Wells-Williams v. Metro d/b/a Bi-State Development et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER re: 13 MOTION to Remand Case to State Court to St. Louis Circuit Court filed by Plaintiff Roxanne Wells-Williams - IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that plaintiff's motion to remand (#13) is GRANTED. Signed by District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr on 11/22/2016. (JMC)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
BI-STATE DEVELOPMENT d/b/a
METRO, ET AL.,
Case No. 4:16-CV-348
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This case comes before the Court on plaintiff’s motion to remand this action to the
Circuit Court in St. Louis City, Missouri (#13). Plaintiff argues that this Court does not
have jurisdiction over the action and that defendants’ removal was improper. The matter
has been fully briefed and is ready for disposition. For the following reasons, the motion
will be granted.
Plaintiff Roxanne Wells-Williams is a citizen of Missouri. Defendant Bi-State
Development Agency d/b/a Metro Transit (“Bi-State”) is an entity created in 1949 by an
interstate compact entered into by Missouri and Illinois, and approved by the United
States Congress, pursuant to the Compact Clause of the United States Constitution. U.S.
Const. art. I, § 10, cl. 3.; Mo. Rev. Stat. § 70.370 (1998); 45 Ill. Comp. Stat. 100/1
(2008). KMOV TV, Inc. v. Bi-State Dev. Agency of the Missouri-Illinois Metro. Dist., 625
F. Supp. 2d 808, 809 (E.D. Mo. 2008). The Compact created Bi-State, defined a regional
Bi-State Development District, and established a basic administrative structure for its
governance. Id. Bi-State’s purpose is “to provide a unified mass transportation system”
for the bi-state region. Id. (quoting Bartlett v. Bi-State Devel. Agency, 827 S.W.2d 267,
269 (Mo. App. 1992)).
Plaintiff was an employee of Bi-State on August 23, 2015 when she was allegedly
injured within the scope of her employment (#5). Plaintiff alleges that following her
injury, she was unlawfully and wrongfully terminated. Plaintiff claims she was (1)
unlawfully terminated under § 213.055 RSMo, (2) wrongfully terminated after making a
workers’ compensation claim under § 287.780 RSMo, (3) defamed by defendants, and
(4) conspired against by the defendants after she exercised her compensation rights under
Missouri’s workers’ compensation laws.
Defendants removed this action, claiming that this Court had original jurisdiction
over the lawsuit pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.1 Defendants argue that this court has
original jurisdiction over this lawsuit because “Plaintiff’s claims require the court to
interpret the interstate compact in order to determine the applicability of Missouri statutes
to the bi-state agency” (#1). The matter before the Court is plaintiff’s motion to remand
the action to the Missouri courts (#13). Plaintiff argues that this Court does not have
original jurisdiction because none of her claims arise under federal law.
Defendants, in their notice of removal, incorrectly claimed that this Court had original jurisdiction over
this lawsuit because of plaintiff’s federal claim under Title VII. Plaintiff did not bring any such claim.
Thus, the Court will only focus on defendants’ claim that this Court also has original jurisdiction because
“Plaintiff’s claims require the court to interpret the interstate compact in order to determine the
applicability of Missouri statutes to the bi-state agency” (#1).
Removal statutes are strictly construed, In Re Business Men’s Assur. Co. of
America, 992 F.2d 181, 183 (8th Cir. 1993), and any doubts about the propriety of
removal are to be resolved in favor of remand. Central Iowa Power Indep. Transmission
Sys. Operator, Inc., 561 F.3d 904, 912 (8th Cir. 2009). “The party invoking federal
jurisdiction and seeking removal has the burden of establishing jurisdiction by a
preponderance of the evidence.” Collier v. Bi-State Dev. Agency of Missouri-Illinois
Metro. Dist., No. 4:14-CV-1263 JCH, 2014 WL 5343357, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Oct. 20, 2014)
(citing Hartis v. Chicago Title Ins. Co., 656 F.3d 778, 781-82 (8th Cir. 2009)). In this
case, the defendants carry that burden.
