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Warren v. Metro Transit St. Louis the Bi-State Development Agency of Missouri-Illinois District

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

March 26, 2018

JIMMY O. WARREN, Plaintiff,
v.
METRO TRANSIT ST. LOUIS THE BI-STATE DEVELOPMENT AGENCY OF MISSOURI-ILLINOIS DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER OF REMAND

          JOHN A. ROSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. No. 10). The motion is fully briefed and ready for disposition. For the following reasons, the motion will be granted.

         Background

         Plaintiff Jimmy O. Warren alleges that his former employer Bi-State Development Agency (“Bi-State”) terminated his employment based on his disability and in retaliation for complaining about discriminatory work place policies. Plaintiff filed suit in state court pursuant to the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), Mo. Rev. Stat. § 213.010 et seq. (Petition for Discrimination and Damages (Pet.), Doc. 10-2) In Count I (Disability Discrimination), Plaintiff alleges he was terminated because of his disability. In Count II (Retaliation), Plaintiff alleges he was terminated because he complained about discriminatory work place policies and filed a grievance. In Count III (Wrongful Termination), Plaintiff alleges he was terminated because of his disability and for reporting wrongdoing or policy violations to his superiors. In Count IV (Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress), Plaintiff alleges that Bi-State's discriminatory work practices caused him severe emotional distress.

         According to the petition, in 2012, after twelve years of employment with Bi-State, Plaintiff was medically diagnosed with a disability[1] and requested FMLA leave. (Pet. ¶¶ 11-14) After reporting his disability and need for accommodation to his supervisor, defendant Donna Holmes (“Holmes”), Plaintiff states he was harassed and threatened with termination, all while on FMLA leave. (Pet. ¶¶ 15, 16, 20, 22, 57, 58) Plaintiff alleges Holmes failed to provide him with accommodations and placed him into a “punitive program that violates public policy” known as “Last Chance Agreement for Misses.” (Pet. ¶¶ 17, 18, 21, 23) He filed a grievance for harassment, failure to accommodate, retaliation and ill treatment by a supervisor, but did not prevail. (Pet. ¶¶ 25-26) Plaintiff was terminated on August 22, 2014. (Pet. ¶ 27) He filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC for disability discrimination and retaliation and was issued a right to sue letter on August 30, 2017. (Pet. ¶ 28; Doc. No. 10-3)

         On December 27, 2017, Defendants removed the action to this Court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction, asserting that Plaintiff's claims are based on a federal cause of action under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601, et seq. (Doc. No. 1)

         Legal standard

         “The propriety of removal to federal court depends on whether the claim comes within the scope of the federal court's subject matter jurisdiction.” Peters v. Union Pacific R. Co., 80 F.3d 257, 260 (8th Cir. 1996) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)). “A defendant may remove a state law claim to federal court only if the action originally could have been filed there.” In re Prempro Products Liability Litigation, 591 F.3d 613, 619 (8th Cir. 2010) (citing Phipps v. FDIC, 417 F.3d 1006, 1010 (8th Cir. 2005)). The party seeking removal and opposing remand has the burden of establishing federal subject matter jurisdiction. Cent. Iowa Power Coop. v. Midwest Indep. Transmission Sys. Operator, 561 F.3d 904, 912 (8th Cir. 2009); In re Business Men's Assurance Co., 992 F.2d 181, 183 (8th Cir. 1993). Removal statutes are strictly construed, and any doubts about the correctness of removal are resolved in favor of state court jurisdiction and remand. In re Business Men's Assurance Co., 992 F.2d at 183.

         Discussion

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, federal courts have jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” Under the well-pleaded complaint rule, a suit “arises under” federal law “only when the plaintiff's statement of his own cause of action shows that it is based upon [federal law].” Palazzolo v. Harris-Stowe State Univ., No. 4:16-CV-00826 JAR, 2016 WL 3878470, at *2 (E.D. Mo. July 18, 2016) (quoting Zampitella v. Walgreens Co., No. 4:16-CV-781 (CEJ), 2016 WL 3627290, at *2 (E.D. Mo. July 6, 2016)). A complaint that merely references federal law does not justify federal question jurisdiction, as “jurisdiction ‘may not be sustained on a theory the plaintiff has not advanced.'” Id.

         Removal of a complaint setting forth state law claims is proper under the well-pleaded complaint rule where (1) federal law completely preempts a plaintiff's state-law claim, or (2) an issue of federal law is a “necessary and central element” of plaintiff's state law claims. Id. (citing Mabe v. Golden Living Ctr.-Bransom, No. 07-03268-CV-S-FJG, 2007 WL 3326857, at *3 (W.D. Mo. Nov. 6, 2007)). Plaintiff argues this case should be remanded because his claims arise solely under the MHRA and Missouri state law. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges he was retaliated against for using FMLA leave, complaining about Bi-State's policies and practices, and for filing a grievance against Defendants. Plaintiff argues this is a MHRA claim, not an FMLA claim.[2]

         Defendants respond that remand is inappropriate because Plaintiff has explicitly pled FMLA retaliation on the face of his petition, to-wit:

• Plaintiff requested Family Medical Leave (FMLA) in 2012. (Pet. ¶14)
• Plaintiff was written up for being late and threatened with termination on numerous occasions while ...

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