Hannon-Johnson v. Kansas City Area Transportation Authority
ORDER granting 33 motion to remand. Signed on 5/31/17 by Chief District Judge Greg Kays. (Strodtman, Tracy)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
KANSAS CITY AREA
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO REMAND
This case arises from Plaintiff Felicia Hannon-Johnson’s (“Plaintiff”) allegation that her
employer, Defendant Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (“KCATA”), discriminated
against her on the basis of a disability, in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act
(“MHRA”), Mo. Rev. Stat. § 213.010, et seq. Plaintiff originally brought suit in the Circuit
Court of Jackson County, Missouri, and KCATA removed the lawsuit to federal court, invoking
the Court’s federal question jurisdiction.
Now before the Court is Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand (Doc. 33). For the reasons set
forth below, Plaintiff’s motion is GRANTED.
Defendant KCATA is a bi-state public transit entity operating in the Kansas City
metropolitan area. It was created in 1965 pursuant to a Congressionally-approved compact
between Missouri and Kansas (the “Compact”).1 See Act of Sept. 21, 1966, Pub. L. 89-599, 80
Stat. 826 (consenting to KCATA compact); Kan. Stat. Ann. § 12-2524, art. III; Mo. Rev. Stat. §
238.010, art. III. The Compact grants KCATA certain enumerated powers, along with the
Congress consented to the Compact on September 21, 1966.
authority “[t]o perform all other necessary and incidental functions [not enumerated in the
Compact]; and to exercise such additional powers as shall be conferred on it by the Legislature
of either State concurred in by the Legislature of the other and by Act of Congress.” Kan. Stat.
Ann. § 12-2524, art. III, § 11; Mo. Rev. Stat. § 238.010, art. III, § 11.
From April 2005 to March 2016, KCATA employed Plaintiff as a bus driver and
customer service representative. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12-14, 42. Plaintiff was terminated in March
Plaintiff now alleges KCATA violated the MHRA by failing to provide her with
reasonable accommodations for a back, leg, ankle, and foot disability stemming from an on-thejob accident. See, e.g., id. ¶¶ 15-16, 18-21, 28, 30-32. She also asserts her termination was in
retaliation for filing charges of discrimination against KCATA. See, e.g., id. ¶¶ 34-43.
Plaintiff originally filed this lawsuit in Missouri state court. On November 11, 2016,
KCATA removed this matter to federal court.
An action may be removed by the defendant where the case falls within the district
court’s original jurisdiction.
28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).
If the case does not fall within these
jurisdictional bounds, the district court must remand the case to the state court from which it was
removed. Id. § 1447(c). The removing party has the burden of establishing jurisdiction by a
preponderance of the evidence, Hartis v. Chicago Title Ins. Co., 656 F.3d 778, 781-82 (8th Cir.
2009), 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).
A district court has “original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the
Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. To determine whether
the action arises under federal law, a court employs 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.” Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392
(1987). But, an exception to this rule exists where “the plaintiff’s right to relief necessarily
depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law.” Great Lakes Gas Transmission
Ltd. P’ship v. Essar Steel Minn. LLC, 843 F.3d 325, 329 (8th Cir. 2016) (quoting Williams v.
Ragnone, 147 F.3d 700, 702 (8th Cir. 1998)). When determining whether this exception applies,
a court must ask, “[D]oes [the] state-law claim necessarily raise a stated federal issue, actually
disputed and substantial, which a federal forum may entertain without disturbing any
congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities[?]” Grable Sons
Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng’g Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 314 (2005). “That is, 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.” Gunn v. Minton, 133 S. Ct. 1059, 1065 (2013).
KCATA contends federal jurisdiction exists because Plaintiff’s claims necessitate
interpretation of the Compact, which became federal law after it was approved by Congress. It
argues that, under the Compact, KCATA cannot be subject to Missouri’s employment
discrimination laws. Plaintiff did not file a reply brief or otherwise respond to this argument.
Construction of the Compact presents a federal question.
As an initial matter, there is no dispute that the construction of the Compact presents a
federal question. See Cuyler v. Adams, 449 U.S. 433, 438 (1981) (“Because congressional
consent transforms an interstate compact [within the Compact Clause] into a law of the United
States, we have held that the construction of an interstate agreement sanctioned by Congress . . .
presents a federal question.”). But, the “mere presence of a federal issue in a state cause of
action does not automatically confer federal jurisdiction.”
Merrell Dow Pharms. Inc. v.
Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 813 (1986). Accordingly, the Court must perform a Grable inquiry to
determine the “centrality” of the federal issue and, ultimately, its jurisdiction over this matter.
See Empire Healthchoice Assur., Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 699 n.5 (2006) (referring to the
restrictions imposed on federal courts’ “arising under” jurisdiction as “centrality” requirements).
Construction of the Compact is not “necessary” to Plaintiff’s MHRA claims, and
the first Grable factor is not satisfied.
KCATA seems to focus on the first Grable factor: whether construction of the Compact
is “necessary” to Plaintiff’s MHRA claims.2 It asserts that, “fundamentally, a plaintiff who
wishes to hold a defendant liable for violating any statute must first plead and prove that the
defendant is subject to the statute.” Def.’s Br. in Opp. at 5 (Doc. 35).