A civil action brought in state court may be removed to a proper district court if
that district court has original jurisdiction over the lawsuit. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Id. at
*2. In other words, removal of a lawsuit from state court is proper if the plaintiff could
have originally brought the lawsuit in federal court. Coalition for Safe Transit, Inc. v. BiState Development Agency, 778 F. Supp. 464, 466 (E.D. Mo. 1991). The parties do not
allege, and there are no facts to support, the existence of diversity of citizenship
jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Thus, the only possible basis of federal subject
matter jurisdiction in this action is federal question jurisdiction, which grants district
courts “original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or
treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S. § 1331.
To determine whether a claim “arises under” federal law, “[t]he general rule --known as the ‘well-pleaded complaint rule’ --- is that a complaint must state on its face a
federal cause of action in order for the action to be removable on the basis of federalquestion jurisdiction.” Amalgamated Transit Union Div. v. Bi-State Dev. Agency of
Missouri-Illinois Metro. Dist., No. 4:15-CV-00455 AGF, 2015 WL 3645513, at *2 (E.D.
Mo. June 10, 2015) (quoting Griffioen v. Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Ry. Co., 785 F.3d
1182, 1188 (8th Cir. 2015)). A claim may arise under federal law when “vindication of a
right under state law necessarily turn[s] on some construction of federal law. Collier,
2014 WL 5343357, at *2 (quoting Merrell Dow. Pharm. Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804,
808 (1996)). The well-pleaded complaint rule “makes the plaintiff the master of the
claim; he or she may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law.” Brust
v. ACF Industries, L.L.C., No. 11-4839, 2011 WL 6756921, at *2 (D.N.J. Dec. 21, 2011)
(quoting Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987)). The basis for federal
question jurisdiction must arise “within the four corners of the complaint.” Id. (internal
citations omitted) (emphasis added).
Because the “well-pleaded complaint rule” requires that federal question
jurisdiction will only be found within the complaint, typically, “the existence of a federal
defense . . . does not create federal-question jurisdiction.” Griffioen, 785 F.3d at 1188
(internal citations omitted). It is settled law that “a case may not be removed to federal
court on the basis of a federal defense . . . even if the defense is anticipated in the
plaintiff’s complaint, and even if both parties concede that the federal defense is the only
question truly at issue.” Caterpillar, Inc., 482 U.S. at 393 (internal citations omitted)
(emphasis in original). Additionally, “[t]he mere fact that a court necessarily must
interpret federal law or federal regulations to determine the merits of a claim is
insufficient to confer federal jurisdiction.” Coalition for Safe Transit, 778 F. Supp. at
467 (quoting J.A. Jones Const. Co. v. City of New York, 753 F. Supp. 497, 501 (S.D.N.Y.
1990)) (additional citations omitted).
Interpretation of Interstate Compacts
Entities created by interstate compacts observe a unique legal status as they “are
creations of three discrete sovereigns: two States and the federal Government.” KMOV
TV, 625 F. Supp. 2d at 811 (quoting Hess v. Port Authority of Trans-Hudson Corp., 513
U.S. 30, 41 (1994)). One commentator has observed that “[c]ompact agencies and
entities are said to exist in a no-man’s land. They lie somewhere in the space between
independent and dependent, sovereign and subject, state and federal.” Matthew S.
Tripolitsiotis, Bridge over Troubled Waters: The Application of State Law to Compact
Clause Entities, 23 Yale L. & Pol’y Rev. 163, 167 (2005). Bi-state entities are “not
subject to the unilateral control of any one of the states that compose the federal system.”
Hess, 513 U.S. at 42.
