JERICHO BAPTIST CHURCH MINISTRIES, INC. Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant,
JOEL R. PEEBLES, SR et. al. Defendants/Counter-Plaintiffs/Third-Party Plaintiffs,
GLORIA McCLAM-MAGRUDER et al. Third-Party Defendants.
PETER J. MESSITTE, District Judge.
Third-Party Defendant Prince George's County removed this case from the Circuit Court for Prince George's County to this Court on September 5, 2013. On September 17, 2013, the Court issued an Order directing the parties to show cause as to why the case should not be remanded to state court based on possibly improper removal. The parties have filed their responses. For the reasons that follow, the Court REMANDS the case in its entirety to the Circuit Court for Prince George's County.
The lawsuit arises from an apparently longstanding dispute concerning the control and governance of Jericho Baptist Church Ministries ("the Church") located in Landover, Prince George's County, Maryland. On October 18, 2010, the Board of Trustees of the Church ("the Board") filed a Complaint in Prince George's County Circuit Court against Joel R. Peebles, Sr. and William Meadows, formerly associated with the Church, alleging that Peebles and Meadows were not trustees of the Church, but that they had nonetheless engaged in conduct seeking to establish their control of the Church. [Dkt. 2, 12] Peebles and Meadows responded with Counterclaims against both the Church and individual Board members, alleging that it was the members who were not in fact lawful members, and that they, not Peebles and Meadows, had unlawfully seized control of the Church. [Dkt. 15]
On October 24, 2011, the Circuit Court for Prince George's County granted summary judgment in favor of the Church, decreeing that the existing Board members were indeed the lawful Board of the Church, and permanently enjoining Peebles and Meadows from interfering with Church operations. [Dkt. 84] The Maryland Court of Special Appeals, however, reversed that decision and remanded the case to the Circuit Court, finding that a genuine dispute of material fact existed as to whether Peebles was a member of the Board. The appeals court's mandate issued on October 19, 2012. [Dkt. 114]
On March 26, 2013, on remand, Peebles and other members of the Church amended their Answer, by adding a Third-Party Complaint against the State of Maryland and Sherriff High, in which they alleged a variety of state law claims as well as a single federal claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. [Dkt. 124] Then, on June 21, 2013, Peebles et. al. added Prince George's County and Sheriff's Deputies Michael Sims and Kelvin Massie as Defendants with respect to the state law and § 1983 claims. [Dkt. 136] Peebles, in essence, claimed that on April 18, 2012, after he was given a letter stating that the Board had terminated his employment effective immediately, the Sheriff's Deputies unceremoniously escorted him off the Church premises, and, further, that on three other occasions during 2012, Peebles and others with him were, at the direction of the Board, ordered to leave the Church grounds, all of which, he claims, violated his right to freely worship.
On July 10, 2013, still in State court, the State of Maryland and Sheriff High filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion to Bifurcate. [Dkt. 137] On September 5, 2013, however, before the Circuit Court could rule on that Motion, Prince George's County removed the case to this Court. [Dkt. 1]
The purpose of this Court's sua sponte Order to Show Cause of September 17, 2013 was to have the parties address the issue of whether the case should be remanded to state circuit court, given that Prince George's County was a Third-Party Defendant seeking removal, and further because, at the time of removal, not all Third-Party Defendants had consented to removal. [Dkt. 153] On September 20, 2013, Prince George's County filed an amended Removal Statement, which stated that the State of Maryland and Sheriff High had not joined in the notice of removal "because they are immune from suit" [Dkt. 157] and that the other Third-Party Defendants purportedly "did not join because there are no federal claims filed against them." Id. Then, on October 2, 2013, somewhat belatedly, the State of Maryland and Sheriff High filed a "Consent to Removal". [Dkt. 159] In their responses to the Show Cause Order, Prince George's County, Massie and Sims urge the Court to sever the claims against them and permit them to be tried in federal court, whereas Peebles et al. urge that all claims, counterclaims, and third party-claims in this three-years-old case be allowed to proceed in this Court.
The right to remove a case from state to federal court derives from 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c), which provides:
(1) If a civil action includes -
(A) a claim arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States (within the meaning of section 1331 of this title), and
(B) a claim not within the original or supplemental jurisdiction of the district court or a claim that has been made nonremovable by statute, the entire action may be removed if the action would be removable without the inclusion of the claim described in subparagraph (B).
(2) Upon removal of an action described in paragraph (1), the district court shall sever from the action all claims described in paragraph (1)(B) and shall remand the severed claims to the State court from which the action was removed. Only defendants against whom a claim described in paragraph (1)(A) has been ...