United States District Court, District of New Jersey
May 7, 2001
CALDWELL TRUCKING PRP GROUP, PLAINTIFFS,
CALDWELL TRUCKING COMPANY, INC., GEORGE J. O'CONNOR, RUTH ANN O'CONNOR AND OKON CORP., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cavanaugh, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court upon a motion by Plaintiffs
to remand this matter. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 78, no oral argument was heard. This Court has
carefully reviewed the submissions of the parties and the record
before it. For the reasons expressed below, it is the finding of
this Court that Plaintiffs' motion to remand is granted.
The facts relevant to Plaintiffs' motion to remand are as
follows. On or about April 6, 2000, Plaintiffs filed a motion to
amend its complaint against the O'Connor Defendants in the PRP
contribution claim. See Caldwell Trucking PRP Group v. ADT
Automotive, et al., Civ. No. 95-1690(DMC). On or about September
15, 2000, this Court denied the Plaintiffs' motion to amend the
On or about October 3, 2000, Plaintiffs Caldwell Trucking PRP
("Plaintiffs") filed a complaint and jury demand instituting an
action against Defendants Caldwell Trucking Company, Inc., George
J. O'Connor, Ruth Ann O'Connor and Okon Corp., ("Defendants") in
the Superior Court New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County.
Plaintiffs' complaint seeks contribution from the O'Connor
Defendants for its costs of settling government claims and
remediating the Site. In its complaint, Plaintiffs allege: (1)
contribution pursuant to N.J.S.A. 58:10-23.11fa(2); (2)
declaratory judgment; (3) common law restitution*fn1; (4)
contribution pursuant to the New Jersey Joint Tortfeasors
Contribution Act, N.J.S.A.
2A:53A-1. et seq.; (5) common law indemnification; (6) public
nuisance; and (7) common law strict liability. See Complaint.
On or about November 3, 2000, the O'Connor Defendants filed a
notice of removal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 and 1446
effectuating removal of the state court complaint to the United
States District Court for the District of New Jersey. On or about
November 11, 2000, the O'Connor Defendants filed answers and
affirmative defenses to the removed complaint. Presently before
this Court is a motion by Plaintiffs to remand this matter to the
Superior Court New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County.
Plaintiffs argue that: (1) removal by Defendants was improper
because the federal court does not have jurisdiction to
adjudicate Plaintiffs' state law claims; (2) removal by
Defendants was improper since there is no separate and
independent action under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c); (3) the "artful
pleading" doctrine alleged by Defendants does not apply because
Plaintiffs' claims are grounded and limited to state law theories
of recovery; and (4) removal by Defendants was improper because
federal law does not completely preempt state law. See
Plaintiffs' Brief in Support of its Motion to Remand at 7-18.
On the other hand, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' complaint
asserts claims arising under the laws of the United States over
which this Court has original federal question jurisdiction under
28 U.S.C. § 1331. Essentially, Defendants maintain that count III
of Plaintiffs' complaint asserts a CERCLA claim over which this
Court has exclusive jurisdiction. Further, based upon this CERCLA
claim, Defendants argue that this Court has supplemental
jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state law claims. See Defendants'
Brief in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand at 5-40.
A defendant may remove a claim from a state court to a federal
district court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441*fn2 and
28 U.S.C. § 1446.*fn3 To qualify for removal, the cause of action must be a
claim "of which the district courts of the United States have
original jurisdiction." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). See also
Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 63, 107
S.Ct. 1542, 95 L.Ed.2d 55 (1987). Since it is undisputed that the
parties are non-diverse and removal jurisdiction is predicated on
the existence of original federal jurisdiction, the first
question that must be addressed is whether the complaint pleads a
federal cause of action under the well-pleaded complaint rule.