This argument is unavailing. For Plaintiff to maintain a prima facie case on either count,
she need only plead the elements set forth in the statute.3 Under the MHRA, Plaintiff is required
to plead and prove that KCATA is an “employer” within the meaning of the statute, but she is
not required to prove KCATA is subject to the MHRA under the Compact.4 Of course, whether
KCATA did not address each of the Grable factors explicitly, and Plaintiff did not address them at all.
To prevail on her discrimination claim, Plaintiff must show: (1) she has a physical or mental impairment that
substantially limits one or more of her life activities; (2) such impairment would not interfere with performing the
job in question if she were provided a reasonable accommodation; (3) KCATA, as her employer, treated her
unfairly; (4) such disability was a contributing factor in the unfair treatment; and (5) as a direct result of this
conduct, she sustained damage. See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 213.055; Mo. Approved Jury Instr. (Civil) 38.01(B) (7th ed.)
(directing a verdict where the claim is for employment discrimination by reason of disability under the MHRA). To
prevail on her retaliation claim, Plaintiff must show: (1) she was employed by KCATA; (2) she filed a
discrimination claim against KCATA; (3) KCATA discharged her; (4) her filing of the discrimination claim was a
contributing factor to her discharge; and (5) as a direct result of her discharge, she sustained damage. See Mo. Rev.
Stat. § 287.780; Mo. Approved Jury Instr. (Civil) 38.04 (verdict director for retaliatory discharge or discrimination).
In support, KCATA cites only United States v. Conservation Chem. Co., 619 F. Supp. 162, 184 (W.D. Mo. 1985),
a case involving claims under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
(“CERCLA”). CERCLA requires that plaintiffs prove a defendant is one of three types of “persons” subject to the
statute. Id.; 42 U.S.C. § 9607(a). Similarly, the MHRA requires that a plaintiff plead and prove that the defendant
KCATA is immune from the employment laws of Missouri may—and very likely will—become
relevant at a later stage of the litigation and could act to foreclose Plaintiff’s claims, but that
issue does not appear on the face of Plaintiff’s complaint. Cf. Grable, 545 U.S. at 315 (finding
the first factor satisfied where the federal issue “appear[ed] to be the only legal or factual issue
contested in the case”) (emphasis added).
The fact that this matter involves statutory claims, as opposed to common law claims,
does not alter this conclusion. KCATA relies on a District of New Jersey case to argue that state
statutory claims necessarily implicate the Compact and present a federal question. Brust v. ACF
Indust., LLC, No. 11-4839, 2011 WL 6756921, at *4 (D.N.J. Dec. 21, 2011) (observing that
certain statutory claims would implicate the operating procedures of a bi-state entity and,
because these operating procedures are set forth in the compact, the compact itself). The Court
finds this opinion unpersuasive for two reasons: (1) the New Jersey court made its observation
when analyzing whether a common law claim implicated a bi-state compact;5 and (2) it is unclear
whether the cases it relied on for its conclusion regarding compact implication in statutory claims
actually investigated the specific jurisdictional question presented here.6 As stated above, the
Court agrees that the Compact may need to be construed at some point in this litigation, but
is an “employer” subject to the MHRA. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 213.055.1(1). Here, Plaintiff must plead and prove that
KCATA is an “employer” under the statute, but does not bear the burden of establishing that KCATA is not immune
from the statute.
The plaintiff in Brust alleged common-law premises liability claims against two bi-state entities. Brust, 2011 WL
6756921, at *1.
Brust relies on two cases: Int’l Union of Operating Eng’rs, Local 542 v. Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Comm.,
311 F.3d 273 (3d. Cir. 2002) and Spence-Parker v. Delaware River & Bay Auth., 616 F. Supp. 2d 509 (D.N.J. 2009).
With regard to Local 542, KCATA argues that, “[n]otwithstanding the ongoing obligation of federal courts to
confirm their subject matter jurisdiction over a case, the Third Circuit decided the merits of [the case], suggesting
that it was satisfied the case had been properly removed.” Def.’s Br. in Opp. at 7 (emphasis added). Likewise, the
court in Spence-Parker only briefly addressed its jurisdiction in a footnote, citing Local 542 as its authority.
Spence-Parker, 616 F. Supp. 2d at 515 n.5. Given these courts’ cursory examination of the jurisdictional issues at
hand, the Court does not find these cases persuasive.
views KCATA’s compact argument as akin to an affirmative defense.7 Because the Court
cannot rely on a defense arising under federal law to confer jurisdiction, this argument also fails.
Merrell Dow, 478 U.S. at 808 (A “defense that raises a federal question is inadequate to confer
Because the Court finds that at least one of the Grable factors is unsatisfied, it need not
address the remaining requirements. See Great Lakes, 843 F.3d at 334 (addressing only two of
the four Grable factors in holding the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction). KCATA
has not met its burden to establish federal jurisdiction in this matter, and Plaintiff’s Motion to
Remand (Doc. 33) is GRANTED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Date: May 31, 2017
/s/ Greg Kays
GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
That is, KCATA’s compact argument is one “that, if true, will defeat the plaintiff’s [MHRA] claim[s], even if all
the allegations [of employment discrimination] are true.” Black’s Law Dictionary 509 (10th ed. 2014).
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