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Brown v. Day and Zimmerman, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 20, 2015

CHRIS BROWN and JAMES D. BEAM, Plaintiffs,


JULIE A. ROBINSON, District Judge.

This matter was removed from Shawnee County, Kansas District Court on March 13, 2015. Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand (Doc. 11), in which Plaintiffs argue that the Court must remand because it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. For the reasons explained below, Plaintiffs' motion is denied.

I. Background

Beginning July 2010, Plaintiffs Christopher Lee Brown and James D. Beam, members of the International Boilermakers Union, Local 83, ("Union") worked for Defendant Day & Zimmerman, Inc., ("DZ") as boilermakers at a Westar Energy plant in St. Marys, Kansas. The Union and DZ are parties to a written collective bargaining agreement titled the General Presidents' Project Maintenance Agreement ("CBA") that governs the terms and conditions of employment of Union members. The CBA, in addition to including management rights and a procedure for employee grievances, allows DZ to implement reasonable project rules and regulations.[1] According to the CBA, Article II: Management Rights, Section 1, I, management has the right to "[d]ischarge, suspend, or discipline employees for proper cause."[2] In January 2014, DZ began an investigation into whether Plaintiffs were taking property from DZ and/or Westar Energy. Several Defendants gave statements about Plaintiffs as part of this investigation. On January 10, 2014, DZ fired Plaintiffs and banned them from the property.

Plaintiffs commenced this action nearly a year later, on January 8, 2015, alleging: 1) tortious interference with a business relationship against Davis, Statler, Harris, Probst, Binder, Sauvage, and Shoemaker; 2) tortious interference with a business relationship against DZ; 3) tortious interference with a business relationship against Westar Energy; 4) defamation against Davis, Statler, Harris, Probst, Binder, Sauvage, Mayer, and DZ; 5) defamation against Davis and Shoemaker; 6) false light against Statler, Harris, Probst, Binder, Sauvage, Mayer, Shoemaker, Davis, and DZ; 7) wrongful discharge against DZ; 8) breach of an oral contract/third party beneficiaries against DZ; and 9) conversion against DZ and Westar Energy. Defendants removed this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441(a) and 1446, alleging original jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question).

II. Discussion

There is no diversity of citizenship jurisdiction, so subject matter jurisdiction may be conferred only through a federal question. On its face, Plaintiffs' well-pleaded Petition contains only state law claims. Nevertheless, in pleading a cause of action alleging a violation of the CBA, Plaintiffs have pleaded a cause of action that is completely preempted by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA") and is thus federal in nature. The Court therefore must deny Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand.

A. The Standard

A defendant may remove "any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction."[3] Congress has authorized the federal district courts to exercise original jurisdiction in "all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."[4] Federal question jurisdiction exists only over those cases in which either 1) federal law creates the cause of action asserted, or 2) plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law.[5] Whether a suit "arises under" federal law is determined 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."[6] The plaintiff is the master of the complaint and may eschew claims based on federal law thereby choosing to have the case heard in state court.[7]

A federal claim may nevertheless arise. The "vast bulk of suits that arise under federal law" are from the first category, where federal law creates the cause of action.[8] In a much narrower category are state law claims that "implicate significant federal issues."[9] These claims fall within a limited exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule, which is grounded in "the commonsense notion that a federal court ought to be able to hear claims recognized under state law that nonetheless turn on substantial questions of federal law, and thus justify resort to the experience, solicitude, and hope of uniformity that a federal forum offers on federal issues."[10]

The issue presented by the Motion to Remand is whether Plaintiffs' state law claims can raise an issue of federal law that is substantial enough to warrant the exercise of federal question jurisdiction. There is a presumption against finding federal jurisdiction.[11] The burden of proving jurisdiction lies with the party asserting it exists.[12]

B. Complete Preemption

One of the exceptions to the well-pleaded complaint rule is the "complete preemption doctrine."[13] This doctrine allows courts to exercise jurisdiction over complaints that, "although not presenting federal questions on their face, nonetheless present state law claims that are preempted by federal law."[14]The Supreme Court has said that although preemption is ordinarily a defense, complete preemption is different.[15] The Court noted a "corollary of the well-pleaded complaint rule... is that Congress may so completely pre[]empt a particular area that any civil complaint raising this select group of claims is necessarily federal in character."[16] Thus, 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."[17] The Supreme Court has recognized complete preemption as to three federal laws: 1) the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA);[18] 2) the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA");[19] and 3) the National Bank Act.[20]

This case relates to the preemptive scope of § 301 of the LMRA.[21] The Court has recognized § 301 preemption two different ways: 1) the claim alleges violation of a CBA, [22] or 2) it requires interpretation of the terms of a CBA.[23] The first always results in preemption.[24] The second is more complicated and requires a case-by-case analysis that sometimes results in preemption and sometimes does not.[25] The preemptive scope of § 301 extends to any claim interpreting a CBA because the "interests in interpretive uniformity and predictability... require that the meaning given a contract phrase or term be subject to uniform federal interpretation."[26] When a state law claim ...

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