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Will County v. Johnson

March 4, 2010

WILL COUNTY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GARY JOHNSON, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wayne R. Andersen District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This case is before the Court on Will County's Motion to Remand [10], including Will County's request for costs and attorneys' fees. Identical notices of removal, motions to remand, and supporting briefs were filed in cases 09 C 7858 and 09 C 7878. Consequently, the same analysis applies to both cases, and this opinion is issued in both cases. For the following reasons, the motions are granted.

BACKGROUND

C & G Trucking, Inc. is an Illinois corporation with its principal place of business in Peotone, Illinois. Connie Johnson and Gary Johnson (collectively, "the Johnsons") are individuals who reside in Peotone, Illinois, and they are both principals of C & G Trucking, Inc. The Johnsons received a letter dated September 3, 2009 from a Will County Code Enforcement Inspector alleging various zoning ordinance violations. Section 14.9 of the Will County Zoning Ordinance set forth a process for appealing such findings. The Johnsons sought to file an appeal with the Will County Department of Land Use, but such appeal was not possible because Will County had never implemented an appeal process. The Johnsons were told that a party objecting to this type of citation could either (a) wait to be sued by the County in an enforcement action, or (b) file an action seeking declaratory relief in state court.

On October 13, 2009, the Johnsons and C & G Trucking filed case 09 C 6431 in the Northern District of Illinois. The complaint was brought as a class action on behalf of Will County residents "who received a citation, notice of violation, or fine for violating the Will County Zoning Ordinance" (Compl. in case 6431 ¶ 15.a), alleging that the class members' constitutional rights were violated by virtue of Will County's enactment and application of an ordinance that provides for an appeal process when the appeal process was never implemented. There was never any request to certify a class, and no class has been certified.

According to the complaint, "[t]his action is based upon 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Article I and Article IV of the United States Constitution, the Fourth, Fifth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, and Illinois law." (Id. at ¶ 5.)

On October 27, 2009, Will County filed two separate zoning enforcement proceedings in state court against both Gary and Connie Johnson. (Mot. to Remand at 2.) On December 21, 2009, the Johnsons removed those proceedings to the Northern District of Illinois. (Id.) Case 09 C 7858 was before Judge Guzman, and case 09 C 7878 was before Judge Bucklo. On January 8, 2010, the Johnsons and C & G Trucking filed a motion in case 09 C 6431 requesting that the Court find these three cases related (though the parties failed to provide the correct case numbers in that motion). (Mot. to Reassign Cases as Related at 1.) The Court determined that the cases were related, and on February 18, 2010, minute entries were made on the dockets of all three cases indicating that cases 09 C 7858 and 09 C 7878 were reassigned to Judge Andersen.

Will County filed a motion to dismiss case 09 C 6431 on December 28, 2009, and filed motions to remand cases 09 C 7858 and 09 C 7878 on January 11, 2010. The motions to remand, including Will County's requests for attorneys' fees and costs, are the focus of this opinion. An opinion addressing the motion to dismiss is being issued in case 09 C 6431.

MOTION TO REMAND

Will County has asked this court to remand cases 09 C 7858 and 09 C 7878 to the Circuit Court of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois.

I. Legal Standard

"A civil case commenced in state court may, as a general matter, be removed by the defendant to federal district court, if the case could have been brought there originally." Martin v. Franklin Capital Corp., 546 U.S. 132, 134 (2005) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1441). "If it appears that the federal court lacks jurisdiction, however, 'the case shall be remanded.'" Martin, 546 U.S. at 134 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c)).

In deciding whether to remand a case, the Court assumes the truth of the factual allegations of the complaint. Sheridan v. Flynn, 2003 WL 22282378, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 30, 2003). A plaintiff's choice of forum is presumed valid and the Court must resolve any doubts about jurisdiction in favor of remand. See, e.g., Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Centers, Inc., 577 F.3d 752, 758 (7th Cir. 2009); Doe v. Allied-Signal, Inc., 985 F.2d 908, 911 (7th Cir. 1993) ("Courts should interpret the removal statute narrowly and presume that the plaintiff may choose his or her forum"); Schmude v. Sheahan, 198 F. Supp. 2d 964, 966 (N.D. Ill. 2002) ("Generally, the removal statute is strictly construed, with an eye towards limiting federal jurisdiction"). Defendants bear the burden of establishing that all of the prerequisites for removal have been satisfied. Boyd v. Phoenix Funding Corp., 366 F.3d 524, 529 (7th Cir. 2004); Schimmer v. Jaguar Cars, Inc., 384 F.3d 402, 404 (7th Cir. 2004) (defendant must demonstrate "reasonable probability that subject-matter jurisdiction exists").

II. Discussion

The Johnsons indicated that they removed these proceedings to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 1332, 1338, 1441, 1443 and 1446. (Notice of Removal ¶ 1.) As noted by Will County, nowhere in the Johnsons' notices of removal is there a statement that the underlying causes of action are based on federal law or that the requirements for diversity jurisdiction have been met. The Johnsons simply refer to the above-listed statutes and assert that Will County filed the enforcement actions in state court in order to "usurp the jurisdiction of this Court over cause no. 09 CV 6431." (Notice of Removal ¶ 2.) In the motions to remand, Will County states that these cases should be remanded back to the Circuit Court of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois, arguing that none of the statutory sections cited by the Johnsons provide any valid basis for the cases to be in federal court.

Interestingly, in their responses to the motions to remand, the Johnsons fail to even mention any of the aforementioned statutory provisions. Instead, the Johnsons make a general claim that removal is supported by the Civil Rights Act and the alleged violations of their constitutional rights. However, we note that, similar to the complaint in case 09 C 6431, the Johnsons fail to explain exactly which constitutional rights were violated and in what manner. (Resp. to Will County's Mot. to Remand at 3.)

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction; "they have only the power that is authorized by Article III of the Constitution and the statutes enacted by Congress pursuant thereto." Transit Express, Inc. v. Ettinger, 246 F.3d 1018, 1023 (7th Cir. 2001). We briefly examine each of the supposed bases ...


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