Once the states enter into an interstate compact that is approved by Congress, the
compact is treated as federal law. Cuyler v. Adams, 449 U.S. 433, 438 (1981) (internal
citations omitted). “Because congressional consent transforms an interstate compact
within this Clause into a law of the United States, we have held that the construction of
an interstate agreement sanctioned by Congress under the Compact Clause presents a
federal question.” Id. (emphasis added). Thus, the “interpretation of an interstate
compact is a matter of federal law.” KMOV TV, 625 F. Supp. 2d at 811-812 (emphasis
Defendants argue that the Court must determine whether Missouri’s state law
applies to Bi-State and that, because that determination requires interpretation of the
compact, federal question jurisdiction exists. There “mere presence of a federal issue in a
state cause of action,” however, “does not automatically confer federal-question
jurisdiction.” Merrell Dow, 478 U.S. at 808. The Supreme Court has specifically
observed that a “defense that raises a federal question is inadequate to confer federal
jurisdiction.” Id. at 808. Rather, this Court must undertake “an evaluation of the nature
of the federal interest at stake.” Id. at 808 n.12 (emphasis in original). To do so, the
Court employs the “well-pleaded complaint” rule, which makes the plaintiff master of her
claim; “she may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law.”
Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 392. Under the well-pleaded complaint rule,
whether a case is one arising under the Constitution or a law or treaty of the
United States, in the sense of the jurisdictional statute, ... must be
determined from what necessarily appears in the plaintiff's statement of his
own claim in the bill or declaration, unaided by anything alleged in
anticipation of avoidance of defenses which it is thought the defendant may
Franchise Tax Bd. of State of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. California,
463 U.S. 1, 10 (1983) (quoting Taylor v. Anderson, 234 U.S. 74, 75-76 (1914)).
All four of plaintiff’s causes of action arise solely under Missouri law.
Defendants’ sole argument in support of federal question jurisdiction is that the compact
must be interpreted and that “interpretation of an interstate compact is a matter of federal
law.” KMOV TV, 625 F. Supp. 2d at 811-812. KMOV TV, however, did not address a
motion to remand; it addressed a motion to dismiss and held that Missouri’s “Sunshine
Law” did not apply to Bi-State because the Illinois legislature had not concurred in the
Missouri legislature’s decision to enact a provision of the Sunshine Law that applied to
Bi-State. Id. at 814. The Court thus held that plaintiff had failed to state a claim against
Bi-State under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). No issue of federal jurisdiction
was raised, and the Court did not discuss the “well-pleaded complaint” rule. KMOV TV,
then, is not dispositive here; although “interpretation” of a compact is a matter of federal
law, that is not the end of this Court’s inquiry where federal jurisdiction is at issue.
This Court has, on at least three occasions, remanded lawsuits against Bi-State
where Bi-State made similar arguments that interpretation of the compact would be
required. Collier, 2014 WL 5343357 at *4; Amalgamated Transit Union Div. v. Bi-State
Dev. Agency of Missouri-Illinois Metro. Dist., No. 4:15-CV-00455 AGF, 2015 WL
3645513 (E.D. Mo. June 10, 2015); Emsweller v. Bi-State Dev. Agency, Inc., No. 4:16cv-1532 AGF, Dkt. #8 (E.D. Mo. Oct. 27, 2016). In Collier, plaintiff’s petition claimed
“breach of Metro’s pension plan and breach of the Pension Committee’s fiduciary
duties,” which were state law claims. Collier, 2014 WL 5343357 at *1. As it does now,
Bi-State then argued that the claims alleged in plaintiff’s petition required construction of
the compact, which created federal question jurisdiction. Id. The Court, in holding that it
lacked federal question jurisdiction over the lawsuit, stated “A vague claim that
interpretation of the entire Compact may be necessary to understand sovereignty issues
that may be important is not a firm enough basis on which to establish federal question
jurisdiction.” Id. at 3. In sum, the defendant interstate compact entity did not carry its
burden to support removal. See also Brust v. ACF Industries, L.L.C., No. 11-4839, 2011
WL 6756921 (D.N.J. Dec. 21, 2011) (holding that federal defense regarding
interpretation of compact did not confer federal question jurisdiction); People ex rel. Hal
D. v. Nine Mile Canal Co., 828 F. Supp. 823 (D. Colo. 1993) (same).
Here, too, defendant does not meet its burden to prove federal subject matter
jurisdiction over plaintiff’s state law claims.
For the foregoing reasons, plaintiff’s motion to remand shall be granted.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that plaintiff’s motion to remand (#13) is
Dated this 22nd day of November, 2016.
STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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