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McCowan v. Earp Meat Co.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 20, 2015



JULIE A. ROBINSON, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Jeremiah McCowan's Motion to Remand (Doc. 6). The matter is fully briefed and the Court is prepared to rule. For the reasons explained in detail below, the Court grants Plaintiff's motion to remand the case to the Twenty-Ninth Judicial District in Wyandotte County, Kansas, but the Court does not award Plaintiff any associated fees and costs.

I. Background

Defendant Earp Meat Company employed Plaintiff as a delivery driver.[1] In March 2014, Plaintiff injured his left shoulder in the course of his employment.[2] He sought and received workers' compensation benefits, including temporary total disability and medical treatment.[3]

Plaintiff filed his petition in the District Court of Wyandotte County, Kansas, alleging wrongful termination in retaliation for filing for benefits under the Kansas Workers' Compensation Act ("KWCA").[4] Defendant did not reply within twenty-one days, and Plaintiff filed a motion for default judgment on February 27, 2015.[5]

Defendant removed this case to this Court based on federal question jurisdiction on the grounds that Plaintiff was also seeking relief under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA").[6] Plaintiff seeks remand and associated fees and costs, arguing that this Court lacks removal jurisdiction based on 28 U.S.C. ยง 1331.[7]

II. Discussion

A. Jurisdiction

Plaintiff's Motion to Remand turns on whether the Petition contains a claim for which this Court has original jurisdiction. The applicable statute allows removal of "any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction."[8] There is no diversity jurisdiction because Plaintiff and Defendant are both Kansas citizens, so original jurisdiction rests upon federal question jurisdiction.[9]

To have a federal question, a claim must arise under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.[10] A case "arises under" federal law if its well-pleaded compliant establishes that either 1) federal law creates the cause of action asserted or 2) the plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law.[11] There is a presumption against finding federal jurisdiction, and the burden of proving jurisdiction lies with the party asserting it exists.[12]

Plaintiff's retaliatory discharge claim stems from Kansas common law.[13] In Kansas, to establish a claim for retaliatory discharge based on filing a claim under the KWCA, a plaintiff is required to prove that she filed a claim for workers' compensation or sustained an injury for which a claim for workers' compensation may arise, that the employer had knowledge of her claim or injury, that the employer terminated her, and that there is a causal connection between her claim or injury and her termination.[14] Thus state law, rather than federal law, creates this cause of action.

But even where state law creates the cause of action, if Plaintiff's relief depends on the resolution of a substantial question of federal law, then federal jurisdiction still lies.[15] The Supreme Court clarified that federal jurisdiction over a state law claim will lie if a federal issue is: "(1) necessarily raised, (2) actually disputed, (3) substantial, and (4) capable of resolution in federal court without disrupting the federal-state balance approved by Congress."[16] Here, Defendant does not raise or dispute a federal issue, therefore the "substantial question" arm of federal-question jurisdiction does not lie over this state claim.

Defendant argues that the Petition, in addition to the KWCA retaliation claim, also alleges facts supporting a FMLA retaliation claim, a federal cause of action.[17] The well-pleaded complaint rule makes plaintiff the master of his claim by allowing him to elect either federal or state court based on how the complaint is drafted.[18] Plaintiff may not circumvent federal jurisdiction by omitting federal issues that are essential to his claim, but can avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law.[19]

Plaintiff's Complaint includes only the KWCA retaliation claim. Although Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that he was informed by Defendant that he had exhausted his FMLA leave, he does not allege that he requested FMLA leave or that is termination was a result of retaliation against him for exercising his rights under the FMLA, nor does he seek relief under the FMLA.[20] For reasons explained above, the claim relies exclusively on state law and ...

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