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Stephen Moore v. City of Philadelphia

August 29, 2012

STEPHEN MOORE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, OFFICER LARRY SHIELDS, HAKIM MUHAMMAD, ANGELA MUHAMMAD, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Buckwalter, S.J.

MEMORANDUM

Currently pending before the Court is the Motion to Remand by Plaintiff Stephen Moore. For the following reasons, the Motion is denied.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On June 21, 2012, Plaintiff Stephen Moore commenced this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County against Defendants City of Philadelphia, Police Officer Larry Shields, and Hakim and Angel Muhammad, husband and wife (the "Muhammads"). The Complaint generally alleged that, on November 11, 2011, the Muhammads placed a 911 call to Philadelphia police falsely claiming that there was criminal activity at Plaintiff's home. (Compl. ¶ 10.) Responding to the call, Officer Shields entered Plaintiff's home, where Plaintiff was lawfully present, and shot him one time. (Id. ¶¶ 11--17.) In connection with these events, the Complaint set forth claims of assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of federal civil rights against Officer Moore. (Id. ¶¶ 40--55.) Further, it alleged a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Philadelphia. (Id. ¶ 56--71.) Finally, it raised claims of malicious prosecution, invasion of privacy, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, negligence per se, and trespass against the Muhammads. (Id. ¶¶ 72--111.)

Defendants City of Philadelphia and Officer Shields ("Removing Defendants") were served with the Complaint on June 27, 2012. (Pl.'s Mot. to Remand, Ex. 1.) Thereafter, on July 16, 2012, the Muhammads were personally served with the Complaint at their residence. (Id.) On July 6, 2012, after service of the Complaint on the Removing Defendants, but prior to service on the Muhammads, the Removing Defendants filed a Notice of Removal under 28 U.S.C. § 1441. (Id., Ex. 2.)

On August 2, 2012, Plaintiff filed the current Motion to Remand to State Court. The Removing Defendants responded on August 7, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Reply Brief on August 8, 2012, and the Removing Defendants filed Sur-reply Briefs on August 13, 2012. This Motion is now ripe for judicial consideration.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), "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 or defendants, 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). A defendant seeking removal of an action must file a petition for removal with the district court within thirty days of plaintiff's service of the complaint upon defendant. See 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b). The notice of removal must be signed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 and contain "a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal, together with a copy of all process, pleadings, and orders served upon such defendant or defendants in such action." Id. § 1446(a).

Once an action is removed, a plaintiff may challenge removal by moving to remand the case back to state court. Cook v. Soft Sheen Carson, Inc., No. Civ.A.08-1542, 2008 WL 4606305, at *1 (D.N.J. Oct. 15, 2008). Remand to the state court is appropriate for "(1) lack of district court subject matter jurisdiction or (2) a defect in the removal process." PAS v. Travelers Ins. Co., 7 F.3d 329, 352 (3d Cir. 1993). If the court determines that it lacks federal subject matter jurisdiction, remand is mandatory and can occur at any time during the litigation. Kimmel v. DeGasperi, No. Civ.A.00-143, 2000 WL 420639, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 7, 2000) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c)). A motion to remand the case on the basis of any defect in the removal procedure, however, must be submitted within thirty days after filing of the notice of removal under section 1446(a). 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c); N. Penn Water Auth. v. Bae Sys. Aerospace Elec., Inc., No. Civ.A.04-5030, 2005 WL 1279091, at *5 (E.D. Pa. May 25, 2005). "Upon a motion to remand, it is always the removing party's burden to prove the propriety of removal, and any doubts about the existence of federal jurisdiction must be resolved in favor of remand." Lumbermans Mut. Cas. Co. v. Fishman, No. Civ.A.99-929, 1999 WL 744016, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Sep. 22, 1999) (citing Batoff v. State Farm Ins. Co., 977 F.2d 848, 851 (3d Cir. 1992)); see also Boyer v. Snap-On Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir. 1990) (holding that the removal statutes "are to be strictly construed against removal and all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand") (quoting Steel Valley Auth. v. Union Switch & Signal Div., 809 F.2d 1006, 1010 (3d Cir. 1987)).

III. DISCUSSION

Via the current Motion, Plaintiff argues that two procedural defects exist in Removing Defendants' Notice of Removal. First, he claims that the Removing Defendants did not specifically identify the basis for removal, as required by statute. Second, he contends that because the Muhammads neither joined in nor consented to removal, Removing Defendants failed to satisfy the "unanimity rule."

The Court finds no merit to Plaintiff's first argument. It is well-established that, "[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The Notice of Removal, in this case, stated that "[t]his action may be removed to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 because the plaintiff's Complaint contains allegations of violations of his Federal Civil Rights and because he seeks relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983." (Pl.'s Mot. to Remand, Ex. 2 ¶ 5.) Such language clearly and unambiguously indicates Removing Defendants intent to invoke this Court's original jurisdiction under § 1331 as the basis for removal. As 28 U.S.C. § 1446 requires only a "short and plain statement of the grounds for removal," the Court finds no deficiency in the Notice of Removal on this ground.

As to Plaintiff's second argument regarding the unanimity rule, the analysis is somewhat more involved. The right to remove a case from state to federal court is vested exclusively in "the defendant or defendants." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Section 1446, which governs removal, "has been construed to require that when there is more than one defendant, all must join in the removal petition." Lewis v. Rego Co., 757 F.2d 66, 68 (3d Cir. 1985); Granovsky v. Pfizer, Inc., 631 F. Supp. 2d 554, 559 (D.N.J. 2009). This requirement that all defendants agree to the removal is known as the "unanimity rule." Balazik v. Cnty. of Dauphin, 44 F.3d 209, 213 & n.4 (3d Cir. 1995). Unanimity may be expressed by defendants either jointly filing the notice of removal or consenting to the removal by separate filing. Weinrach v. White Metal Rolling & Stamping Corp., No. Civ.A.98-3293, 1999 WL 46627, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 6, 1999). "While courts generally do not require all defendants to sign the removal petition itself, most courts have required some form of unambiguous written evidence of consent to the court in timely fashion." Michaels v. New Jersey, No. Civ.A.96-3557, 1996 WL 787613, at *5 (D.N.J. Nov. 8, 1996) (emphasis in original).

Three well-established exceptions to the unanimity rule exist: (1) where a non-joining defendant is an unknown or nominal party; (2) where a defendant has been fraudulently joined; or (3) when a non-resident defendant has not been served at the time the removing defendants filed their petition (the "non-service exception"). Balazik, 44 F.3d at 213 n. 4 (citing McManus v. Glassman's Wynnefield, Inc., 710 F. Supp. 1043, 1045, n.5 (E.D. Pa. 1989)). As originally formulated, the third exception-and the only one potentially applicable to the present case-encompassed two distinct prongs. Specifically, the defendant whose consent was not obtained must have both (1) not been served at the time removal, and (2) been a non-resident. Id.; Lewis, 757 F.2d at 68; see also Reed v. Flemming Foods East, Inc., No. Civ.A.99-109, 1999 WL 111468 at *1 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 3, 1999) ("One such exception arises when a non-resident defendant has not been served the ...


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