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Daniels v. South Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division

December 17, 2019

MICHAEL DANIELS, Plaintiffs,
v.
SOUTH KENTUCKY RURAL ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Michael Daniels filed suit against his former employer, South Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation, for wrongful termination. The Cooperative removed this case to federal court because Count II of Mr. Daniels' complaint invokes the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Mr. Daniels moved to remand this case on the grounds that his claims are rooted in Kentucky law and federal question jurisdiction is not implicated. The Court agrees. For the following reasons, Mr. Daniels' Motion to Remand [R. 6.] is GRANTED.

         I

         Plaintiff Michael Daniels initiated this suit in Wayne Circuit Court. [R. 1-1.] Defendant South Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation (the Cooperative) filed its Notice of Removal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 on August 9, 2019 arguing this Court had Federal Question jurisdiction. Mr. Daniels makes three claims against his former employer. In Count I, Mr. Daniels alleges a violation of K.R.S § 344.010, et seq., stemming from his termination. [R. 1-1 at ¶¶ 6-10.] In Count III, Mr. Daniels accuses Defendant of an unlawful agreement with another party to terminate him. Id. at ¶¶ 16-21. At issue is Count II, which charges the following:

11. Plaintiff incorporates each and every allegation set forth in Paragraphs 1-10 of this Complaint as if fully stated herein.
12. The termination of the Plaintiff was contrary to a fundamental and well-defined public policy, namely his rights guaranteed under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
13. The termination of the Plaintiff was a retaliatory action which stemmed from disagreements between the Plaintiff and Defendant, whereby Plaintiff used his right to freedom of speech in defending himself, leading to the Defendant retaliatorily terminating the Plaintiff and doing so under the guise of violations of company policies and procedures.
14. The Plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action as a result of the actions of the Defendant.
15. As a direct and proximate result of the aforementioned conduct, Plaintiff has suffered great emotional distress and/or embarrassment and/or humiliation and/or mental anguish and wage loss and lost benefits.

[R. 1-1 at ¶¶ 11-15.] The Cooperative contends that Mr. Daniels' reference to the First Amendment means that his claim in Count II is based on federal law. [R. 8 at 3.] The Cooperative further argues jurisdiction is proper here because “it is necessary to resolve whether or not his First Amendment Rights . . . were violated.” Id. To the contrary, Mr. Daniels says his complaint is “rooted in state law, ” and argues that mere mention of a federal statute or Constitutional amendment is insufficient to confer federal question jurisdiction. [R. 7 at 2.] Mr. Daniels is correct.

         II

         A

         A defendant may remove a civil action brought in state court to federal court only if the action is one over which the federal court could have exercised original jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441, 1446. Congress has opened the doors of the federal courts to “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. To determine whether a claim “arises under” federal law so as to provide jurisdiction under these statutory provisions, courts employ the “well-pleaded complaint” rule. Roddy v. Grand Trunk W. R.R., Inc., 395 F.3d 318, 322 (6th Cir. 2005) (citing Loftis v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 342 F.3d 509, 514 (6th Cir. 2003)). Under this rule, “[f]ederal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.” Id. (citing Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987)). Because ...


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