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Wells-Williams v. Bi-State Development

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

November 22, 2016




         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.

         I. Factual Background

         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.

         II. Legal Standard

         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. Bi-State 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 federal-question 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).

         III. 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 ...

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