United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS
M. AFRICK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
could reasonably assume that, after hundreds of volumes of
the United States Reports and thousands of volumes
of the Federal Reporter and the Federal
Supplement, the federal courts would always know what a
federal case is. But that is not true.
sure, the determination is easy in the vast majority of
cases. As a general matter, “[a] suit arises under the
law that creates the cause of action.” Am. Well
Works Co. v. Layne & Bowler Co., 241 U.S. 257, 260
(1916). So a case brought pursuant to a federal cause of
action is almost always a federal case. The converse is also
true: a case brought pursuant to a state cause of action is
almost always not a federal case.
always, but not always always. A formally federal
cause of action may not be a federal case when it has an
“overwhelming predominance of state-law issues.”
Merrell Dow Pharms. Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804,
814 n.12 (1986); see, e.g., Shoshone Mining Co.
v. Rutter, 177 U.S. 505 (1900). And some formally state
law causes of action can nonetheless be federal cases when
they necessarily implicate substantial issues of federal law.
See, e.g., Smith v. Kansas City Title &
Trust Co., 255 U.S. 180 (1921).
the inherent vagueness in both inquiries, the federal courts
have been unable “to frame a single, precise definition
for determining which cases fall within, and which cases fall
outside, the original jurisdiction of the district
courts.” Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Constr.
Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 8
(1983). As a result, district court judges have instead been
told to apply their “common-sense . . . judgment”
to the “kaleidoscop[e]” of cases that appear on
their dockets. Gully v. First Nat'l Bank, 299
U.S. 108, 117 (1936) (Cardozo, J.). That kaleidoscope of
cases has fittingly resulted in a body of case law that looks
like a canvas “that Jackson Pollock got to
first.” Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 258
pending motion to remand, see R. Doc. No. 11, asks
this Court to determine whether formally state law claims
constitute a federal case within this Court's
jurisdiction. The Court concludes that the answer to that
question is no.
case is one of many where the State of Louisiana and local
parishes are attempting to determine the oil industry's
responsibility for the deteriorating condition of
State and Local Coastal Resources Management Act of 1978
manages Louisiana's coastal zone through a permitting
scheme. Under the Act, any party seeking to “use”
the coastal zone needs to apply for a coastal use permit.
See La. R.S. 49:214.30(A)(1). A party
“uses” the coastal zone when it engages in any
activity which “has a direct and significant impact on
coastal waters.” La. R.S. 49:214.23(13). The state
issues permits that relate to uses of state concern; local
governments with approved programs issue permits for uses of
local concern. See La. R.S. 49:214.25.
Bridget Dinvaut is the district attorney for St. John the
Baptist Parish. The Act empowers Dinvaut, as the district
attorney, to bring an enforcement action for unpermitted uses
of the coastal zone. See La. R.S. 49:214.36(D).
Dinvaut brings suit against a number of companies and
individuals involved in oil exploration and extraction in St.
John Parish. The suit alleges that defendants violated the
Act and its implementing regulations by engaging in
unpermitted uses of the coastal zone. Dinvaut asks for
damages for past violations of the Act as well as either (1)
a monetary award to pay for the restoration of the coastal
zone or (2) a court order that the defendants restore the
coastal zone. See St. Ct. Pet. ¶ 37(a)-(c).
petition is also notable for what it disclaims. The petition
disclaims any claim arising under federal law and/or federal
regulations, and further clarifies that Dinvaut raises no
claim that the defendants violated a federal permit ...