United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana
BRINKER INTERNATIONAL PAYROLL COMPANY, L.P.
TOWER CREDIT, INC.
D. DICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss due
to Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction pursuant to Rule
12(b)(1) filed by Defendant, Tower Credit, Inc.
(“Defendant”). Plaintiff, Brinker International
Payroll Company, L.P. (“Plaintiff”), has filed an
Opposition to the motion. For the reasons which
follow, the motion will be granted.
FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
January 15, 2015, Defendant obtained a judgment against
Alisia Thornton (“Thornton”) in Baton Rouge City
Court. After Thornton failed to satisfy the
judgment, Defendant filed a garnishment action seeking to
satisfy the judgment against Thornton's income. The
garnishment was served on Thornton's employer, Plaintiff
herein, who filed an answer to the garnishment
interrogatories which included a statement that Thornton
earns $2.13 plus tips as a waitress. The Baton Rouge City
Court rendered a judgment of garnishment ordering Plaintiff
to place the matter in line for payment to the Baton Rouge
claims that Plaintiff has submitted no payment pursuant to
the garnishment order. Telephone communications between the
parties allegedly confirmed that Plaintiff believes
Thornton's tips are not to be included in the calculation
for the amount to be withheld for garnishment. Prior to
reaching a resolution on this issue, Plaintiff filed the
current suit under the Federal Declaratory Judgment
seeking a declaratory judgment that, under the Fair Labor
Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the Consumer Credit
Protection Act (“CCPA”),  Thornton's tips are not
to be calculated in the garnishment amount.
moves to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction,
arguing that no federal question exists in this case.
Plaintiff opposes the motion, arguing that the interpretation
of federal statutes is clearly a federal question appropriate
for this Court.
DECLARATORY JUDGMENT ACT
Declaratory Judgment Act states: “In a case of actual
controversy within its jurisdiction, ... any court of the
United States, upon the filing of an appropriate pleading,
may declare the rights and other legal relations of any
interested party seeking such
declaration.” Unlike other kinds of cases, over which
the district courts have a “virtually unflagging
obligation” to exercise their jurisdiction
notwithstanding that there is a pending state court action
involving the very same issues,  the Declaratory Judgment Act
“has been understood to confer on federal courts unique
and substantial discretion in deciding whether to declare the
rights of litigants.” In Brillhart v. Excess
Insurance Company of America, the Supreme Court
recognized district courts' discretion to dismiss a
declaratory judgment action when a parallel suit not governed
by federal law and presenting the same issues is pending in
state court, holding that it would be “uneconomical as
well as vexatious for a federal court to proceed in a
declaratory judgment suit where another suit is pending in a
state court presenting the same issues ... between the same
deciding whether to exercise this discretion, the ultimate
issue for the Court to decide is “whether the questions
in controversy between the parties to the federal suit ...
can better be settled in the proceeding pending in state
court.” In the Fifth Circuit, this decision
involves three questions: “(1) is it justiciable; (2)
does the court have the authority to grant such relief; and
(3) should it exercise its discretion to decide the action
based on the factors stated in St Paul Insurance Co. v.
Trejo, 39 F.3d 585 (5th Cir.1994).”
Wilton v. Seven Falls Co.,  the United States Supreme
Court explained how district courts should use discretion to
abstain from entertaining a declaratory judgment action:
[I]n deciding whether to enter a stay, a district court
should examine the scope of the pending state court
proceeding and the nature of defenses open there. This
inquiry, in turn, entails consideration of whether the claims
of all parties in interest can satisfactorily be adjudicated
in that proceeding, whether necessary parties have been
joined, whether such parties are amenable to process in that
proceeding. 515 U.S. at 283, 115 S.Ct. 2137 (internal
citations omitted). The Supreme Court reasoned that when
another suit “involving the same parties and presenting
opportunity for ventilation of the same state law issues is
pending in state court, ” a court's consideration
of the declaratory judgment action may constitute
“gratuitous interference.” Id.
United States Supreme Court has held that “[t]he
presence of a substantial federal question must be apparent
without the aid of the answer or the petition for
removal.” “A federal court cannot take
jurisdiction of a case as one arising under federal law if
the federal issue will be raised only as a defense to the
state law claim.”
present case, a state court judgment of garnishment has
already been entered against Thornton, and Plaintiff has been
ordered to comply with those procedures. A similar issue was
addressed in Taylor v. Taylor,  where a
plaintiff attempted to remove a state court garnishment
proceeding to federal court asserting an infringement of her
constitutional rights. The Taylor court noted:
“The Court notes that this district would be an
inappropriate forum for removal of the original state court
judgment.” The court also noted: “The alleged
federal unconstitutionality of the state court and bankruptcy
judgments is being raised by Ursula Taylor as a defense. This
is not an adequate jurisdictional basis for a removed action.
Wright, Miller & Cooper, 14B Federal Practice &
Procedure § 3722 (West).” The same is
true in the present case as Plaintiff is attempting to obtain
a declaratory judgment here to be used as a defense in the
state court garnishment proceedings.
the Court is not persuaded by the argument that only a
federal court is able to interpret federal statutes. ...