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Pollack v. Fournier

United States District Court, D. Maine

January 16, 2019



          Nancy Torresen, United States District Judge.

         Before me is the Plaintiffs' motion to remand (ECF No. 13) to state court their Amended Complaint asserting four state law claims: one count of abuse of process, two counts of wrongful use of civil proceedings, and one count of violation of the Maine Civil Rights Act (“MCRA”). The Defendant opposes remand. For the reasons stated below, I GRANT the Plaintiffs' motion to remand.


         The parties are familiar with the background of this case and so I only highlight a few legally pertinent facts. Plaintiffs Matthew Pollack and Jane Quirion are parents to B.P., a student with disabilities. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 5 (ECF No. 9). The Plaintiffs previously filed two lawsuits in this Court against the local school district and various district employees arising out of disagreements about educational opportunities for B.P. and allegedly retaliatory actions taken against the Plaintiffs and B.P.[1] The Plaintiffs spent almost seven years engaged in intensive litigation of their claims. Ultimately, after due process hearings, extensive motions practice, a jury trial, and two appeals, they came up empty-handed. See Pollack v. Reg'l Sch. Unit 75, 886 F.3d 75 (1st Cir. 2018); Pollack v. Reg'l Sch. Unit 75, 660 Fed.Appx. 1 (1st Cir. 2016); Pollack v. Reg'l Sch. Unit 75, No. 2:13-CV-109-NT, 2017 WL 1592264 (D. Me. Apr. 28, 2017); Pollack v. Reg'l Sch. Unit 75, No. 2:13-CV-109-NT, 2016 WL 335860 (D. Me. Jan. 27, 2016). The Defendant here, Jessica Fournier, B.P.'s special-education teacher from August of 2010 until June of 2012 was not a party to the previous cases, although her alleged actions were central to the Plaintiffs' grievances. See Am. Compl. ¶ 6.

         In July of 2018, the Plaintiffs filed a seven-count Complaint against Fournier in the Maine Superior Court alleging the four state law claims listed above, as well as claims for unlawful retaliation under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (the Rehabilitation Act), and 42 U.S.C. § 12203 (the Americans with Disabilities Act). Compl. (ECF No. 5-2). The Defendant removed the Complaint to this Court and filed a motion to dismiss. Notice of Removal (ECF No. 1); Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (ECF No. 8). The Defendant's notice of removal asserts that this Court has federal question jurisdiction over the claims alleged in the Complaint because they arise under federal law. Notice of Removal 2. In her motion to dismiss, the Defendant argues that the majority of the Plaintiffs' claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata and the remaining state law claims are barred by the statute of limitations, failure to provide notice, and failure to state a claim.[2] Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss 1.

         Approximately two weeks after the Defendant filed her motion to dismiss, the Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint, in which they dropped their three federal claims and asserted only the four state law claims. Am. Compl. The Plaintiffs then moved to remand their case to state court. Pls.' Mot. to Remand.


         I. Original Jurisdiction

         With the dismissal of the Plaintiffs' federal claims, the Amended Complaint no longer contains an explicit federal cause of action. See BIW Deceived v. Local S6, Indus. Union of Marine & Shipbuilding Workers of Am., 132 F.3d 824, 831 (1st Cir. 1997). The Defendant argues that at the heart of each of the Plaintiffs' state law claims is a claim that they were retaliated against for exercising rights protected by the First Amendment, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Defendant contends that even though the Plaintiffs abandoned their federal claims in their Amended Complaint, federal question jurisdiction still exists under three theories. First, she contends that the artful pleading doctrine applies; next, she claims that a federal claim preclusion defense supplies the jurisdictional toehold; and finally, she argues that there are embedded federal questions in each of the Plaintiffs' state law claims.

         A. The Well-Pleaded Complaint Rule

         Under federal law,

Except as otherwise expressly provided by Act of Congress, any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States of the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.

28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Federal 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. There is no “single, precise definition” for the statutory phrase “arising under, ” and the phrase “masks a welter of issues regarding the interrelation of federal and state authority and the proper management of the federal judicial system.” Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Tr. for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 8 (1983).

         “The gates of federal question jurisdiction are customarily patrolled by a steely-eyed sentry-the ‘well-pleaded complaint rule.' ” BIW Deceived, 132 F.3d at 831 (citation omitted). Under that rule, “federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.” Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). A plaintiff, as ...

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