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Smith v. Newberry Township Police Department

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 5, 2014

DWAYNE SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
NEWBERRY TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

SUSAN E. SCHWAB, Magistrate Judge.

I. Introduction.

In this case, which was removed from state court, the plaintiff, Dwayne Smith, claims that the defendants violated his civil rights. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, and Smith moved to remand the case to state court on the basis that this Court does not have subject-matter jurisdiction. For the following reasons, we recommend that Smith's motion to remand for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction be denied, that the defendants' motion to dismiss the federal claims be granted, that the court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims, and that the state-law claims be remanded to the state court.

II. Background and Procedural History.

Smith began this action in the Court of Common Pleas of York County, Pennsylvania. He filed a complaint naming as defendants the Newberry Township Police Department, Chief John Snyder, Officer Jesse Bloom, and Officer Michael Bosco. Citing the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Rights of the Pennsylvania Constitution, Smith claims that the defendants violated his civil rights.

Smith alleges that Bloom and Bosco allowed a gang of ten people to stalk him, trespass on his property, and beat him. According to Smith, although the gang of ten started the events and should have been charged with crimes, they were not charged, but, rather, he was charged. Smith alleges that he was later found not guilty of all criminal charges. He contends that the police intimidated him, sided with his attackers, and did not conduct an appropriate investigation. He alleges that the Newberry Township Police Department should be held accountable because Chief Snyder did not look into anything and just went with whatever his officers told him. He complains about being sent to jail without a free phone call, and he contends that this violated the Bill of Rights. According to Smith, to this day the Newberry Township Police Department continues to harass and intimidate him. He is seeking monetary damages.

The defendants removed the case to this Court on the basis that this Court has federal-question jurisdiction because Smith is asserting a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The defendants then moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), for a more definite statement pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e), and to strike redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). Thereafter, contending that he did not claim a violation of the Fourth Amendment or mention 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in his complaint and that his reference to his civil rights was a reference to his rights under the Pennsylvania Constitution, Smith filed what we construe as motions to remand the case to state court on the basis that this Court does not have federal-question jurisdiction. We address the motions to remand and the motion to dismiss in this Report and Recommendation.

III. Motions To Remand.

Contending that he did not raise a federal claim in his complaint, Smith suggests that this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction and that, accordingly, this case must be remanded to the state court.

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, " Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994), and "they have only the power that is authorized by Article III of the Constitution and the statutes enacted by Congress pursuant thereto." Bender v. Williamsport Area School Dist., 475 U.S. 534, 541 (1986). The court has an obligation to satisfy itself that it has subject-matter jurisdiction. Nesbit v. Gears Unlimited, Inc., 347 F.3d 72, 77-78 (3d Cir. 2003). "If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). The party who removed the case to federal court bears the burden of showing that the court has subject-matter jurisdiction, and the removal statute is "strictly construed against removal." Sikirica v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 214, 219 (3d Cir. 2005).

Federal courts have federal-question jurisdiction over claims "arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. "An action arises' under federal law when the plaintiff's statement of his own cause of action shows that it is based upon [federal law].'" Shupp v. Reading Blue Mountain, 850 F.Supp.2d 490, 495 (M.D. Pa. 2012)(quoting Louisville & N.R. Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 152 (1908)). Removal on the basis of federal-question jurisdiction "generally requires that a federal question be presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint." Trans Penn Wax Corp. v. McCandless, 50 F.3d 217, 228 (3d Cir. 1995). "This well-pleaded complaint rule makes the plaintiff the master of the claim; he or she may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law.'" Trans Penn Wax Corp. v. McCandless, 50 F.3d 217, 228 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987)). "A plaintiff may not, however, plead around a federal question if the plaintiff's claim necessarily depends' on federal law." Shadie v. Aventis Pasteur, Inc., 254 F.Supp.2d 509, 516 (M.D.Pa. 2003). "Yet, the mere presence of a federal issue in a state cause of action does not automatically confer jurisdiction.'" Id. (quoting Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 813 (1986)). "Thus, federal courts may hear only those removed cases in which a well-pleaded complaint establishes either that federal law creates the cause of action or that the plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law.'" Id. (quoting Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 28 (1983)).

Here, the defendants contend that the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because, in his complaint, Smith alleges a violation of the Bill of Rights. Smith, on the other hand, contends that his complaint is based solely on state law and the Constitution of Pennsylvania. Although Smith now disavows any reliance on federal law, his complaint, although not a model of clarity, specifically cites the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution. Thus, we conclude that the complaint is based, at least in part, on federal law, and the Court, therefore, has federal-question jurisdiction.

Accordingly, we will recommend that Smith's motion to remand based on lack of ...


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