See Louisville & Nashville
Railroad v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 29 S.Ct. 42, 53 L.Ed. 126
One category of cases over which the district courts have
original jurisdiction is "federal question" cases; that is, those
cases "arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the
United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. It is well-settled law that a
cause of action arises under federal law only when the plaintiffs
well-pleaded complaint raises issues of federal law. See id.;
Gully v. First National Bank, 299 U.S. 109, 57 S.Ct. 96, 81
L.Ed. 70 (1936). The "well-pleaded complaint rule" is the basic
principal marking the boundaries of the federal question
jurisdiction of the federal district courts. See Franchise Tax
Board of Cal. v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust for
Southern Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 9-12, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 77 L.Ed.2d 420
(1983). The rule makes the plaintiff the master of the claim; he
or she may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on
state law. See The Fair v. Kohler Die & Specialty Co.,
228 U.S. 22, 25, 33 S.Ct. 410, 57 L.Ed. 716 (1913) ("[o]f course, the
party who brings a suit is master to decide what law he will rely
upon") (Holmes, J.); see also Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 809, n. 6, 106 S.Ct. 3229, 92 L.Ed.2d
650 (1986) ("[j]urisdiction may not be sustained on a theory that
the plaintiff has not advanced"); Great North. R. Co. v.
Alexander, 246 U.S. 276, 282, 38 S.Ct. 237, 62 L.Ed. 713 (1918)
("the plaintiff may by the allegations of his complaint determine
the status with respect to removability of a case").
When confronted with a motion to remand, the removing party has
the burden of establishing the propriety of removal. See Batoff
v. State Farm Insurance Co., 977 F.2d 848 (3d Cir. 1992)
(removing party carries a "heavy burden of persuasion").
Count III of Plaintiffs' state complaint sets forth a claim for
common law restitution. See Complaint, count III. Plaintiffs'
restitution count states:
46. Plaintiffs repeat and reallege the allegations
contained in Paragraphs 1 through 45 as if fully
set forth herein.
47. Defendants handled, used, treated, stored and
disposed of waste materials so that the Site
contaminated and remains contaminated by the
presence of hazardous substances and constitutes a
threat to property and the environment.
48. By reason of the foregoing activities, Defendants
are each responsible for the investigation and
remediation of contamination at the Site pursuant
to CERCLA, 42 U.S.C. § 9601 et seq., the New
Jersey Spill Act, and the New Jersey Water
Pollution Control Act, N.J.S.A. 58:10A-1 et
49. Plaintiffs have incurred and will continue to
incur expenses associated with defining the nature
and extent of contamination at the Site and
implementing measures to remedy said contamination;
conditions caused by the activities of Defendants.
In short, contamination at the Site is being
investigated and remedied solely at Plaintiffs'
50. By reason of the above activities, Plaintiffs
have conferred and are conferring a benefit upon
Defendants by assuming expenses and obligations for
which the latter are responsible.
51. Equitable considerations require that Defendants
provide appropriate restitution to Plaintiffs for
the benefit it has conferred upon each of them.
WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs demand judgment against
(a) Contribution for all response costs already paid
(b) Contribution for all response costs paid by
Plaintiffs, including operational and maintenance
costs for soil and groundwater operational units;
(c) Pre-judgment interest and costs of suit including
but not limited to attorneys' fees; and
(d) Such other relief as this Court deems just and
Complaint, count III at 14-15.
The essence of Defendants' argument is that since Plaintiffs
made reference to CERCLA in count III, they created jurisdiction
in this Court. This Court disagrees with Defendants' position.
Although Defendants contend that Plaintiffs' reference to CERCLA
in count III of its complaint confers federal jurisdiction,
Plaintiffs persuasively argue that its complaint only asserts
state law claims and it does not specifically seek relief under
federal law. See Plaintiffs' Brief in Support of its Motion to
Remand at 8-9 (arguing that plaintiff has not opted to pursue
federal claims and it is unreasonable for defendants to construe
the mere mention or reference to CERCLA as creating a federal
question). See also Complaint, count III at 14-15.
Further, Defendants argue that since the PRP Group's state law
claims are completely preempted by CERCLA § 113(f) and related
provisions, this Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiffs'
complaint. Again, this Court disagrees. While it is correct that
once an area of state law has been completely preempted, any
claim purportedly based on that preempted state law is
considered, from its inception, a federal claim, and therefore
arises under federal law, see Franchise Tax Board, 463 U.S. at
24, 103 S.Ct. 2841 ("if a federal cause of action completely
pre-empts a state cause of action any complaint that comes within
the scope of the federal cause of action necessarily `arises
under' federal law"), here, Plaintiffs' state law claims are not
Under the "well-pleaded complaint rule," removal is appropriate
only where a federal question appears on the face of the
complaint. Franchise Tax Bd. of the State of Cal. v.
