Austin v. City of York, The
ORDER AND OPINION denying 10 Motion to Remand to State Court. Signed by Honorable Margaret B Seymour on 7/28/2017.(asni, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
ROCK HILL DIVISION
JAMES JORDAN AUSTIN,
CITY OF YORK,
Civil Action No.: 0:17-cv-01054-MBS
ORDER AND OPINION
Plaintiff James Jordan Austin (“Plaintiff”) sued Defendant City of York (“Defendant”) in
the Court of Common Pleas for York County, South Carolina, alleging violations of the South
Carolina Wage Payment Act (“SCWPA”), South Carolina Code Annotated §§ 41-10-10 et seq.
ECF No. 1-1. Defendant removed to federal court based on federal question jurisdiction. ECF
No. 1. Defendant argues that Plaintiff is claiming rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act
(“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., and accordingly there is federal jurisdiction. Id. at 1. Plaintiff
moved to remand. ECF No. 10. Plaintiff asserts that there is neither federal question jurisdiction
nor diversity jurisdiction. Id.
Plaintiff is a former employee of the City of York Fire Department. ECF No. 1-1 at ¶ 5.
Plaintiff seeks unpaid overtime compensation payable pursuant to the SCWPA. Id. at ¶¶ 18-23.
Plaintiff contends that during his employment, he worked a shift schedule of “24 on/48 off,
which consisted of twenty-four hours on duty, followed by forty-eight hours off duty,
irrespective of weekends or holidays.” Id. at ¶ 10. Plaintiff’s shift schedule equated to Plaintiff
working either forty-eight or seventy-two hours per week. See id. at ¶ 11. Plaintiff alleges that in
addition to his regular wages, he was to be “compensated for overtime at time-and-one-half for
all hours worked over forty (40) in a seven (7) calendar day work week.” Id. at ¶ 9. Plaintiff
argues that for each seventy-two hour work week, he is entitled to thirty-two hours of overtime,
and for each forty-eight hour work week, he is entitled to eight hours of overtime. Id. at ¶ 12.
Plaintiff alleges Defendant never compensated him for overtime. Id. at ¶ 14.
Plaintiff alleges Defendant violated South Carolina Code Annotated §§ 41-10-40 and 4141-50 by failing to render payment for overtime worked. Id. at ¶ 20. Plaintiff alleges Defendant’s
failure to render payment for overtime worked is “willful, without justification, and in violation
of the duty of good faith and fair dealing.” Id. at ¶ 22.
Plaintiff argues that remand is proper as he is pursuing relief solely under the SWPCA.
ECF No. 10-1 at 2. Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s SCWPA claim asserts rights that are
preempted by the FLSA; therefore, Plaintiff is asserting a federal question and jurisdiction is
proper. ECF No. 12. Removal from state court is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1441. Under § 1441,
“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 . . . .” A federal court
may have original jurisdiction through federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, or
diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. “A defendant or defendants desiring to remove any civil
action . . . shall file in the district court . . . a pending notice or removal” within thirty days after
receipt of the initial pleading. 28 U.S.C. § 1446. Once an action has been removed, a plaintiff
may file a motion to remand “on the basis of any defect other than lack of subject matter
jurisdiction . . . within 30 days after the filing of the notice of removal . . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 1447.
The removing party has the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction, and the court
should construe any uncertainty of federal jurisdiction in favor of remand. Mulcahey v. Columbia
Organic Chems. Co., Inc., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994). First, the court must apply the wellpleaded complaint rule. Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). Under the wellpleaded complaint rule, “federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on
the face of the plaintiff’s properly pleaded complaint.” Id. A defense based on federal law is not
sufficient to establish federal question jurisdiction. E.g., Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc. v. Thompson,
478 U.S. 804, 809 (1986) (“A defense that raises a federal question is inadequate to confer
federal jurisdiction.”). However, under the artful pleading doctrine, the court determines whether
a plaintiff has tried to avoid removal jurisdiction by “artfully” framing federal law claims as state
law claims. Kennedy v. Orangeburg Cty. Sheriff's Off., No. 08-0873, 2008 WL 4833022, at *1
(D.S.C. Oct. 31, 2008). While a plaintiff “may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on
state law,” a plaintiff “may not defeat removal by artfully pleading to omit necessary federal
questions.” Id.; Rivet v. Regions Bank of Louisiana, 522 U.S. 470, 475 (1998). If “federal law
completely preempts a plaintiff’s state-law claim,” then there is a necessary federal question.
Rivet, 522 U.S. at 475 (citing Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 65-66 (1987)). In
Rivet, the Supreme Court explained that “once an area of state law has been completely preempted, any claim purportedly based on that pre-empted state law claim is considered, from its
inception, a federal claim, and therefore arises under federal law.” 522 U.S. at 476 (citing
Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 393 (1987)).
There are three ways a federal law may preempt state law: “express preemption,” “field
preemption,” or “conflict preemption.” Anderson v. Sara Lee Corp., 508 F.3d 181, 191 (4th Cir.
2007). Under “conflict preemption,” the court determines (1) whether it is “impossible to comply
with both state and federal law,” or (2) “whether the state law stands as an obstacle to the
accomplishment of the full purposes and objectives of federal law.” Id. at 191-92 (citing Worm v.
Am. Cyanamid Co., 970 F.2d 1301, 1305 (4th Cir. 1992)) (internal quotations omitted). In
Anderson, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the FLSA is an “unusually elaborate
enforcement scheme” and “Congress prescribed exclusive remedies in the FLSA for violations of
its mandates.” Id. at 192, 194. Two specific FLSA mandates are: (1) “that covered workers be
paid a minimum wage, see [29 U.S.C.] § 206,” and (2) “that they receive overtime
compensation, see [29 U.S.C. § 207].” Id. at 192; see also McMurray v. LRJ Rest. Inc., No. 101435, 2011 WL 247906, at *2 (D.S.C. Jan. 26, 2011). Accordingly, the FLSA preempts any state
law claim for minimum wage or overtime pay as any state claim “stands as an obstacle to the
accomplishment of the full purposes and objectives of the FLSA.” Anderson, 508 F.3d at 193.
However, a plaintiff may have a claim independent of the FLSA if the state law provides
“workers with more beneficial minimum wages and maximum workweeks than those mandated
by FLSA.” Id.
Here, Plaintiff is seeking overtime wages, a right established by an FLSA mandate. See
29 U.S.C. § 207. Plaintiff does not assert that the SCWPA provides more beneficial overtime
benefits, nor does Plaintiff assert that the SCWPA even provides for overtime benefits. The court
concludes Plaintiff’s claim is preempted by the FLSA and removal is proper under federal
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff’s motion to remand is DENIED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/ Margaret B. Seymour
Honorable Margaret B. Seymour
Senior United States District Judge
July 28, 2017
Columbia, South Carolina
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