The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge
This matter has come before the Court on Plaintiffs' motion to remand pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). For the reasons expressed at oral argument and below, Plaintiffs' motion will be granted.
This case involves contaminated property called the Woodland Dump Site, which consists of two parcels of land totaling thirty-two acres located on Route 532 and Route 72 in Woodland Township, Burlington County, New Jersey. Defendants and their predecessors contaminated the site from the 1950s through the mid-1960s. Groundwater contamination from that site encompasses 425 acres.
State and federal oversight of the site started in 1979. In 1990, the EPA, with Plaintiff NJDEP's concurrence, issued a Record of Decision (ROD), which documented the preferred remedy to address the contamination pursuant to CERCLA.*fn1 Since 1990, Defendants have been performing remediation of the site.
On February 17, 2006, NJDEP filed a lawsuit against Defendants in New Jersey state court, Burlington County, seeking reimbursement of the cleanup and removal costs and damages resulting from Defendants' contamination under the New Jersey Spill Act and New Jersey common law for public nuisance and trespass. Defendants removed the case to this Court pursuant to federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, claiming (1) that under the well-pleaded complaint rule, Plaintiffs have asserted a federal question, and (2) that CERCLA completely preempts Plaintiffs' claims.*fn2 Plaintiffs have filed the instant motion for remand, arguing that the Complaint does not present a substantial federal question and CERCLA does not preempt their claims. Oral argument was held on March 16, 2007.
Removal of a case from state to federal court is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1441. Section 1441 is to be strictly construed against removal, so that the Congressional intent to restrict federal diversity jurisdiction is honored. Samuel-Bassett v. KIA Motors America, Inc., 357 F.3d 392, 396 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Boyer v. Snap-On Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir. 1990)). This policy "'has always been rigorously enforced by the courts.'" Id. (quoting St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288 (1938)). Parties may not confer subject matter jurisdiction by consent, Samuel-Bassett, 357 F.3d at 396, and "[i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded," 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).
Defendants make interrelated arguments to support their contention that this Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' case. With regard to whether a federal question arises on the face of Plaintiffs' Complaint, Defendants argue that the state law Complaint may be removed to this Court based on the well-pleaded complaint rule--i.e., the Complaint raises a substantial federal question. Defendants also argue that this Court has jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs' case because CERCLA completely preempts the state law claims. On a different tact, Defendants argue that the Court has exclusive jurisdiction under CERCLA section 113(b) to adjudicate all controversies involving CERCLA cleanups. These arguments are inextricably intertwined and must be considered together instead of in turn.
A federal question case is one "'arising under the Constitution, laws, or treatises of the United States.'" Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 63 (1987) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1331). "The presence or absence of federal-question jurisdiction is governed by the 'well-pleaded complaint rule,' which provides that federal question jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint." Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). "The rule makes the plaintiff the master of the claim; he or she may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law." Id.
In Franchise Tax Bd. v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1 (1983), the Supreme Court "referred to two situations where federal jurisdiction could be available even though plaintiff based its claim in state court on state law: (1) when it appears that some substantial, disputed question of federal law is a necessary element of one of the well-pleaded state claims or (2) when it appears that plaintiff's claim is 'really' one of federal law." Goepel v. National Postal Mail Handlers Union, a Div. of LIUNA, 36 F.3d 306, 310 (3d Cir. 1994) (quoting Franchise Tax Bd., 463 U.S. at 13) (other citations omitted). Based on its review of Franchise Tax and other Court precedent, the Third Circuit articulated its own test for complete preemption, instructing that a state claim is completely preempted (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) "where there is affirmative evidence of a congressional intent to permit removal despite the plaintiff's exclusive reliance on state law." Id. (citing Allstate Ins. Co. v. The 65 Security Plan, 879 F.2d 90, 93 (3d Cir. 1989)).
More recently, the Supreme Court in Beneficial Nat'l Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 9 (2003) modified the "complete preemption" analysis by holding that, as to the second prong, "the proper inquiry focuses on whether Congress intended the federal cause of action to be exclusive rather than on whether Congress intended that the cause of action be removable." Thus, under Anderson, the standard for the removal of state claims to federal court is:
[A] state claim may be removed to federal court in only two circumstances--when Congress expressly so provides, . . ., or when a federal statute wholly displaces the state-law ...