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Byrd v. Deveaux

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 5, 2018

REVEREND ALICIA BYRD
v.
WILLIAM P. DEVEAUX, SR.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DEBORAH K. CHASANOW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Presently pending and ready for resolution in this defamation case is the motion to remand filed by Plaintiff Alicia Byrd. (ECF No. 19). The issues have been fully briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, the motion to remand will be denied.

         I. Background

         On September 27, 2017, Plaintiff commenced this action against Defendants Bishop William P. DeVeaux, Sr., Washington Conference Second Episcopal District African Methodist Episcopal Church (“Washington Conference”), and General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (“General Conference”), in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland. (ECF No. 2). On November 3, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Inc. (“AMEC”) removed the action from the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, stating that it was incorrectly named by Plaintiff as “General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.”[1] (ECF No. 1). On December 1, Plaintiff filed the pending motion to remand, arguing that removal was untimely and that AMEC is not a proper defendant. (ECF No. 19, at 4). Defendants filed a joint opposition (ECF No. 22), and Plaintiff replied (ECF No. 24).

         II. Standard of Review

         28 U.S.C. § 1441 allows defendants to remove an action “brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction.” Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1), district courts have original jurisdiction “of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interests and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different States.”

         The standard of review applicable to motions to remand depends on whether the defect at issue is merely procedural or raises concerns as to the existence of subject matter jurisdiction. Deficiencies in the jurisdictional allegations in a notice of removal are procedural errors and may be challenged by motion within thirty days of removal. Doe v. Blair, 819 F.3d 64, 68 (4th Cir. 2016); Ellenburg v. Spartan Motors Chassis, Inc., 519 F.3d 192, 197-98 (4th Cir. 2008). Further, jurisdictional allegations in a notice of removal need not “meet a higher pleading standard than the one imposed on a plaintiff in drafting an initial complaint.” Ellenburg, at 200 (“[J]ust as a plaintiff's complaint sufficiently establishes diversity jurisdiction if it alleges that the parties are of diverse citizenship and that the matter in controversy exceeds, exclusive of interest and costs, the sum specified by 28 U.S.C. § 1332, so too does a removing party's notice of removal sufficiently establish jurisdictional grounds for removal by making jurisdictional allegations in the same manner.”); Cunningham v. Twin City Fire Ins. Co., 669 F.Supp.2d 624, 627 (D.Md. 2009) (“Where a defendant seeks to remove a case to federal court, the defendant must simply allege subject matter jurisdiction in his notice of removal.”). Concerns as to the absence of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time by the court or parties, and a district court must remand any case in which it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c); Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 506 (2006).

         In considering a motion to remand, the court must “strictly construe the removal statute and resolve all doubts in favor of remanding the case to state court.” Richardson v. Philip Morris Inc., 950 F.Supp. 700, 702 (D.Md. 1997) (citations omitted). This standard reflects the reluctance of federal courts “to interfere with matters properly before a state court.” Id. at 701. When challenged in a motion to remand, the burden is on the party asserting subject matter jurisdiction to prove by a preponderance of evidence the facts necessary to establish the court's jurisdiction. Vest v. RSC Lexington, LLC, 2016 WL 6646419, at *7 (D.S.C. Nov. 10, 2016).

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff argues that removal was improper in this case because (1) the removing party, AMEC, is not a proper defendant; (2) removal was untimely; and (3) complete diversity does not exist. (ECF No. 9).

         A. Proper Defendant

         Plaintiff argues in her motion to remand that, according to The Doctrine and Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, “[AMEC] is not the entity that this lawsuit should be filed against” (ECF No. 19, at 6), and that “bishops are assigned, employed and paid by the General Conference not [AMEC]” (Id. at 7). Plaintiff fails to provide any documentation or other evidence to support her assertions.

         In her complaint, Plaintiff named General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church as a Defendant, and named Dr. Jeffrey Cooper, its purported “General Secretary” and “Chief Information Officer, ” to receive service. Dr. Cooper received the summons and complaint on October 4 or 5, 2017.[2] Dr. Cooper, who accepted service for General Conference, attests in his declaration attached to Defendants' joint opposition to Plaintiff's motion to remand that he is the “General Secretary and Chief Information Officer of AMEC, Inc., ” not the General Conference. (ECF No. 22-1, at 2) (emphasis added). He further attests that the “General Conference is not a legal entity, ” and that “the proper entity to be named is in fact AMEC, Inc.”[3] (Id. at 3).

         In her reply, Plaintiff argues that, according to The Doctrine and Discipline, suit can only be brought against AMEC for actions regarding real, personal, or mixed property and that “[s]ubsequently, [AMEC] is not a proper party in a matter that is a claim for false light invasion of privacy.” (ECF No. 24, at 8-9). Not only has Plaintiff failed to provide any documentation in support of her assertions, but moreover, “an argument raised for the first time in a reply brief or memorandum will not be considered.” Clawson v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., Inc., 451 F.Supp.2d 731, 734 (D.Md. 2006). Therefore, ...


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