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Titans Trading Corp. v. JTS Express

April 10, 2009

TITANS TRADING CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JTS EXPRESS; AND DOES 1 THROUGH 10, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margaret M. Morrow United States District Judge

ORDER REMANDING ACTION TO LOS ANGELES SUPERIOR COURT FOR LACK OF SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On December 19, 2008, plaintiff Titans Trading Corporation filed a complaint against defendants JTS Express, Inc. and certain unnamed defendants in Los Angeles Superior Court. Titans alleges that it retained the services of JTS on an ongoing basis to pick up boxes of video game equipment from a storage warehouse in Torrance, California and deliver them to Miami, Florida.*fn1 Titans asserts that three of the shipments JTS delivered were missing equipment when they arrived in Miami.*fn2 It contends that the shrink wrap it had placed on the pallets was replaced, indicating that someone tampered with the shipments while they were in JTS's custody.*fn3 Titans pleads claims for breach of contract, conversion, fraud, general negligence, negligent hiring, breach of bailment, and negligent breach of bailment.*fn4

JTS removed the action to this court on January 29, 2009, asserting that the matter fell within the court's federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441, 1331, 1337, and 49 U.S.C. § 14706(a) (the "Carmack Amendment").*fn5 On March 3, 2009, the court issued an order to show cause why it should not remand the action to state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.*fn6 JTS filed a response to the court's order on March 4, 2009.*fn7

II. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard Governing Removal

"Except as otherwise expressly provided by Act of Congress, any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). "If at any time before final judgment[, however,] it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

The Ninth Circuit "strictly construe[s] the removal statute against removal jurisdiction." Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992) (citing Boggs v. Lewis, 863 F.2d 662, 663 (9th Cir. 1988), and Takeda v. Northwestern Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 765 F.2d 815, 818 (9th Cir. 1985)). Thus, "[f]ederal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance." Id. (citing Libhart v. Santa Monica Dairy Co., 592 F.2d 1062, 1064 (9th Cir. 1979)). "The 'strong presumption' against removal jurisdiction means that the defendant always has the burden of establishing that removal is proper." Id. (citing Nishimoto v. Federman-Bachrach & Assocs., 903 F.2d 709, 712 n. 3 (9th Cir. 1990), and Emrich v. Touche Ross & Co., 846 F.2d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 1988)).

Removal jurisdiction can be based on diversity of citizenship or on the existence of a federal question. Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987) ("Only state-court actions that originally could have been filed in federal court may be removed to federal court by the defendant. Absent diversity of citizenship, federal-question jurisdiction is required"); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b); 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (the district courts "have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States").

Federal question jurisdiction is presumed to be absent unless defendants, as the parties seeking removal, show that plaintiffs have either alleged a federal claim (American Well Works Co. v. Layne & Bowler Co., 241 U.S. 257, 260 (1916)), a state cause of action that requires resolution of a substantial issue of federal law (Franchise Tax Bd. v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 9 (1983); Smith v. Kansas City Title & Trust Co., 255 U.S. 180, 199 (1921)), or a state cause of action that Congress has transformed into an inherently federal claim by completely preempting the field (Avco Corp. v. Aero Lodge No. 735, 390 U.S. 557, 560 (1968); Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 65 (1987)).

Since a defendant may remove a case under § 1441(b) only if the claim could originally have been filed in federal court, whether removal jurisdiction exists must be determined by reference to the "well-pleaded complaint." Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 808 (1986). It is not enough for removal purposes that a federal question may arise in connection with a defense or counterclaim. "[F]ederal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint." Caterpillar,482 U.S. at 392; see also Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 152 (1908).

There is an exception to the "well pleaded complaint" rule, however. Under the "artful pleading" doctrine, a plaintiff cannot defeat removal of a federal claim by disguising or pleading it artfully as a state law cause of action. If the claim arises under federal law, the federal court will recharacterize it and uphold removal. Federated Dept. Stores, Inc. v. Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 398 n. 2 (1981); Schroeder v. TransWorld Airlines, Inc., 702 F.2d 189, 191 (9th Cir. 1983). The "artful pleading" doctrine applies to state claims that are completely preempted by federal law. See Caterpillar,482 U.S. at 393 ("Once an area of state law has been completely pre-empted, any claim purportedly based on that pre-empted state law is considered, from its inception, a federal claim, and therefore arises under federal law"); ARCO Environmental Remediation, L.L.C. v. Department of Health & Environmental Quality of Montana, 213 F.3d 1108, 1114 (9th Cir. 2000) ("A state-created cause of action can be deemed to arise under federal law . . . where federal law completely preempts state law").

Complete preemption arises only when a federal statute has "extraordinary" preemptive force. See Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 481 U.S. at 65; Holman v. Laulo-Rowe Agency, 994 F.2d 666, 668 (9th Cir. 1993)("The [complete preemption] doctrine applies in select cases where the preemptive force of federal law is so 'extraordinary' that it converts state common law claims into claims arising under federal law for purposes of jurisdiction," citing Caterpillar, 482 U.S. 386). The complete preemption doctrine is narrowly construed. See Holman, 994 F.2d at 668 (calling the complete preemption doctrine a "narrow exception to the 'well-pleaded complaint rule'"); Gatton v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., No. SACV 03-130 DOC, 2003 WL 21530185, * 5 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 18, 2003) ("The complete preemption doctrine is, however, extremely narrow," citing TPS Utilicom Services, Inc. v. AT & T Corp., 223 F.Supp.2d 1089, 1097 (C.D. Cal. 2002)).

Federal courts have a duty to examine their subject matter jurisdiction whether or not the parties raise the issue. See United Investors Life Ins. Co. v. Waddell & Reed, Inc., 360 F.3d 960, 966 (9th Cir. 2004) ("[A] district court's duty to establish subject matter jurisdiction is not contingent upon the parties' arguments," citing Mitchell v. Maurer, 293 U.S. 237, 244 (1934)); see also Attorneys Trust v. Videotape Computer Products, Inc., 93 F.3d 593, 594-95 (9th Cir. 1996) (lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time by either party or by the court sua sponte); Thiara v. Kiernan, No. C06-03503 MJJ, 2006 WL 3065568, *2 ...


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