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City of Greensburg v. Wisneski

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 8, 2015

CITY OF GREENSBURG, Plaintiff,
v.
Edward WISNESKI et al., Defendants

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For CITY OF GREENSBURG, a municipal corporation, Plaintiff: Bernard T. McArdle, LEAD ATTORNEY, Greensburg, PA.

For EDWARD WISNESKI, an individual, ROBERT M. OWSIANY, an individual, Defendants: Robert M. Owsiany, LEAD ATTORNEY, Pittsburgh, PA.

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MEMORANDUM OPINION

Joy Flowers Conti, Chief United States District Judge.

I. Introduction

This memorandum opinion addresses the motion to remand to state court (ECF No. 8) filed by plaintiff City of Greensburg (" Greensburg" ). Greensburg filed a three-count complaint in state court against defendants Edward Wisneski (" Wisneski" ) and his counsel, Robert M. Owsiany (" Owsiany" and together with Wisneski " Defendants" ). That lawsuit was timely removed by Defendants to this court. Greensburg asserts three state-law claims relating to an unsuccessful lawsuit brought by Wisneski against Greensburg in this court. The state-law claims are abuse of process (count 1); wrongful use of civil proceedings under 42 PA. CONS. STAT. § § 8351-54, sometimes called the Dragonetti Act (count 2); and civil conspiracy (count 3). In the unsuccessful federal lawsuit, Wisneski asserted only federal civil rights claims against Greensburg. Wisneski v. Denning, Civil No. 12-864. Wisneski had sued Greensburg and individual Greensburg police officers for excessive use of force and for failure to adequately train police officers. Owsiany represented Wisneski in that federal lawsuit. The federal district court granted a motion for summary judgment filed by Greensburg and the other defendants and entered judgment for them and against Wisneski. In this case, Greensburg asserts, among other things, that the underlying lawsuit was frivolous and brought for the improper purpose of " intimidating" Greensburg and seeking a " ransom" settlement. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 45-46.) Greensburg seeks money damages including the recovery of attorney's fees and costs expended defending the underlying suit.

Greensburg moved to remand the case to state court. On December 9, 2014, the court held a hearing on this motion.

II. Legal Standards for Removal and Remand

A defendant may remove a civil action from state court to federal district court when the federal court has original jurisdiction over the action and removal is not expressly prohibited by statute. 28 U.S.C. § 1441. The removing party has the " heavy burden of showing that at all stages of the litigation the case is properly before the federal court." Brown v. Jevic, 575 F.3d 322, 326 (3d Cir. 2009). " If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction,"

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the court must remand the case to state court. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). " Removal statutes are to be strictly construed, with all doubts to be resolved in favor of remand." Brown, 575 F.3d at 326.

III. Discussion

The parties agree that the court cannot exercise diversity jurisdiction over this case. Defendants claim federal-question jurisdiction as the basis for removal. District courts have federal-question jurisdiction over " all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Under § 1331, a civil action can " aris[e] under" federal law in two ways. Primarily, " a case arises under federal law when federal law creates the cause of action asserted." Gunn v. Minton, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1064, 185 L.Ed.2d 72 (2013). The " vast bulk" of federal-question suits fall under this rule. Id. The Supreme Court has also identified a " slim category" of state-law causes of action that nevertheless give rise to federal-question jurisdiction. Id. at 1065.

In determining whether a case arises under federal law for the purpose of removal, courts follow the " 'well-pleaded complaint' rule." Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 9, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 77 L.Ed.2d 420 (1983). Under this doctrine, " a defendant may not remove a case to federal court unless the plaintiff's complaint establishes that the case 'arises under' federal law." Id. at 10. In this case, the three claims in Greensburg's complaint arise under state law. The abuse of process and civil conspiracy claims are raised under Pennsylvania common law. The Dragonetti Act count is a Pennsylvania statutory claim. On the face of the complaint, there are no claims created by federal law.

Whether this case falls into the " slim category" of state-law claims that give rise to federal jurisdiction is a difficult question. The Supreme Court acknowledged a lack of clarity about this issue and compared the relevant case law to a Jackson Pollock painting. Gunn, 133 S.Ct. at 1065. The two most recent Supreme Court decisions addressing this issue, Grable & Sons Metal Prods. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 125 S.Ct. 2363, 162 L.Ed.2d 257 (2005), and Gunn, have brought more definition to the contours of this category. For federal jurisdiction to lie over a state-law cause of action, the state-law claim must " necessarily raise a stated federal issue, actually disputed and substantial, which a federal forum may entertain without disturbing any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities." Grable, 545 U.S. at 314. This means that " federal jurisdiction over a state law claim will lie if a federal issue is: (1) necessarily raised, (2) actually disputed, (3) substantial, and (4) capable of resolution in federal court without disrupting the federal-state balance approved by Congress." Gunn, 133 S.Ct. at 1065. These factors will be addressed in turn.

A. Necessarily Raised

A federal issue is necessarily raised " where the vindication of a right under state law necessarily turn[s] on some construction of federal law." Franchise Tax Bd., 463 U.S. at 9. In Gunn, the Supreme Court found that a state-law legal malpractice claim necessarily raised a federal issue. Gunn, 133 S.Ct. at 1065. The underlying suit was a federal patent infringement case. In order to prevail in the malpractice suit, the plaintiff had to prove that the attorney's breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff 's injury. This " case within a case" analysis

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would require the application of federal patent law to determine whether the plaintiff would have prevailed in the patent infringement case had the attorney not ...


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