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Dickens v. CB&I LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

May 22, 2019


          FOOTE, Judge.



         Before the court is a Motion to Remand by plaintiff, Julius Dickens. Doc. 7. Defendant CB&I LLC (“CB&I”) opposes the motion. Doc. 10. This motion has been referred to the undersigned for review, report, and recommendation in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636. For the reasons stated below, IT IS RECOMMENDED that the motion be GRANTED.



         On August 15, 2018, plaintiff filed suit in the 14th Judicial District Court, Calcasieu Parish, against his former employer, CB&I. Doc. 1, att. 1. Plaintiff alleges he was terminated from his position as a Piperfitter Journeyman I because of his obesity, and that such termination was unlawfully discriminatory under Louisiana law. Id. CB&I then removed the suit pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Doc. 1. It argues that this court has subject matter jurisdiction because plaintiff's petition includes a claim that CB&I violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. Id. at 3. Plaintiff now moves to remand, denying that his petition asserts any claims under federal law. Doc. 7, p. 2. CB&I opposes the motion. Doc. 10.


         Law and Analysis

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, possessing “only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.” Gunn v. Minton, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1064 (2013) (internal quotation omitted). Generally, a defendant may remove a civil action to federal court if the federal court has original jurisdiction over the action. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). However, the federal district court must remand the action to state court if it finds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). The removing party bears the burden of showing that removal was procedurally proper, and that federal jurisdiction exists. See De Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1408 (5th Cir. 1995).

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, federal courts have original jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” To determine whether a cause of action arises under federal law, courts apply the well-pleaded complaint rule. Bernhard v. Whitney Nat'l Bank, 523 F.3d 546, 551 (5th Cir. 2008). This rule recognizes the axiom “that a plaintiff is master of his complaint and may generally allege only a state law cause of action even where a federal remedy is also available.” Id.

         Under the well-pleaded complaint rule, “a federal court has original or removal jurisdiction only if a federal question appears on the face of the plaintiff's well-pleaded complaint; generally, there is no federal jurisdiction if the plaintiff properly pleads only a state law cause of action.” Id. A federal cause of action can be asserted inadvertently, however, and the court should read the pleading independently of the plaintiff's subjective intent. Leaumont v. City of Alexandria, 582 Fed.Appx. 407, 410 (5th Cir. 2014). In Leaumont, plaintiff cited in his state-court petition “a violation of [the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law (“LEDL”)] and . . . [the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), ] 42 USC § 12101, et seq., particularly § 12114.” Id. at 409. This was the only time the ADA was mentioned in his complaint and he argued that his citation to that statute “was intended merely as a reference to aid in the analysis of his claims under the [LEDL].” Id. at 410. The Fifth Circuit disagreed; it reasoned federal question jurisdiction existed because “the petition, fairly read, assert[ed] independent claims under both the LEDL and the ADA.” Id.

         Even when a federal claim is not asserted, a state law claim supports federal subject matter jurisdiction when the claim nonetheless “turn[s] on substantial questions of federal law.” Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 125 S.Ct. 2363 (2005). This can occur in cases where “claims created by state law . . . ‘incorporate federal standards or require the interpretation of federal law.'” French v. EMC Mortgage Corp., 566 Fed.Appx. 285, 287 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Howery v. Allstate Ins. Co., 243 F.3d 912, 917 (5th Cir. 2001). However, a mere reference in a petition to a federal standard is not enough to confer jurisdiction. See Howery, 243 F.3d at 918 (5th Cir. 2001) (plaintiff's mention of Fair Credit Reporting Act provisions and associated regulations “merely served to describe types of conduct that violated the [Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act], not to allege a separate cause of action” under federal law). Rather, federal question jurisdiction based on such state law claims is only appropriate when “it appears that some substantial, disputed question of federal law is a necessary element of one of the well-pleaded state claims, or that . . . the claim is ‘really' one of federal law.” Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust for Southern California, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 2848 (1983) (emphasis added). As noted by the Supreme Court,

The general rule is that, where it appears from the bill or statement of the plaintiff that the right to relief depends upon the construction or application of the Constitution or laws of the United States, and that such federal claim is not merely colorable, and rests upon a reasonable ...

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