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Speculation on possible defenses and responding to such defenses in an attempt to demonstrate that a federal question would likely arise is not a necessary element of a plaintiff's cause of action, and thus does not create federal subject matter jurisdiction
Plaintiff individual and her attorney filed a state suit against defendants alleging defamation. Plaintiffs, anticipating defendants' absolute privilege under state law defense, asserted that the exercise of such privilege violated their First Amendment Rights. Based on this argument, defendants successfully petitioned to have both cases removed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs, asserting lack of federal jurisdiction, moved to remand the cases to the state court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447. The District Court denied the motion, holding that the plaintiffs "have clearly raised federal constitutional issues in their complaint." The defendants moved to dismiss the cases, which was granted by the District Court. Plaintiffs appealed.
Did plaintiffs, in a state-suit for defamation, confer subject-matter jurisdiction on a federal court by raising a First Amendment issue in response to an anticipatory defense?
The Court held that the district court erred in assuming jurisdiction, and the appellate court reversed the order of the district court. The complaint sounded entirely in state law. The parties were not diverse, and thus the district court's assumption of removal jurisdiction was predicated on original federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C.S. § 1331. Approximately a century of precedent compelled the appellate court to reverse the district court. Plaintiffs anticipated a state defense (i.e., absolute privilege), and developed a first amendment response to the defense (i.e., absolute privilege violated the United States Constitution). Speculation on a state defense and a constitutional answer to it just could not be the basis for federal question jurisdiction.