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Defelice Land Company, LLC v. Conocophillips Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 17, 2015

DEFELICE LAND COMPANY, LLC
v.
CONOCOPHILLIPS COMPANY, ET AL. SECTION

ORDER AND REASONS

MARTIN L. C. FELDMAN, District Judge.

Before the Court is the plaintiff's motion to remand. For the reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED.

Background

This litigation involves claims by a Louisiana landowner that its property in Plaquemines Parish was destroyed by defendants' proximate oil and gas operations. Whether this case falls within the scope of this Court's limited subject matter jurisdiction is the sole issue presented.

This case raises identical issues as the many so-called "oil patch cases" originally filed by Jefferson and Plaquemines Parish in state court against various defendants for alleged violations of permits issued pursuant to the State and Local Coastal Resources Management Act of 1978, La. R.S. § 49:214.21, et seq. (SLCRMA).[1] Accordingly, the procedural history of those cases has some bearing here. In 2013 Jefferson and Plaquemines Parishes filed 28 lawsuits in state court against various oil and gas exploration companies, the defendants removed the cases, and the Parish plaintiffs moved for remand. This Court stayed proceedings until another Section of this Court resolved a motion to remand presenting substantially identical issues.

On December 1, 2014, Judge Zainey granted remand in a thorough order and reasons. See Parish of Plaquemines v. Total Petrochemical & Refining USA, Inc., No. 13-6693, 2014 WL 6750649 (E.D. La. Dec. 1, 2014). Judge Zainey found that the Court did not have jurisdiction based on diversity, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, admiralty, or any federal question. Other judges have reached the same result. Relying on Judge Zainey's order and reasons, Judge Africk granted remand in the case before his section. See Plaquemines Parish v. Rozel Operating Co., et al., No. 13-6722 (E.D. La. Jan. 29, 2015). In March 2015, Judge Lemelle remanded his four cases for substantially the same reasons. See, e.g., Jefferson Parish v. Anadarko E&P Onshore LLC, et al., No. 13-6701 (E.D. La. Mar. 9, 2015). On April 29, 2015 this Court remanded its five cases, all of which were substantially similar with the exception of one case in which a defendant contended that the suit against it necessarily implicated the federal Natural Gas Act. See, e.g., Plaquemines Parish v. Hilcorp Energy Company, No. 13-6727 (E.D. La. Apr. 29, 2015).[2] On May 15, 2015, Judge Morgan remanded her Parish case. See Plaquemines Parish v. Linder Oil Company, No. 13-6706 (E.D. La. May 15, 2015). Chief Judge Vance then remanded her Parish case. See Jefferson Parish v. Equitable Petroleum Corp., No. 13-6714 (E.D. La. May 18, 2015). Judge Fallon then remanded his Parish cases. See, e.g., Plaquemines Parish v. Palm Energy Offshore LLC, No. 13-6709 (E.D. La. May 26, 2015).

In addition to remanding his two Parish cases on May 12, 2015, see, e.g., Plaquemines Parish v. Devon Entergy Production Co. LP, No. 13-6716 (E.D. La. May 12, 2015), Judge Barbier also remanded three cases brought by individual, rather than Parish, plaintiffs. See Borne v. Chevron U.S.A. Holdings, Inc., No. 15-631 (E.D. La. May 27, 2015); Fasterling v. Hilcorp Energy Co., No. 15-629 (E.D. La. May 29, 2015); Bernstein v. Atlantic Richfield Co., No. 15-630 (E.D. La. May 29, 2015). The Court assumes familiarity with the Eastern District of Louisiana case literature respecting the oil patch cases, foremost the landowner cases.

The alleged facts of this case are substantially identical to those in the landowner cases remanded by Judge Barbier. Defelice Land Company, LLC owns property located within, adjacent to, and in the vicinity of the Lake Hermitage and Magnolia Oil & Gas Fields. Defelice alleges that certain of defendants' oil and gas exploration, production, and transportation operations associated with the development of this area not only substantially damaged its property and bodies of water in the Coastal Zone, but were conducted in violation of Louisiana's State and Local Coastal Resources Management Act of 1978 (SLCRMA).

Filing suit in state court in Plaquemines Parish on January 16, 2015, Defelice sued certain Parish Defendants[3] and Canal Defendants, [4] alleging five state law claims: negligence, strict liability, public nuisance, private nuisance, and breach of contract (based on third-party beneficiary theory). As to its property damage claims, Defelice alleges that the Canal Defendants' and Parish Defendants' acts or omissions on and around Defelice's property drastically altered the hydrology of the area causing saltwater intrusion, vegetation die-off, sedimentation inhibition, erosion, and submergence, all leading to land loss, increased risk of land loss, and storm surge. Defelice also alleges that Louisiana's SLCRMA, along with the relevant state regulations, and coastal use permits issued by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources govern, and that the defendants have violated those state laws, regulations, and permits.[5] Like other plaintiffs before it, Defelice seeks to recover damages, injunctive relief in the form of abatement and restoration of the coastal land loss, and costs, expenses, and attorney's fees.

On February 26, 2015 Chevron U.S.A., Inc., Chevron U.S.A. Holdings, Inc., and Chevron Pipeline Company removed the lawsuit, invoking this Court's subject matter jurisdiction based on three potential bases: federal question, admiralty and OCLSA jurisdiction. Defelice now moves for remand.

I.

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, ' possessing only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.'" Gunn v. Minton, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1064 (2013)(quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). A defendant's right to remove is strictly statutory in nature. See Carpenter v. Wichita Falls Indep. Sch. Dist., 44 F.3d 362, 366 (5th Cir. 1995); Syngenta Corp. Production, Inc. v. Henson, 537 U.S. 28, 32 (2002) (citing Great N.R. Co. v. Alexander, 246 U.S. 276 U.S., 280 (1918) ("The right of removal is entirely a creature of statute.")). The general removal statute governing civil actions provides:

Except as otherwise expressly provided by Act of Congress, 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.

28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) (emphasis added). Thus, a defendant may remove a state court action only if the action could have originally been filed in federal court. Aaron v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co., 876 F.2d 1157, 1160 (5th Cir. 1989) (citing Caterpillar v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 391-92 (1987); 28 U.S.C. § 1441). The propriety of removal is thereby keyed to the original jurisdiction of the federal district courts, and consideration of a motion to remand a case removed from state court presents issues of subject matter jurisdiction and statutory construction. Carpenter, 44 F.3d at 365-66 (citing Garrett v. Commonwealth Mort. Corp. of Am., 938 F.2d 591, 593 (5th Cir. 1991)). The removing party "bears the burden of showing that federal jurisdiction exists and that removal was proper." Mumfrey v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc., 719 F.3d 392, 397 (5th Cir. 2013)(citing Manguno v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 276 F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002)). In evaluating whether removal was appropriate, the Court is guided by the principle, grounded in ...


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