Johnson v. American Towers, LLC, No. 13-1872 (4th Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
Robert Johnson, a prison guard in Bishopville, South Carolina, was shot multiple times in his home in an attack ordered by an inmate at the prison where Johnson worked. The inmate had used a contraband cell phone to communicate with the shooter. Johnson and his wife (together, Plaintiffs) sued several cellular phone service providers and owners of cell phone towers (collectively, Defendants) in state court, seeking to recover under state law negligence and loss of consortium theories. Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants were aware that their services facilitated the illegal use of cellphones by prison inmates and that this illegal use created an unreasonable risk of harm to others. Defendants timely removed the case to federal court. The federal district court concluded that it had jurisdiction over the complaint and granted Defendants’ motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court (1) erred in finding the existence of federal question jurisdiction, but the court properly exercised diversity jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ state law claims; and (2) correctly held that Plaintiffs’ claims failed to state a claim as a matter of law.