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Waters v. Mackoul

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 16, 2016

JOANNE WATERS, Plaintiff,
v.
PAUL MACKOUL, THE CENTER FOR INNOVATIVE GYN CARE, P.C., INNOVATIONS SURGERY CENTER, P.C., SILVER SWAN BAYSIDE, LLC, QUEEN ANNE MARINA, LLC and QUEEN ANNE MARINA, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paula Xinis United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is a Motion to Remand to State Court filed by Plaintiff Joanne Waters (the “Plaintiff”) (ECF No. 22) and a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Paul MacKoul, The Center for Innovative GYN Care, P.C., Innovations Surgery Center, P.C., Silver Swan Bayside, LLC, Queen Anne Marina, LLC, and Queen Anne Marina, Inc. (the “Defendants”) (ECF No. 24). The issues have been fully briefed, and the parties were granted a hearing on the matter which took place on August 12, 2016. For the following reasons, the Plaintiff’s motion will be GRANTED and the case will be remanded to the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland. Defendants’ motion to dismiss (ECF No. 24) will be DENIED AS MOOT.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 15, 2015, Plaintiff filed her complaint in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County Maryland, claiming that her boss, Defendant Dr. Paul MacKoul, took a variety of adverse employment actions against her in response to Plaintiff’s refusal to participate in his alleged violations state and federal laws, including unlawful medical claim billing, tax evasion, and healthcare fraud. ECF No. 2 at 4, 23-25, 28, 35-36, 39. Plaintiff specifically avers that Defendant MacKoul violated a variety of federal statues, to include the False Claims Act, the Health Insurance and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Act of 2009 (the HITECH Act). Plaintiff further asserts that she discussed these violations with Defendant McKoul on numerous occasions, making clear that she would not participate in his suspect business practices or be otherwise complicit. As a result, Defendant MacKoul took a variety of employment actions which were adverse to Plaintiff. Plaintiff also claims breach of contract, violation of Maryland’s wage payment and collection law, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. ECF No. 2 at 30, 32, 37.

         On July 17, 2015, Defendants filed a Notice of Removal with this Court, premised on federal question jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 1441, and diversity jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. ECF No. 1 at 1. Defendants specifically assert in the Notice of Removal (and again conceded at the hearing before this Court) that original jurisdiction stemmed solely from the retaliation provisions of the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h). Id. Notably, however, neither this particular provision nor any of the elements of a § 3170(h) retaliation claim appear anywhere in Plaintiff’s original complaint.

         Additionally, immediately prior to Defendants’ noting removal, Plaintiff had filed a redlined version of an amended complaint which was docketed in Circuit Court before the notice to the state Court of Defendants’ removal. The Court was unaware that Plaintiff had filed an amended complaint in state court because Defendants failed to comply with Local Rule 103.5, requiring that the removing party provide the Court with the entire state court file. Rather, Defendants initially made available only a self-selected portion of the file which omitted the redlined amended complaint.

         Once the case was removed, Plaintiff immediately informed the Court that she wished to move for remand because: (1) the Court lacked federal question jurisdiction and (2) diversity jurisdiction was defeated pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2) as at least one named defendant is a citizen of Maryland. ECF No. 14. After one failed attempt at pretrial resolution during which the Court tolled Plaintiff’s time to file her motion, Plaintiff timely filed for remand thereafter. ECF Nos. 20 and 22.[1]

         Defendants singularly assert in their opposition to remand that removal is appropriate because Plaintiff is a citizen of Tennessee and all Defendants are citizens elsewhere. Defendants wholly fail to counter either of Plaintiff’s arguments. ECF No. 23.

         II. ANALYSIS

         “[A]ny civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by . . . the 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). “If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded. An order remanding the case may require payment of just costs and any actual expenses, including attorney fees, incurred as a result of the removal. A certified copy of the order of remand shall be mailed by the clerk to the clerk of the State court.” Id. § 1447(c). As the Fourth Circuit recognizes, “[d]etermining the question of subject matter jurisdiction at the outset of the litigation is often the most efficient procedure.” Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir. 1999).

         The removing party bears the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction. Md. Stadium Auth. v. Ellerbe Becket, Inc., 407 F.3d 255, 260 (4th Cir.2005). “[B]efore a federal court can decide the merits of a claim, the claim must invoke the jurisdiction of the court.” Miller v. Brown, 462 F.3d 312, 316 (4th Cir. 2006). “Because removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns, [courts] must strictly construe removal jurisdiction.” Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994) (citing Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108-09 (1941)); see also Cohn v. Charles, 857 F.Supp.2d 544, 547 (D. Md. 2012) (“Doubts about the propriety of removal are to be resolved in favor of remanding the case to state court.”). “If federal jurisdiction is doubtful, a remand is necessary.” Mulcahey, 29 F.3d at 151.

         1. Federal Question Jurisdiction

         As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that Defendants delayed the full and fair determination of this case by failing at the outset to provide a complete copy of the state court docket as required pursuant to Local Rule 103.5; see also 28 U.S.C. § 1447(b) (the Court “may require the removing party to file with its clerk copies of all records and proceedings in such state Court.”). The purpose of the rule is to ensure that this Court has all pleadings, not just those that Defendants wish the Court to review-a particularly critical distinction when assessing fundamental questions of this Court’s jurisdiction. Despite Defendants’ familiarity with the local rules in other respects (see ECF No. 8), Defendants did not provide the Court a full copy of the state court file until ordered to do so. ECF No. 39.

         As a result, neither the Court nor the parties had the benefit of the full docket while the question of remand was being briefed. Had the full docket been provided at the outset, it would have been plain to the parties and the Court that Plaintiff had filed a redlined version of an amended complaint. This amended complaint-which Montgomery ...


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