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Macro Companies, Inc. v. Dearybury Oil & Gas, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division

October 23, 2018

MACRO COMPANIES, INC.
v.
DEARYBURY OIL & GAS, INC., ET AL.

          SUMMERHAYS MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PATRICK J. HANNA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Currently pending is the motion to remand (Rec. Doc. 11) that was filed by the plaintiff, Macro Companies, Inc. The motion is opposed. The motion was referred to the undersigned for review, report, and recommendation in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636 and the standing orders of the court. Considering the evidence, the law, and the arguments of the parties, and for the reasons fully explained below, it is recommended that the motion be granted and this matter be remanded to the 15th Judicial District Court, Lafayette Parish, Louisiana.

         Background

         The plaintiff, Macro Companies, Inc., initiated this lawsuit by filing a “Petition for Breach of Contract and Monies Due” in the 15th Judicial District Court, Lafayette Parish, Louisiana. Macro sued three defendants: Dearybury Oil & Gas, Inc., Florida Marine Transporters, L.L.C., and Kenneth R. Pullen. In the petition, Macro alleged that approximately a week after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September 2017, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) asked Macro to source five million gallons of ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel and arrange for the purchase of the diesel and its delivery to Puerto Rico. Macro alleged that discussions ensued between Clyde Guilbeau (representing Macro), Mr. Pullen (representing Florida Marine), and Bill Dearybury, III (representing Dearybury), resulting in an agreement by which Dearybury would sell the diesel to FEMA, Macro would coordinate the transport and delivery of the diesel to Puerto Rico, and Macro would be paid a commission of five cents per gallon, or a total of $250, 000. Macro alleged that two separate contracts were created: the contract by which Dearybury sold diesel fuel to FEMA, and the contract by which Dearybury, Florida Marine, and Mr. Pullen agreed to pay a commission to Macro.

         The diesel was transported to Puerto Rico on a vessel called the SEA-CHEM 1, which arrived in San Juan on or shortly after October 3, 2017. When the commission was not promptly paid, Macro invoiced Dearybury on November 29, 2017 for the unpaid commission. In the petition, Macro articulated a claim for specific performance of the contract allegedly confected among Macro, Dearybury, Florida Marine, and Mr. Pullen and a claim for damages attributable to the defendants' delay in paying the claimed commission. Macro did not sue FEMA, and no federal law was cited in the petition.

         Florida Marine removed the action to this forum (Rec. Doc. 1), and Dearybury consented to the removal (Rec. Doc. 1-7). Florida Marine alleged that this court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the action under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because the plaintiff's claim arises under federal law. The plaintiff responded to the removal notice with the instant motion to remand.

         Law and Analysis

         A. Federal Question Jurisdiction

         Federal courts exercise limited jurisdiction.[1] For that reason, a “suit is presumed to lie outside a federal court's jurisdiction until the party invoking federal jurisdiction establishes otherwise.”[2] In this case, when Florida Marine removed the action, it invoked federal subject-matter jurisdiction solely on the basis of the presence of a federal question.[3] Therefore, as the parties invoking federal jurisdiction, the defendants must bear the burden of demonstrating the existence of a federal question.[4] The removal statutes are strictly construed in favor of remand and against removal.[5]

         Federal district courts have “original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”[6] Therefore, a defendant may remove a case to federal court based on the presence of a federal question when a plaintiff asserts a claim or right arising under the Constitution or under the treaties or laws of the United States.[7]

         B. The Claim Asserted in the Plaintiff's Petition

         Whether a claim arises under federal law so as to confer federal question jurisdiction is governed by the well-pleaded complaint rule, which provides that “federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.”[8] Under the well-pleaded complaint rule, “there is generally no federal jurisdiction if the plaintiff properly pleads only a state law cause of action.”[9]

         On its face, the plaintiff's complaint does not seek the interpretation of a federal agency contract or a federal statute. Although the plaintiff alleged that Dearybury contracted with FEMA for the sale of diesel fuel, the plaintiff also alleged that a second, separate contract was confected among Macro, Dearybury, Florida Marine, and Mr. Pullen for the payment of a commission to Macro for facilitating Dearybury's contract with FEMA. Macro alleged that the second contract was breached - not the contract between FEMA and Dearybury. Macro did not sue FEMA, and Macro did not allege that the contract between FEMA and Dearybury obligated either FEMA or Dearybury to pay a commission to Macro. Instead, Macro alleged that it is owed a commission by Dearybury, Florida Marine, and Mr. Pullen under the terms of the separate contract between them. Furthermore, Macro did not cite any federal law in its complaint, did not allege that the dispute underlying the lawsuit is based on or arises out of federal law, and did not suggest that any federal law provides a basis for resolving the dispute. To the contrary, the only law referenced in the complaint is Louisiana state law. Accordingly, this Court concludes that, when the well-pleaded complaint rule is applied - as it must be - the inescapable conclusion is that the plaintiff's complaint does not present a federal question that would support subject-matter jurisdiction in federal court.

         C. A Defense Cannot Provide the Basis for Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

         Florida Marine and Dearybury both argued that all contracts to which a federal agency is a party are governed by federal law and that the contract between FEMA and Dearybury must be interpreted to determine whether Macro is owed a defense. While it is correct that the interpretation of contracts between federal government agencies and private parties are generally governed by federal law,[10] the plaintiff did not assert a claim for interpretation of the alleged contract between FEMA and Dearybury. If interpretation of that contract is necessary, it is necessary only because the defendants have raised the importance of the terms and provisions of that contract as a defense to the ...


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