrative proceedings set forth in the collective bargaining agreement because "existing and binding authority hold[s] that a public employee's due process rights are protected and fulfilled where an employer has in place a grievance procedure and that procedure is followed." (Id.).

  II. DISCUSSION

  The withdrawal of Plaintiffs' Section 1983 claim is significant in this federal action because it is the only claim in the Amended Complaint upon which federal subject matter jurisdiction is premised.*fn4 (See Notice of Removal). Thus, the only remaining claims are state law claims.*fn5 Since only state law claims remain, I find that this Court lacks federal subject matter jurisdiction over this action. Consequently, the case will be dismissed without prejudice so that Plaintiffs may pursue their claims in the appropriate state forum. Based upon the dismissal, I will not address the merits of PHA's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment and the Motion will be denied as moot.

  "Federal courts are courts of limited subject matter jurisdiction." Stadler v. McCullouch, 949 F. Supp. 311, 313 (E.D. Pa. 1996). "They have subject matter jurisdiction over two general types of actions — those arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States, commonly known as federal question cases, and those arising between citizens of different states, commonly known as diversity jurisdiction cases." (Id.) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1332). "[F]ederal courts have an ever-present obligation to satisfy themselves of their subject matter jurisdiction and to decide the issue sua sponte." Mertz v. Houstoun, 155 F. Supp.2d 415, 420 (E.D. Pa. 2001) (quoting Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ward Trucking Corp., 48 F.3d 742, 750 (3d Cir. 1995)) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 12(h)(3) ("Whenever it appears by suggestion of the parties or otherwise that the court lacks jurisdiction of the subject matter, the court shall dismiss the action.").

  As this Court has discussed above, Plaintiffs' withdrawal of their Section 1983 claim results in the dismissal of the sole claim over which this Court has original jurisdiction. Accordingly, only state law claims remain in this action. "Case law supports declining supplemental jurisdiction when federal claims have been dismissed." Goodwin v. Seven-Up Bottling Co. of Phila., No. 96-2301, 1996 WL 601683, at *5 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 18, 1996) (citation and footnote omitted). "[W]here the claim over which the district court has original jurisdiction is dismissed before trial, the district court must decline to decide the pendent state claims unless considerations of judicial economy, convenience, and fairness to the parties provide an affirmative justification for doing so." Hedges v. Musco, 204 F.3d 109, 123 (3d Cir. 2000) (quotation and internal quotation marks omitted).

  In the instant case, the sole federal claim was withdrawn in the initial stages of the litigation. The claim was withdrawn before any discovery was conducted, and well before trial. As a result, the considerations of judicial economy and fairness to the parties favor dismissal. Another issue to be addressed is that all of the parties to the litigation are residents of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; therefore, the consideration of convenience to the parties also favors dismissal. Since Plaintiffs' Section 1983 claim was withdrawn so early in this litigation, and due to the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania residency of all of the parties, the considerations of judicial economy, convenience, and fairness to the parties do not provide an affirmative justification for this Court's exercise of supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims. Consequently, I decline to decide Plaintiffs' pendent state claims. Since there is no independent basis for retaining jurisdiction over the state law claims, this action is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.*fn6 The action is dismissed without prejudice, so that Plaintiffs may pursue their claims in the appropriate state court.

  An appropriate Order follows.

  ORDER

  AND NOW, this 16 th day of August, 2004, in accordance with the accompanying Memorandum Opinion, it is hereby ORDERED that:

1. the Amended Complaint is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE for lack of subject matter jurisdiction; and
2. the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment filed by Philadelphia Housing Authority (Doc. No. 2) is DENIED AS MOOT.


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