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ZUURBIER v. MEDSTAR HEALTH

February 6, 2004.

REBECCA A. ZUURBIER, M.D., Plaintiff,
v.
MEDSTAR HEALTH, INC., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROSEMARY COLLYER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case was removed from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia because the complaint alleged violations of the plaintiff's civil rights under federal law. The plaintiff immediately amended her complaint to drop all federal claims and rely solely on the D.C. Human Rights Act, D.C. Code § 2-1402 et seq. She now seeks a remand back to Superior Court, which the defendants oppose.

Since the case came to this Court on September 22, 2003, the lawyers have graced it with a bounty of pleadings. Readers will need scorecards. The plaintiff is Dr. Zuurbier. Defendants are MedStar Health, Inc. ("MedStar"); MGMC LLC ("MGMC"), and the MedStar-Georgetown Medical Center, Inc. ("the Medical Center"). Pending before the Court are Defendant MedStar Health's Motion to Dismiss Defendant [sic] for Failure to State a Claim or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment ("MedStar Dismissal Motion"); Plaintiff's Motion to Remand ("Remand Motion"); Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment ("Opp. to MedStar Dismissal Motion"); Defendant MedStar Health Inc.'s Page 2 Reply Memorandum to Plaintiffs Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment ("MedStar Dismissal Reply); Plaintiffs Surreply ("Surreply"); Defendant MGMC LLC's Motion to Strike, Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint Against MGMC LLC and, in the Alternative, to Compel Arbitration ("MGMC Motion to Strike"); Defendant MedStar-Georgetown Medical Center, Inc.'s Motion to Strike Plaintiffs Amended Complaint or, in the Alternative, Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment ("Medical Center Motion to Strike"); Defendants' Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Remand ("Remand Opp."); Plaintiff's Reply to Defendant's Opposition to Plaintiffs Motion to Remand ("Remand Reply"); Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant MedStar-Georgetown Medical Center, Inc.'s Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Amended Complaint or, in the Alternative, Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment ("Opp. to Georgetown Motion to Strike"); Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant MGMC LLC's Motion to Strike, Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint Against MGMC LLC and, in the Alternative, to Compel Arbitration ("Opp. to MGMC Motion to Strike"); Plaintiff's Motion to File Second Amended Complaint ("Second Complaint Motion"); Defendants' Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Filed Second Amended Complaint ("Opp. to Second Complaint"); Defendants MedStar-Georgetown Medical Center, Inc. and MGMC LLC's Reply in Support of Their Motion[s] to Strike Plaintiff's Amended Complaint or, in the Alternative, Motion[s] to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment ("Reply to Motions to Strike"); and Plaintiff's Reply in Support of Motion to File Second Amended Complaint ("Reply to Second Complaint"). Page 3

  BACKGROUND FACTS

  For purposes of ruling on the pending motions, the facts can be quickly summarized. Georgetown University is a well-known fixture in the Washington, B.C. community. Plaintiff Rebecca A. Zuurbier, M.D. began her employment at Georgetown University Hospital on April 1, 1993, as an Assistant Professor, Director of the Breast Imaging Division, and Director of Radiology Resident Education. In the ensuing years, Dr. Zuurbier took on positions of greater and greater responsibility within both the medical school and the Hospital. On or about February 17, 2000, MedStar and Georgetown executed an Asset Purchase Agreement covering the Hospital, with an effective date of July 1, 2000. Pursuant to the terms of the acquisition and the terms of her employment agreement, Dr. Zuurbier became an employee of MGMC, a single member limited liability company organized in the District of Columbia and a subsidiary of the Medical Center. Her employment agreement contains an arbitration provision ostensibly requiring arbitration of all employment disputes. Dr. Zuurbier submitted her resignation on July 15, 2002; her last day of employment was October 14, 2002.

  Dr. Zuurbier sued MedStar for employment discrimination on July 15, 2003 in the Superior Court. MedStar was served on September 2, 2003 and removed the action to federal court on September 22, 2003, based on federal-question and diversity jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 1332. As filed, the complaint alleged employment discrimination under the D.C. Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"); constructive termination under the DCHRA; violations of the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d); and gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e. The MedStar Dismissal Motion was filed on September 29, 2003. On October 9, 2003, Dr. Zuurbier filed an Amended Complaint adding as defendants the Medical Page 4 Center and MGMC, and withdrawing the Equal Pay Act claim and the Title VII claim — leaving only DCHRA claims under B.C. law — and filed the Remand Motion.

