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CITY OF CAMDEN v. BERETTA U.S.A. CORP.

January 27, 2000

THE CITY OF CAMDEN, PLAINTIFF,
V.
BERETTA U.S.A. CORP., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge.

  OPINION

INTRODUCTION

BACKGROUND

In the present lawsuit, plaintiff the City of Camden (the "City") seeks compensation for its expenditures arising from handgun-related violence within its borders, and seeks to prevent such violence from occurring in the future. In furtherance of these aims, the City has sued a group of 19 manufacturers and/or distributors of firearms, three firearm industry trade organizations, and assorted Doe defendants.

The City's complaint, filed in New Jersey Superior Court on June 21, 1999, alleges that Camden has suffered immense hardship as a direct result of the defendants' willful, deliberate, reckless and negligent misconduct in the manufacture, distribution, sale, marketing and design of their firearms. (Complaint ¶ 2.) The City claims that as a result of defendants' conduct, it has seen a decrease in property values, in its population and in its tax base, and that the City's public health, safety and peace have all suffered. (Id. at ¶ 1 & 3.) Plaintiff further alleges that the defendants' conduct directly helps to perpetuate an illegal secondary market in cheap handguns which functions through "straw purchases", "kitchen table dealers", and gun shows, and acts to supply dangerous felons with firearms that they could not buy on their own. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Finally, plaintiff alleges that defendants have sold products that are unreasonably dangerous and defective because of firearms' lack of adequate warnings and the lack of any safety features, such as trigger guards. (Id. at ¶¶ 5-6.)

The City's complaint states seven exclusively state law-based causes of action based on the above allegations. These are (1) public nuisance; (2) violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, N.J.S.A. §§ 56:8-1 et seq.; (3) negligent distribution and marketing; (4) defective design under the New Jersey Products Liability Act, N.J.S.A. §§ 2A:58C-1 et seq.; negligent design and failure to warn; and (7) unjust enrichment. (Complaint at ¶¶ 78-133.) As relief, the City seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the harm the City has suffered. (Complaint, Relief Requested, p. 33.) The City also seeks appropriate injunctive relief in the form of an Order requiring defendants to (1) implement industrywide standards and training for firearms distributors for the purpose of reducing the illegitimate secondary market for firearms that exists in Camden and elsewhere, (2) cease manufacturing firearms without appropriate warnings and safety devices, (3) to fund a public education campaign in Camden about the dangers of guns, and (4) to fund a city-administered violence prevention program in Camden's schools. (Complaint, Request for Injunctive Relief, p. 34.) Notably, the City's complaint is devoid of reference to any federal statutes, regulations or provisions of the U.S. Constitution, and diversity of citizenship is absent since plaintiff and several defendants are New Jersey residents.

The City's present motion to remand urges this Court to return this non-diverse case to state court because none of the City's claims are, or could have been brought as, a federal cause of action. Furthermore, plaintiff asserts that defendants' preemption arguments have no basis in law. For these reasons, plaintiff moves this Court to follow the other U.S. District Courts that have considered the issue, and reject defendants' position that the Commerce Clause preempts state law claims against firearms manufacturers and merchants. See McNamara v. Arms Technology, Inc., 71 F. Supp.2d 720 (E.D.Mich. 1999); Archer v. Arms Technology, Inc., 72 F. Supp.2d 784 (E.D.Mich. 1999); City of Boston v. Smith & Wesson Corp., 66 F. Supp.2d 246 (D.Mass. 1999); Penelas v. Arms Technology, Inc., 71 F. Supp.2d 1251 (S.D.Fla. 1999).

DISCUSSION

A. Removal Jurisdiction

Because it is not suggested that there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties, this Court's jurisdiction, if any, must be based on a question of federal law. As a general principle, defendants may remove to the appropriate federal district court "any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), "unless Congress expressly provides otherwise." Rivet v. Regions Bank of Louisiana, 522 U.S. 470, 474, 118 S.Ct. 921, 139 L.Ed.2d 912 (1998).

The removal statute is "strictly construed against removal and all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand." Boyer v. Snap-On Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir. 1990). In a motion to remand, the removing party, as the party urging the existence of jurisdiction, bears the burden of proving that jurisdiction exists. Id. Hence, the party asserting federal jurisdiction, here the defendants, must show that the case originally could have been filed in federal court. City of Chicago v. International College of Surgeons, 522 U.S. 156, 163, 118 S.Ct. 523, 139 L.Ed.2d 525 (1997) (hereinafter "ICS") (citing Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 96 L.Ed.2d 318 (1987); Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust for Southern Cal. 463 U.S. 1, 8, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 77 L.Ed.2d 420 (1983)).

The original jurisdiction of the United States District Courts under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 is limited to cases arising under federal law, namely, "the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Under the well-pleaded complaint rule, a cause of action arises under federal law only when the plaintiff's complaint raises issues of federal law. ICS, 522 U.S. at 163, 118 S.Ct. 523. The Supreme Court has stated that under federal pleading standards, the plaintiff is the "master of the claim", and he or she may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law. Caterpillar, Inc., 482 U.S. at 392. If the complaint does not state a federal cause of action, then removal is improper. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 65-66, 107 S.Ct. 1542, 95 L.Ed.2d 55 (1987); Dukes v. U.S. Healthcare, Inc., 57 F.3d 350, 353 (3d Cir. 1995). Therefore, an anticipated or actual federal defense generally does not qualify a case for removal. ...


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