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Parish v. Atlantic Richfield Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 6, 2017


         SECTION: “J” (4)



         Before the Court are two motions to remand, one filed by Plaintiff St. Bernard Parish (Rec. Doc. 16) and the other by Intervenors, the State of Louisiana, through Jeff Landry, Attorney General, and the State of Louisiana, through the Department of Natural Resources (Rec. Doc. 18). Defendants Atlantic Richfield Co., have filed multiple oppositions. At the direction of the Court, the parties have filed supplemental memoranda on the issue of federal question jurisdiction. Having considered the motion and legal memoranda, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motions should be GRANTED.


         This litigation derives from Defendants' alleged violation of Louisiana's State and Local Coastal Resources Management Act of 1978 and associated coastal regulations and local ordinances, La. Rev. Stat. § 49:214.21 et seq., (collectively “CZM Laws”). (Rec. Doc. 1-2 at 1). The Parish and Intervenors assert that Defendants' oil and gas exploration, production, and transportation operations violated state permitting laws by causing substantial damage to land and waterbodies defined by the CZM Laws. (Rec. Doc. 1-2 at 4, 8-9). Specifically, the Parish alleges that Defendants constructed and used unlined earthen waste pits located within the Parish's coastal zone. (Rec. Doc. 1-2 at 11.) The Parish claims that the use of these waste pits has had a direct and significant impact on the coastal waters located within the Parish and therefore a coastal use permit (“CUP”) was necessary for each. Although the Parish alleges that the waste pits were constructed after enactment of the CZM Act of 1978, it asserts that any waste pits constructed before its enactment would still require CUP applications. The Parish alleges that Defendants violated the CZM Laws by not obtaining the required CUPs. Ultimately, the Parish asserts that Defendants' use of waste pits in the St. Bernard Parish coastal zone and their failure to properly close the pits and revitalize the sites have caused significant damage.

         The Parish filed this suit in state court and on November 10, 2016, Defendants removed it to this Court. In response, the Parish and Intervenors filed the instant motions to remand. In light of the Fifth's Circuit's ruling in Board of Commissioners of Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., L.L.C., 850 F.3d 714 (5th Cir. 2017), this Court instructed the parties to brief whether federal question jurisdiction exists over this case. The briefing is complete and the motions are now before the Court.


         A defendant may remove a civil action filed in state court if a federal court would have had original jurisdiction over the action. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The removing party bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that federal jurisdiction exists at the time of removal. DeAguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1408 (5th Cir. 1995). The jurisdictional facts supporting removal are examined as of the time of removal. Gebbia v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 233 F.3d 880, 883 (5th Cir. 2000). Ambiguities are construed against removal and in favor of remand, because removal statutes are to be strictly construed. Manguno v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins., 276 F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002).

         A civil action originally filed in state court may be removed to federal court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction if that matter is “founded on a claim or right arising under the Constitution, treaties or laws of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1331. In determining whether federal question jurisdiction exists over a matter, courts apply the “well-pleaded complaint rule, ” which considers whether a federal question is presented on the face of a plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint. Rivet v. Regions Bank of La., 522 U.S. 470, 475 (1998) (citing Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987)). Because the well-pleaded complaint rule focuses solely on whether a plaintiff has “affirmatively alleged” a federal claim, “potential defenses . . . do not provide a basis for federal question jurisdiction.” New Orleans & Gulf Coast Ry. Co. v. Barrois, 533 F.3d 321, 328 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing PCI Transp., Inc. v. Fort Worth & W. R.R. Co., 418 F.3d 535, 543 (5th Cir. 2005)). In fact, removal is not warranted pursuant to federal question jurisdiction “on the basis of a federal defense . . . even if the defense is anticipated in the plaintiff's complaint, and even if both parties admit that the defense is the only question truly at issue in the case.” Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for So. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 13 (1983).

         Despite the applicability of the well-pleaded complaint rule, a claim which has origins in state law may still be found to arise under federal law if it falls within a “special and small category” of cases. Gunn v. Minton, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1064 (2013) (citing Empire Healthchoice Assurance, Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 699 (2006)). The Supreme Court articulated the test for determining whether a claim falls within this narrow category, finding that federal question jurisdiction attaches to state law claims where:

(1) resolving a federal issue is necessary to resolution of the state-law claim; (2) the federal issue is actually disputed; (3) the federal issue is substantial; and (4) federal jurisdiction will not disturb the balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.

Singh v. Duane Morris LLP, 538 F.3d 334, 338 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. v. Darue Engineering & Manufacturing, 545 U.S. 308, 314 (2005)). However, the category of cases envisioned in Grable is a “slim” one. Empire Healthchoice Assurance, 547 U.S. at 701. Moreover, the “mere presence” of a federal issue or the necessity of interpreting federal law “does not automatically confer federal-question jurisdiction.” St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal Dist. v. Violet Dock Port, Inc., 809 F.Supp.2d 524, 536 (E.D. La. 2011) (citing Merrell Dow Pharm. Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 813 (1986)).


         Defendants assert three separate grounds for removal. They argue that the Parish's claims are subject to maritime jurisdiction and OCSLA jurisdiction, and that the Parish's claims raise federal questions. The first two alleged sources of jurisdiction are nonstarters. This Court's jurisprudence is clear that the Parish's claims do not create OCSLA jurisdiction and, assuming they are maritime claims, would not be removable solely on that ground.[1]See, e.g., Parish of Plaquemines v. Total Petrochemical & RefiningUSA, Inc., 64 F.Supp.3d 872, 899 (E.D. La. 2014); Jefferson Parish v. Chevron U.S.A. Holdings, Inc., No. 13-16738, 2015 WL 2229278 (E.D. La. May 12, 2015). Defendants also make a vague allegation that federal question jurisdiction exists over the Parish's claims because the state court petition “raises complex and interrelated issues involving many areas addressed by federal statutes and regulations.” (See Rec. Doc. 2 at 3.) This Court concurs with the multiple courts in this district that have found such nebulous allegations failed to ...

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