  MedStar is a Maryland corporation, with its principal place of business in Columbia, Maryland.*fn1 It is registered to do business in both the District of Columbia and Maryland. MGMC and the Medical Center are incorporated and have their primary places of business in the District of Columbia.*fn2 Dr. Zuurbier is a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia.*fn3

  ANALYSIS

  The original complaint in this action sought relief based on two federal statutes, Title VII and the Equal Pay Act, and therefore the Court had jurisdiction upon removal. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."); id. at § 1441(a) ("[A]ny civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction [] may be Page 5 removed by defendant or the defendants. . . ."). In addition, it appearing that MedStar is a Maryland corporation with its principal place of business in Maryland, while Dr. Zuurbier is domiciled in Virginia, diversity jurisdiction also existed when the case was removed to federal court. See id. at § 1332(a) ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000 . . . and is between (1) citizens of different States.");*fn4 id. at 1441(a). Thereafter, however, Dr. Zuurbier dropped her two federal law claims and added two D.C. defendants, which removes the federal question and raises new issues with the question of removal jurisdiction.*fn5 She very much wants this case tried in Superior Court and asks this Court to remand it immediately.

 A. Federal Question Jurisdiction

  The Court is not deprived of jurisdiction to hear and determine MedStar's motion to dismiss just because Dr. Zuurbier filed an amended complaint that deleted her federal claims.

 
When a defendant removes a case to federal court, whether the federal court possesses jurisdiction over that case is determined by examining the face of the complaint and only the face of the complaint at the time of removal. In non-diversity cases, if the face of the complaint reveals a federal question, then the federal court has jurisdiction. Furthermore, once federal jurisdiction is established, a plaintiff cannot precipitate a remand by amending the complaint to eliminate the grounds upon which jurisdiction is based. In other words, if a federal question appears at the moment of removal, the Plaintiff can do nothing to defeat jurisdiction.
Idoux v. Lamar Univ. Sys., 817 F. Supp. 637, 642 (E.D. TX 1993) (internal citations omitted). Dr. Page 6

  Zuurbier resists this conclusion. She argues that her amended complaint, containing DCHRA claims only, essentially erased the first complaint and deprives this Court of jurisdiction. See Remand Motion at ¶ 6 ("As a result of Plaintiff withdrawing both claims arising under the laws of the United States, . . . Defendants do not have grounds to remove this case to federal court under 28 U.S.C. Code [sic] § 1441."); Opp. to MedStar Dismissal Motion at 2 ("[S]ince the basis for removing this action to federal court has now been eliminated[,] . . . this matter should now only be heard in the D.C. Superior Court. . . . [T]he filing of the Amended Complaint and Motion to Remand has [sic] mooted defendant's Motion to Dismiss the original complaint."); Surreply at ¶ 1 ("[O]nce Plaintiff filed her amended complaint (on October 10, 2003), Medstar's [sic] motion to dismiss the original complaint became moot." (emphasis in original)). In this argument, Dr. Zuurbier mistakes the relationship between procedural rules*fn6 and the more fundamental question of the Court's jurisdiction.

  There is no doubt that § 1331 gives a federal court "original jurisdiction" over all actions arising under the laws of the United States, such as the Title VII and Equal Pay Act claims in the original complaint filed by Dr. Zuurbier. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) ("[A]ny 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. . . ."). If removal is based on federal question jurisdiction, the citizenship or residence of the parties is irrelevant. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b). Once a case is properly removed, a plaintiff may not amend the complaint solely to defeat federal jurisdiction. See, e.g., In re Bridgestone/Firestone, 128 F. Supp.2d 1196, 1201-02 (S.D. Ind. 2001); Brock v. DeBray, 869 F. Supp. 926, 928 (M.D. AL 1994); Johnson v. First Fed. Sav. and Loan Ass'n of Detroit, 418 F. Supp. 1106, Page 7 1108 (D.C. MI 1976); WRIGHT, MILLER & COOPER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE: JURISDICTION 3D § 3738. The court can, in its discretion, remand ...


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