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Sutton v. State of Maryland Department of Human Services

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 17, 2019

CASSANDRA SUTTON, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          RICHARD D. BENNETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Cassandra Sutton ("Plaintiff' or "Sutton") alleges that her current employer, Defendant the State of Maryland Department of Human Services ("Defendant" or "DHS"), denied her reasonable accommodations for her disability and retaliated against her. On December 27, 2018, Sutton commenced this action in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland. On February 21, 2019, Defendant removed the case to this Court, citing the removal statute and federal question jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441, et seq.; 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Sutton's Complaint brings causes of action under both Tide I of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111, et seq. and the State of Maryland's Fair Employment Practices Act ("FEPA"), Md. Code Ann., State Gov't §§ 20-601, et seq. Her Complaint is comprised of four counts: disability discrimination in violation of the ADA (Count I); disability discrimination in violation of FEPA (Count II); retaliation in violation of the ADA (Count III); and retaliation in violation of FEPA (Count IV). Sutton seeks only monetary relief.

         Now pending before this Court are Plaintiffs Motion to Remand (ECF No. 5) and Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Counts III and IV of the Complaint (ECF No. 13). The parties' submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs Motion to Remand (ECF No. 5) is DENIED with respect to her federal ADA claims as set forth in Counts I and III, and GRANTED with respect to her state claims set forth in Counts II and IV. Therefore, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Counts III and IV of the Complaint (ECF No. 13) is DENIED AS MOOT. This Court has original jurisdiction over Plaintiffs ADA claims (Counts I and III). See 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The State of Maryland enjoys sovereign immunity from these claims in both state and federal court. Accordingly, Plaintiffs ADA claims (Counts I and III) are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. With the dismissal of these claims, only Plaintiffs state law claims remain. This Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state claims and REMANDS this case to state court for adjudication of Plaintiffs state FEPA claims (Counts II and IV). See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         I. Motion to Remand

         A defendant in a state civil action may remove the case to federal court only if the federal court can exercise original jurisdiction over at least one of the asserted claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a)-(c). Once an action is removed to federal court, the plaintiff may file a motion to remand the case to state court if there is a contention that jurisdiction is defective. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). The party seeking removal bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction in the federal court. Johnson v. Advance America, 549 F.3d 932, 935 (4th Cir. 2008). On a motion to remand, this Court must "strictly construe the removal statute and resolve all doubts in favor of remanding the case to state court." Richardson v. Phillip Morris, Inc., 950 F.Supp. 700, 701-02 (D. Md. 1997) (citation omitted); see also Dixon v. Coburg Dairy, Inc., 369 F.3d 811, 815-16 (4th Cir. 2004).

         II. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

         Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is "to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). While a complaint need not include "detailed factual allegations," it must set forth "enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest" a cognizable cause of action. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2001);Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court" 'must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint'" and must" 'draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff.'" E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); Hall v. DirectTV, LLC, 846 F.3d 757, 765 (4th Cir. 2017). However, a court is not required to accept legal conclusions drawn from those facts. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Removal is Proper Because Plaintiff Asserts Claims Under the ADA.

         Plaintiff argues that removal of this case is "not legitimate" and a "waste of... judicial resources" because the state may successfully assert a sovereign immunity defense to her ADA claims, thereby depriving this Court of jurisdiction over those claims. (Pl.'s Mot. to Remand 4, ECF No. 5-1; Pl.'s Reply 2, ECF No. 17.) Plaintiff appears to argue that the State's potential sovereign immunity defense deprives this Court of jurisdiction entirely. (Pl.'s Mot. to Remand 1, ECF No. 5-1.) A defendant in a state civil action may remove the case to federal court if the federal court can exercise original jurisdiction over at least one of the asserted claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Federal district courts have original jurisdiction over claims "arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. To determine whether a plaintiffs claims "arise under" the laws of the United States, this Court adheres to the "well-pleaded complaint rule," which requires an assessment of the allegations of the Complaint, rather than potential defenses. Prince v. Sears Holdings Corp., 848 F.3d 173, 177 (4th Cir. 2017); Harless v. CSX Hotels, Inc., 389 F.3d 444, 450 (4th Cir. 2004).

         Removal is proper in this case. Plaintiff brings two counts under a law of the United States-namely, the ADA. As such, this Court has original jurisdiction over Plaintiffs claims.

         The Defendant may therefore remove the entire case to federal court. Defendant's entitlement to sovereign immunity on these counts has no bearing on this analysis, as this Court must look only to the allegations in the Complaint-not to potential defenses-when determining whether removal is proper.

         II. The State of Maryland has not Waived its Sovereign Immunity to Title I ADA ...


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