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City of Breaux Bridge v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

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

December 20, 2018





         Before the Court are the parties' response memorandums, [Rec. Doc. 16, filed by the defendant on August 31, 2018; and Rec. Doc. 20, filed by the plaintiff on September 7, 2018], to the Court's Sua Sponte Jurisdictional Briefing Order, [Rec. Doc. 11, August 10, 2018], which requested that the parties address whether the Court has federal question jurisdiction or federal diversity jurisdiction over this case, and the plaitniff's Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint. [Rec. Doc. 14, filed August 31, 2018]. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that it does have jurisdiction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant, Union Pacific Railroad Co., owns a railroad line that crosses plaintiff's, City of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana's, municipal boundaries. Plaintiff alleges that defendant is “obstructing, retarding or interfering” with the “proper and natural drainage” of the nearby lands within the City of Breaux Bridge. [R. Doc. 1.1 at 5, filed July 3, 2018]. Plaintiff filed suit in the Sixteenth Judicial District Court for the State of Louisiana under La. R.S. § 45:457[1] alleging that the defendant had an obligation to start “constructing [. . .] culverts[2] and drains” under the roadbeds that were allegedly obstructing the “proper and natural drainage” of the lands of properties adjacent to the defendant's railway because the railway culvert crossing does not adequately drain the land of the properties. [Rec. Doc. 1.1 at 5, filed July 3, 2018].

         Defendant removed the case to this Court claiming that the Louisiana statute is completely preempted by 49 U.S.C. Section 10501(b) of the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (“ICCTA”). [Rec. Doc. 1, filed July 3, 2018]. Defendant contends that the Court has jurisdiction over this action under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 as the case presents a federal question, and, alternatively, subject matter jurisdiction as the matter is between citizens of different states and the case in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand in response to the defendant's Notice of Removal. [Rec. Doc. 22, filed September 10, 2018].


         Once a motion to remand has been filed, the burden is on the removing party to establish that federal jurisdiction exists. De Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1408 (5th Cir. 1995). The removal statute is to be strictly construed, and any doubt about the propriety of removal must be resolved in favor of remand and against federal-court jurisdiction. Carpenter v. Wichita Falls Indep. Sch. Dist., 44 F.3d 362, 365-366 (5th Cir. 1998). “If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

         Federal courts have jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Courts apply the “well-pleaded complaint rule” to determine whether a suit arises under federal law, asking “whether the plaintiff has affirmatively alleged a federal claim.” New Orleans & Gulf Coast Ry. Co. v. Barrois, 533 F.3d 321, 328 (5th Cir.2008). As a corollary, “anticipated or potential defenses, including defenses based on federal preemption, do not provide a basis for federal question jurisdiction.” Id. “[I]t is now settled law that a case may not be removed to federal court on the basis of a federal defense, including the defense of pre-emption, even if the defense is anticipated in the plaintiff's complaint, and even if both parties concede that the federal defense is the only question truly at issue.” Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 393 (1987) (citation omitted) (emphasis in original). “An exception applies to this rule when the complete preemption doctrine applies.” Barrois, 533 F.3d at 330.

         “Under the complete preemption doctrine, what otherwise appears as merely a state law claim is converted to a claim arising under federal law for jurisdictional purposes because the federal statute so forcibly and completely displaces state law that the plaintiff's cause of action is either wholly federal or nothing at all.” Elam v. Kansas City S. Ry. Co., 635 F.3d 796, 803 (5th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “The question in complete preemption analysis is whether Congress intended the federal cause of action to be the exclusive cause of action for the particular claims asserted under state law.” Barrois, 533 F.3d at 331. “Congress can indicate its preemptive intent either expressly through a statute's plain language, or impliedly through a statute's structure and purpose.” Elam, 635 F.3d at 803 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         “[C]omplete preemption doctrine applies to state causes of action that ‘fall squarely' under 49 U.S.C. § 10501(b) of the ICCTA.” Id. (citation omitted). Section 10501(b) provides:

(b) The jurisdiction of the [Surface Transportation] Board[3] over-
(1) transportation by rail carriers, and the remedies provided in this part with respect to rates, classifications, rules (including car service, interchange, and other operating rules), practices, routes, services, and facilities of such carriers; and
(2) the construction, acquisition, operation, abandonment, or discontinuance of spur, industrial, team, switching, or side tracks, or facilities, even if the tracks are located, or ...

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