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Stevens v. Moore

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 13, 2015

JANNETTE STEVENS, by and through her guardian ad litem, MARGARET MAXYMUIK; and MELBA STAMPER,
CALVIN MOORE, an individual; TIMOTHY BROWN, an individual; UNITED AIRLINES INC., a Delaware Corporation; SKYWEST AIRLINES, INC., a Utah Corporation; DAL GLOBAL SERVICES, LLC, a Delaware Limited Liability Company and DOES 1 through 50 inclusive, Defendants.


BARBARA A. McAULIFFE, Magistrate Judge.


On August 8, 2014, Plaintiffs initiated this action in Fresno County Superior Court (Case number 14 CE CG 02315). Plaintiffs, Janette Stevens, by and through her guardian ad litem Margaret Maxymuk, and Melba Stamper ("Plaintiffs"), allege state law causes of action for negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress against Defendants, Calvin Moore, Timothy Brown, United Airlines, Skywest Airlines, DAL Global Services, and Does 1 through 50 ("Defendants"). Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants breached their required duty of care required under the Air Carrier Access Act, 49 U.S.C. § 41705 ("ACAA"), by failing to provide Plaintiff Stevens with proper wheelchair assistance when enplaning and deplaning, and for failing to train employees regarding these procedures. There are no federal causes of action pled in the complaint, and there is no alleged diversity of citizenship establishing diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).[1]

Defendants removed this case to federal court claiming that because Plaintiffs' claims of negligence are based on violations of ACAA (and related regulations promulgated by the Department of Transportation, 14 C.F.R. § 382 et seq.), the claims are preempted under federal law and federal question jurisdiction is proper. Plaintiffs have filed a Motion to Remand arguing that no federal jurisdiction exists because the complaint only raises state law claims of negligence, and the ACAA only establishes the standard of care under California tort law which is not sufficient to establish federal jurisdiction. (Doc. 4).

After considering the pleadings, including Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand, Defendants' Opposition (Doc. 10), and Plaintiffs' Reply (Doc. 11), this Court determined the matter was suitable for decision without oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 230(g) and took the matter under submission. (Doc.12). Upon a review of the pleadings, the Court recommends that Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand be GRANTED.


A. Removal Generally

Title 28 of the United States Code section 1441(a) provides that a defendant may remove "any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts... have original jurisdiction..." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Removal is proper when a case originally filed in state court presents a federal question or where there is diversity of citizenship among the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332(a).

Section 1447(c) provides that "[i]f 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). A motion to remand is the proper procedure for challenging removal. Babasa v. LensCrafters, Inc., 498 F.3d 972, 974 (9th Cir. 2007). If a defendant has improperly removed a case and the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the district court shall remand the case to the state court. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c); see also Durham v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 445 F.3d 1247, 1252 (9th Cir. 2006) (noting that a district court resolves all ambiguity in favor of remand). Conversely, a district court lacks discretion to remand a case to the state court if the case was properly removed. Carpenters S. Cal. Admin. Corp. v. Majestic Housing., 743 F.2d 1341, 1343 (9th Cir. 1984) abrogated in part on other grounds, Southern Cal., IBEW-NECA Trust Funds v. Standard Indus. Elec. Co., 247 F.3d 920, 924 n. 6 (9th Cir. 2001); see also Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 356 (1988). "The removal statute is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction [and] [t]he defendant bears the burden of establishing that removal is proper." Provincial Gov't of Marinduque v. Placer Dome, Inc., 582 F.3d 1083, 1087 (9th Cir. 2009). The Ninth Circuit has held that "[w]here doubt regarding the right to removal exists, a case should be remanded to state court." Matheson v. Progressive Specialty Ins. Co., 319 F.3d 1089, 1090 (9th Cir. 2003).

Only state-court actions that originally could have been filed in federal court may be removed to federal court by the defendant. Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987) citing 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Absent diversity of citizenship, federal-question jurisdiction is required, which means that the plaintiff's cause of action must "aris[e] under the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The presence or absence of 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. See Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 392 citing Gully v. First National Bank, 299 U.S. 109 (1936). The well-pleaded complaint rule makes the plaintiff the master of the claim; it also prevents the defendant from controlling the litigation and obtaining a transfer to federal court when the defendant raises a federal question in the responsive pleadings. See, Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 392.

Federal question jurisdiction, nonetheless, may be established in a removal proceeding without stating a federal question in the well-pleaded complaint. There is an "independent corollary" to the well-pleaded complaint rule known as complete preemption doctrine. Rains v. Criterion Sys., Inc., 80 F.3d 339, 344 (9th Cir.1996). Under complete preemption, sometimes referred to as field preemption, the force of certain federal statutes is considered to be so "extraordinary" that it "converts an ordinary state common law complaint into one stating a federal claim for purposes of the well-pleaded complaint rule." Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 65 (1987); see also, Retail Property Trust v. United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, 768 F.3d 938, 948-949 (9th Cir. 2014) (discussing the types of preemption generally and noting that in the past, complete preemption and field preemption have been used interchangeably). Complete preemption removal is an exception to the otherwise applicable rule that a plaintiff is ordinarily entitled to remain in state court so long as its complaint does not, on its face, affirmatively allege a federal claim."[2] K2 American Corp. v. Roland Oil and Gas, LLC, 653 F.3d 1024 (9th Cir. 2011) quoting Marin Gen. Hosp., 581 F.3d 941, 945 (9th Cir. 2009).

A second way of establishing federal question jurisdiction is "conflict preemption." K2 American Corp. 653 F.3d at 1029. Conflict preemption arises if there is an actual conflict between state and federal law, or where compliance with both is impossible. Public Utility Dist. No. 1 of Grays Harbor County Wash. v. IDACORP Inc., 379 F.3d 641, 649-650 (9th Cir. 2004). This doctrine may serve as a defense to a state law action, but it does not confer federal question jurisdiction. K2 American Corp., 653 at 1029, n. 6 citing Marin Gen. Hosp. v. Modesto & Empire Traction Co., 581 F.3d at 945 (discussing complete preemption in the ERISA context).

The third way that federal question jurisdiction can be established is if a significant federal issue warrants the exercise of federal jurisdiction. See, Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 312 (2005). Under Grable, a state-law claim can "arise under" federal question jurisdiction when it: (1) raises a "disputed" and "substantial" federal issue, and (2) the exercise of federal jurisdiction will not disturb "any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities." Id.

B. Federal Law Preemption of the Duty of Care of a State Law Cause of Action is Insufficient to Confer ...

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