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Mitchell v. Marriott International Inc.

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

November 21, 2017




         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs First Amended Motion to Remand (ECF No. 29). This matter is fully briefed and ready for disposition.


         Plaintiff Danielle Mitchell ("Mitchell") is an African-American female. Mitchell is former employee at the Starbucks coffee shop in the Marriott Grand Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri. Mitchell began working at the Strabucks on May 15, 2007. In April 2013, Mitchell took time off to care for her disabled mother. In June 2013, Mitchell returned to work. In December 2013, Mitchell took another round of leave to care for her mother. In June 2014, Mitchell returned to her position at Starbucks.

         When Mitchell returned to her position in June 2014, she alleges that she experienced discrimination and intolerable workplace conditions. Mitchell's hours were significantly reduced. Mitchell alleges that her managers became to harass her about her absences, calling her a "faker" and a "liar." Mitchell reported the harassment to human resources. In response, Mitchell alleges she was written up and disciplined.

         Mitchell alleges that she experienced unfair treatment and harassment until she was terminated for a cash register oversight. Mitchell claims that her employment was terminated even though management had been more tolerant of other employees for similar mistakes. Mitchell alleges that, prior to her termination, the majority of the employees at this Starbucks were African-American, but the majority of its employees are now white.

         On April 26, 2017, Mitchell filed her Petition for Damages in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County, Missouri against Marriott International Inc. d/b/a St. Louis Marriott Grand Hotel, Denise Shell, Vera Sostre, Rebecca Crist, Melissa Mazza, Devon Jarrell, and Noureddine Laasri (collectively, "Defendants"), alleging disability discrimination, racial and color discrimination, and retaliation. On June 26, 2017, Defendants removed this action to this Court, citing federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §1331. (ECF No. 1). On September 29, 2017, Mitchell filed her First Amended Motion for Remand (ECF No. 29), asserting that federal question jurisdiction did not arise under her First Amended Petition for Damages (ECF No. 27).


         A. Standard of Review

         Defendants, as the parties invoking federal jurisdiction, bear the burden of proving that all prerequisites to jurisdiction are satisfied. Green v. Ameritrade, Inc., 279 F.3d 590, 596 (8th Cir. 2002). Removal statutes are strictly construed, In re Business Men's Assurance 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 la. Power Coop. v. Midwest Indep. Transmission Sys. Operator, Inc., 561 F.3d 904, 912 (8th Cir. 2009). While a defendant has a statutory right to remove in certain situations, the plaintiff is still the master of his own claim. See Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 391 & n.7 (1987); see also Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994) ("Defendant's right to remove and plaintiffs right to choose his forum are not on equal footing"; consequently, "uncertainties are resolved in favor of remand."); Simpson v. Energy Petroleum Co., No. 4:17-CV-2501 CAS, 2017 WL 4923574, at *3 (E.D. Mo. Oct. 31, 2017).

         The "mere presence of a federal issue in a state cause of action does not automatically confer federal-question jurisdiction." Merrell Dow Pharms. Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 813 (1986); see also Gully v. First Nat'l Bank, 299 U.S. 109 (1936) ("Not every question of federal law emerging in a suit is proof that a federal law is the basis of the suit."). There is a variety of federal jurisdiction known as "arising under" jurisdiction, under which "in certain cases federal-question jurisdiction will lie over state-law claims that implicate significant federal issues." Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. v. Darue Engineering & Manufacturing, 545 U.S.308, 312 (2005). "The doctrine captures 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[.]" Id. The critical "question is, does a 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, 545 U.S. at 314 (emphasis added).

         "The Supreme Court has explained that Grable occupies a special and small category of cases permitting removal where federal question jurisdiction is predicated on the centrality of a federal issue, and emphasized that it takes more than a federal element to open the arising under door." Simpson, 2017 WL 4923574, at *4 (citing Empire Healthchoice Assurance, Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 699 & n.5, 701 (2006) (internal citations omitted)). It was central to Grable's holding that the federal question at issue was "substantial" and a "nearly 'pure issue of law, ' " and that its resolution was "both dispositive of the case and would be controlling in numerous other cases." Empire, 547 U.S. at 700 (quoting Grable, 545 U.S. at 313). "Thus, the small category described by Grable is limited to cases where (1) a state law claim 'necessarily raise[s] a stated federal issue, ' (2) the federal issue is 'actually disputed, ' (3) the federal issue is 'substantial, ' and (4) a 'federal forum may entertain' the state law claim 'without disturbing any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.'" Simpson, 2017 WL 4923574, at *4 (quoting Grable, 545 U.S. at 314).

         B. Discussion

         Defendants filed a Notice of Removal in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri on June 21, 2017, asserting that Mitchell's claim is "based on a federal cause of action." Defendants removed this action because they alleged that the Petition clearly presented federal question jurisdiction pursuant to Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). (ECF No. 1). In the alternative, Defendants asserted that Mitchell's relief depended on the resolution ...

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