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Hightower v. Hatch

United States District Court, D. Vermont

November 7, 2014

AARON L. HIGHTOWER and RAHMELL D. HIGHTOWER Plaintiffs,
v.
LEWIS HATCH. Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

WILLIAM K. SESSIONS, III, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Aaron Hightower and Rahmell Hightower move to remand this case to state court because, they argue, the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction. ECF No. 8. Plaintiffs also seek attorney's fees if remand is granted because removal was not objectively reasonable. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand and request for attorney's fees are denied.

I. Background

Plaintiffs initially filed their complaint in Vermont Superior Court on April 11, 2014. Defendant Trooper Lewis Hatch removed the case to this Court on May 12, 2014.

Plaintiffs assert various claims in connection with two traffic stops in which Hatch allegedly strip searched and molested Plaintiffs. Their claims include: 1) unlawful arrest, 2) unreasonable search, 3) violation of substantive due process, 4) violation of equal protection, 5) state law assault, 6) state law battery, and 7) state law false imprisonment.

II. Removal

A. Legal Standard

Any civil action brought in state court over which the district courts have original jurisdiction may be removed to district court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441. The district courts have original jurisdiction over "all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331. "A case arises under federal law within the meaning of the general federal-question statute only if the federal question appears from the facts of the plaintiff's well-pleaded complaint." Atherton v. Orleans Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, No. 2:14-CV-14, 2014 WL 5304639, at *4 (D. Vt. Oct. 16, 2014).

"Where, as here, jurisdiction is asserted by a defendant in a removal petition, the defendant bears the burden of establishing that removal is proper." Hubacz v. Vill. of Waterbury, Vt., No. 2:14-CV-134, 2014 WL 4060314, at *3 (D. Vt. Aug. 14, 2014) (quoting United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 919 v. CenterMark Props. Meriden Square, Inc., 30 F.3d 298, 301 (2d Cir. 1994)). Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction so any doubts as to removability are resolved against removability. Id.

B. Discussion

Plaintiffs argue that their complaint alleges causes of action "arising exclusively under Vermont's Constitution." ECF No. 8 at 1. However, Plaintiffs' statement is belied by clear language referring to federal law and the U.S. Constitution in the complaint. For example, in a section entitled "Jurisdictional Allegations" the complaint states, "Damages are sought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 1988 for violations of Plaintiffs' rights under the Constitution of the United States." Compl. ¶ 2. In a section entitled "Constitutional Allegations, " Plaintiffs quote the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, state that the right to be free from unreasonable strip searches is clearly established law, and then cite both a federal case and a state case. Id. ¶¶ 7-8, 12. Within the individual claims, Plaintiffs state "Plaintiffs suffered deprivation of the privileges and immunities guaranteed to citizens by the Constitution of the United States, " id. ¶¶ 70, 84, the strip search "is so clearly unjustified by any legitimate public safety objective it violates Plaintiffs' substantive rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, " id. ¶ 89, the strip search "is so egregious it shocks the conscience and interferes with rights implicit in the concept of ordered liberty in violation of substantive due process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, " id. ¶ 90, and "Plaintiffs were denied liberty and protection under State and Federal law, " id. ¶ 91.

These allegations demonstrate that Plaintiffs' claims "aris[e] under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States, " and could have originally been filed in federal court. Removal, therefore, was entirely proper. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1441.

III. Supplemental ...


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