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Bell v. Township of Quinton

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 17, 2014

GARY L. BELL, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF QUINTON, Defendant.

Richard Etienne Incremona, Esquire, Helmer Comley & Kasselman, Freehold, New Jersey, Counsel for Plaintiff.

Allan E. Richardson, Esquire, Richardson & Galella, Woodbury, New Jersey, Counsel for Defendant.

OPINION

NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court by way of motion [Doc. No. 4] of Plaintiff, Gary L. Bell, Sr., seeking to remand this matter to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Salem County. The Court has considered the parties' submissions, including their responses to the Order to Show Cause dated November 13, 2014, and decides this matter pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78.

For the reasons expressed below, Plaintiff's motion is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

According to the averments of the complaint, Plaintiff is a citizen of the Township of Quinton, Salem County, New Jersey. (Compl. ¶ 1.) Plaintiff was previously employed by Defendant, Township of Quinton, as a Housing Official. (Id. ¶ 3.) During his term of employment, in the summer of 2010, Plaintiff in his official capacity inspected a dwelling at 18 Beasley Neck Road, Block 18 Lot 2, in the Township of Quinton, and issued an unsafe structural notice condemning the dwelling. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 9.) The dwelling was owned by Plaintiff's father, Albert Bell. (Id. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff's father gave Plaintiff verbal permission to arrange the demolition of the condemned dwelling. (Id. ¶ 10.)

Thereafter, Plaintiff spoke with the local fire chief concerning the use of the dwelling as a possible live-fire training exercise for the volunteer firefighters of the Quinton Volunteer Fire Company. (Id. ¶ 11.) Although the fire chief at the time did not know if he could conduct such a training exercise, he subsequently notified Plaintiff that the fire company intended to conduct the exercise. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 13.) The condemned structure owned by Plaintiff's father was burned down on December 21, 2010. (Id. ¶ 14.)

An investigation into the fire was then conducted, and Plaintiff was arrested on July 26, 2011 and charged with aggravated arson and official misconduct. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 16.) On July 27, 2011, Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave without pay. (Id. ¶ 18.) On May 28, 2013, all criminal charges against Plaintiff were dismissed. (Id. ¶ 21.) Nonetheless, in July 2013, the Township of Quinton retained a law firm to conduct an administrative investigation of Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff was advised by letter dated September 4, 2013 that the Township sought his termination based on ten disciplinary charges against him, which included allegations that he violated the Township's Employee Handbook, violated established safety and fire regulations, asked the fire department to burn down a structure for his or his family's sole monetary benefit, and failed to obtain the necessary permits. (Id. ¶ 23.)

Upon receipt of a Preliminary Notice of Disciplinary Action on September 5, 2013, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing. (Id. ¶ 24.) An administrative hearing was held on November 20, 2013, at which time Plaintiff appeared pro se. (Id. ¶ 26.) The hearing officer sustained nine of the ten charges against Plaintiff, and the Township Committee voted to uphold the recommended findings and conclusions of the hearing officer. (Id. ¶¶ 27-29.) A Final Notice of Disciplinary Action was signed on December 19, 2013, which terminated Plaintiff's employment as of the date of his suspension, July 26, 2011. (Id. ¶ 29.) The Final Notice of Disciplinary Action advised Plaintiff of his right to appeal the decision to the Superior Court of New Jersey. (Id. ¶ 30.) Plaintiff served a notice on the Township of Quinton stating his intent to request a trial de novo in the Superior Court. (Id. ¶ 30.)

On or about January 20, 2014, Plaintiff filed a verified complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Salem County. (Not. of Removal, Ex. 1.) The complaint contains five counts generally alleging that the Township, through the manner in which it conducted the disciplinary hearing, violated Plaintiff's constitutional and statutory rights to due process. Defendant removed the case to federal court on March 20, 2014, alleging that the Court has federal question subject matter jurisdiction over the claims asserted in the complaint. (Not. of Removal ¶ 5.) Plaintiff thereafter filed the instant motion to remand this matter back to New Jersey state court.

II. STANDARD FOR REMAND

A defendant may remove a civil action filed in state court to federal court if the federal court would have had original jurisdiction to hear the matter in the first instance. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). A federal court has original jurisdiction over cases "arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States[, ]" and cases "where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000... and is between citizens of different States[.]" 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332(a).

The removability of a legal matter is determined from the plaintiff's pleadings at the time of removal. See Am. Fire & Cas. Co. v. Finn, 341 U.S. 6, 14, 71 S.Ct. 534, 95 L.Ed. 702 (1951). "The presence or absence of federal question jurisdiction is governed by the well-pleaded complaint rule, which provides that 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, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 96 L.Ed.2d 318 (1987). The rule ...


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