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Hohal v. Tangorre

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 15, 2016

DANIEL R. HOHAL, et al., Plaintiffs,


          Ellen Lipton Hollander United States District Judge.

         Daniel R. Hohal and Sarah L. Baia, Esquire (formerly known as Sarah Merritt) filed suit in the Circuit Court for Dorchester County against James D. “Salvatorie” Tangorre, alleging defamation. ECF 2.[1] Tangorre, who is self-represented, timely removed the case to this Court on June 6, 2016, asserting federal question and diversity jurisdiction. ECF 1.[2]

         Tangorre also filed “Defendant's Answer to Complaint, Affirmative Defenses, Compulsory Joinder and Compulsory Complaint, ” some 58 pages in length. ECF 6. In that submission, Tangorre sought to join WestGUARD Insurance Company (“WestGUARD”) and Stockton, Barker & Mead, LLP (“Stockton”), Baia's former employer, as defendants, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(a)(1)(A), (B) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 20 (a)(2)(A), (B). ECF 6 at 24-28. In addition, he filed counterclaims against Hohal, Baia, WestGUARD, and Stockton (collectively, “Plaintiffs”). Id. at 28-57.

         Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Remand on July 6, 2016 (ECF 12), supported by a memorandum of law (ECF-12-1) (collectively, “Motion to Remand” or “Motion”). Tangorre opposes the Motion. ECF 19 (“Opposition”). No reply has been filed, and the time to do so has expired. See Local Rule 105.2(a).[3]

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion to Remand. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons stated below, I shall grant the Motion.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background[4]

         This suit is rooted in a workers' compensation claim filed by Tangorre in New York in 2011, captioned Tangorre v. Tech Home Electric, LCC. ECF 2, ¶¶ 1, 10. Hohal, a Pennsylvania resident, was assigned to Tangorre's workers' compensation claim in his capacity as a claims handler with WestGUARD. Id. ¶¶ 2, 3. Baia, a New York resident and attorney, represented WestGUARD in Tangorre's worker's compensation claim. Id. ¶¶ 4, 5. Tangorre, a Maryland resident (id. ¶ 7), was allegedly injured while working as an electrician in New York. Id. ¶ 9.[5]

         Hohal and Baia filed suit in a Maryland court against Tangorre on May 5, 2016, claiming defamation per se under Maryland law. ECF 2. They allege that the insurer, WestGUARD, learned that Tangorre had covertly returned to work while continuing to receive indemnity befits from WestGUARD. Id. ¶ 11. Thereafter, a three-member panel of the New York Workers' Compensation Board found that Tangorre had committed fraud with respect to his claim. Id. ¶¶ 12, 13. It concluded that Tangorre's “‘misrepresentations [were] material and egregious.'” Id. ¶ 14 (citation omitted). Thus, Tangorre was barred from receipt of benefits. Id. ¶ 15.

         On August 19, 2013, the Full Board denied Tangorre's application for review. Id. ¶ 17. The New York appellate court subsequently affirmed. Id. ¶ 19; see Matter of Tangorre v. Tech Home Elec., LLC, 2 N.Y.S.3d 683, 124 A.D.3d 1183 (N.Y.App.Div. 2015) (affirming the Board).[6]

         According to the Complaint, Tangorre was upset with the result of his unsuccessful workers' compensation claim, and posted on various websites, including LinkedIn and his own blog,, a variety of false statements about Hohal and Baia relating to the workers' compensation claim. ECF 2 ¶¶ 1, 20. These statements include, inter alia, that Plaintiffs filed false, misleading, and fabricated documentation and letters with the New York Workers' Compensation Board, filed a false police report, filed a false document with the Court, and planted false evidence in connection with Tangorre's workers' compensation claim. Id. ¶¶ 25-41. Hohal and Baia seek $500, 000 each in compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys' fees, costs, and a permanent injunction prohibiting defendant from defaming them. Id. at 9.

         On June 6, 2016, Tangorre removed the case to this Court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441(a) and 1446. ECF 1 (Notice of Removal). Under “Grounds for Removal, ” Tangorre asserts that Hohal, Baia, and Tangorre reside in different states and that their claim for damages exceeds $75, 000. Tangorre also asserts that his “blog is protected under the First Amendment of Freedom of Speech.” Id. ¶¶ 11-14. As noted, Tangorre submitted a consolidated pleading that contains an answer, a motion to join WestGUARD and Stockton as defendants, and counterclaims. ECF 6. His counterclaims against Hohal, Baia, WestGUARD, and Stockton are predicated on 42 U.S.C. §§1985(2), (3). Id. According to Tangorre, plaintiffs conspired to impede, hinder, and obstruct justice in his workers' compensation claim and to impede his free speech rights. Id. at 29-30.[7]

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and “may not exercise jurisdiction absent a statutory basis.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 552 (2005). Indeed, a federal court has “an independent obligation to determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even when no party challenges it.” Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 94 (2010); see also Sucampo Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Astellas Pharma, Inc., 471 F.3d 544, 548 (4th Cir. 2006). With regard to removed cases, 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) states: “If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.”

         As noted, Tangorre asserts in his Notice of Removal that this Court possesses subject matter jurisdiction based on federal question jurisdiction, also known as “arising under” jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. ยงยง 1331. In addition, he ...

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