Construction Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1,
9-12, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 77 L.Ed.2d 420 (1983); accord In re U.S.
Healthcare, Inc., 193 F.3d 151, 160 (3d Cir. 1999); Joyce v.
RJR Nabisco Holdings Corp., 126 F.3d 166, 171 (3d Cir. 1997);
Dukes v. U.S. Healthcare, 57 F.3d 350, 353 (3d Cir. 1995).
"[W]here a plaintiff's complaint on its face states only state
law causes of action, the fact that issues of federal law may be
involved, as in the nature of a defense, will not suffice to
create federal question jurisdiction." Carrington v. RCA Global
Communications, Inc., 762 F. Supp. 632, 636 (D.N.J. 1991). This
rule was designed to make the plaintiff "master of the claim."
Caterpillar Inc., 482 U.S. at 392, 107 S.Ct. 2425 (1987).
A narrow exception to this rule, however, exists. Congress may
"completely pre-empt" an area of law, with the result that a
claim which falls within the area is "`necessarily federal in
character.'" In re U.S. Healthcare, 193 F.3d at 160; Dukes,
57 F.3d at 354; Joyce, 126 F.3d at 171. Complete preemption is
appropriate when federal law so completely preempts a cause of
action that state law is "entirely displaced by federal law."
Joyce, 126 F.3d at 171. When complete preemption occurs, the
complaint need not satisfy the well-pleaded complaint rule. Id.
Under settled Third Circuit law, the doctrine of complete
preemption applies only when two circumstances are present: (1)
when the enforcement provisions of a federal statute create a
federal cause of action vindicating the same interest
that the plaintiff's cause of action seeks to vindicate; and (2)
when there is affirmative evidence of a congressional intent to
permit removal despite the plaintiff's exclusive reliance on
state law. Allstate Ins. Co. v. 65 Sec. Plan, 879 F.2d 90, 93
(3d Cir. 1989); Goepel v. National Postal Mail Handlers Union,
36 F.3d 306, 311 (3d Cir. 1994).
Defendants point to Lenox Incorporated v. Reuben Smith Rubbish
Removal, 91 F. Supp.2d 743 (D.N.J. 2000) to oppose Plaintiffs'
motion to remand. Defendants' reliance on Lenox is misplaced.
Lenox held that the plaintiff's state law claims of unjust
enrichment and constructive trust were preempted by CERCLA. Id.
at 753. Here, Plaintiffs do not make such claims. Defendants also
erroneously rely upon Allied Corporation v. Frola, 1993 WL
388970 *14 (D.N.J. Sept.21, 1993). In Allied, the court held
that section 113(f)(2) preempts the Spill Act to the extent that
the Spill Act permits a contribution claim within the scope of
the Administrate Consent Order. Since Lenox and Allied are
distinguishable from this case, Defendants' reliance on these
cases is misplaced because those cases cannot be read to support
Defendants' proposition that CERCLA completely preempts
Plaintiffs' state law claims.
In other words, the issue before this Court on Plaintiffs'
motion to remand is complete preemption. Applying the above
principal to this matter reveals that Congress did not
affirmatively intend for CERCLA to completely preempt state
remedies, and it did not intend to occupy the field. See Exxon
Corp. v. Hunt, 475 U.S. 355, 376, 106 S.Ct. 1103, 89 L.Ed.2d 364
(1986); Manor Care, Inc. v. Yaskin, 950 F.2d 122, 125-27 (3d
Cir. 1991) (finding no conflict between CERCLA and cost recovery
provisions of New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act).
Accordingly, Defendants' complete preemption argument fails.
Based upon the foregoing, it is the finding of this Court that
Plaintiffs' motion to remand is granted. Accordingly, this
matter is remanded to the Superior Court New Jersey, Law
Division, Essex County. An order accompanies this opinion.
This matter comes before the Court upon a motion by Plaintiffs
to remand. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78, no
oral argument was heard. This Court having fully considered the
submissions of the parties and the record before it; and for the
reasons expressed in the opinion issued this same day;
IT IS ON THIS THE 5th DAY OF MAY 2001;
ORDERED that Plaintiffs' motion to remand is granted; it is
FURTHER ORDERED that this matter is remanded to the Superior
Court New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County.