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The County Commission of Fayette County v. Seminole West Virginia Mining Complex, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia

March 29, 2019



          John T. Copenhaver, Jr., Senior United States District Judge

         Pending is a motion to remand to the Circuit Court of Fayette County, West Virginia, filed February 19, 2019, by plaintiff the County Commission of Fayette County, West Virginia (“the Commission”). The defendant Seminole West Virginia Mining Complex, LLC, (“Seminole”) filed a response on February 26, 2019, to which the plaintiff replied on March 4, 2019.

         I. Background

         This case was first presented to the court through its companion case, Seminole West Virginia Mining Complex, LLC v. John Brenemen, et al., 2:19-cv-00082. The court herein refers to the instant case as “the enforcement action” and the case brought by Seminole as “the declaratory action.” In the declaratory action, Seminole sought, as an initial matter, a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) to enjoin the Commission from enforcing a local ordinance enacted by the Commission and an order by the Commission which, inter alia, mandated Seminole to conduct costly monitoring, testing, analyzing, and reporting as to its contribution to the increase of iron concentrations in a nearby water supply well. The Commission's order states that noncompliance therewith may result in costly civil penalties; the only available avenue to challenge the order under the Commission's ordinance is if the Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney brings an enforcement action against the noncomplying party. Seminole has not complied with the order.

         Seminole sought a TRO to enjoin the Commission from enforcing the ordinance and order, arguing that compliance therewith would be unreasonably costly, especially in light of Seminole's pending bankruptcy proceeding in the Northern District of Alabama, and that the Commission's ordinance is unlawful as preempted.

         On February 13, 2019, the day before the TRO hearing, the Commission filed the instant enforcement action in the Circuit Court of Fayette County to enforce Seminole's compliance with the local ordinance and order. The action is brought against Seminole, its two members (Kenneth R. McCoy and Jason R. McCoy), its environmental manager (Mike Isabell), as well as the insurers of Seminole. In light of the state enforcement action, the Commission opposed the TRO as violating the federal Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2283: “A court of the United States may not grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a State court except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments.”

         Subsequently, on February 14, 2019, the day of the TRO hearing, Seminole removed the enforcement action to this court on diversity grounds, thereby apparently resolving the Anti-Injunction Act issue so long as the enforcement action remains in this court. At the hearing, the Commission informed the court of its intent to file a motion to remand. The court ordered expedited briefing on the remand issue and deferred consideration of the TRO until such issue was decided. At the hearing, the Commission agreed not to impose the daily civil penalties under its ordinance for forty-five days while the parties briefed and the court considered the issue relating to remand. The motion to remand is ripe for adjudication.

         II. Applicable Standard

         “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). The burden of establishing removal jurisdiction rests on the removing party. Mulcahey v. Colum. Organic Chem. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994). “Any doubts concerning the propriety of removal must be resolved in favor of retained state court jurisdiction.” Marshall v. Manville Sales, Corp., 6 F.3d 229, 232 (4th Cir. 1993).

         The court is vested with original jurisdiction of all actions between citizens of different states when the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). “Section 1332 requires complete diversity among parties, meaning that the citizenship of every plaintiff must be different from the citizenship of every defendant.” Cent. W. Virginia Energy Co. v. Mountain State Carbon, LLC, 636 F.3d 101, 103 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing Caterpillar, Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U.S. 61, 68 (1996)).

         III. Discussion

         The Commission challenges the court's jurisdiction on the ground that the parties lack complete diversity. Specifically, it contends that it and defendant Mike Isabell are both West Virginia citizens.

         Seminole, however, argues that the citizenship of Mike Isabell should be disregarded because he is a fraudulently joined defendant.[1]

         “‘Fraudulent joinder' is a term of art, [and] it does not reflect on the integrity of plaintiff or counsel[; rather, it] is merely the rubric applied when a court finds either that no cause of action is stated against [a] nondiverse defendant, or in fact no cause of action exists.” AIDS Counseling & Testing Ctrs. v. Group W Television, Inc., 903 ...

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