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Sandra Brust, et al v. Acf Industries

December 21, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Joseph H. Rodriguez


Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Remand and for an Award of Attorney's Fees and Costs.

I. Background

This is an asbestos litigation. Plaintiff Sandra Brust has been diagnosed with, and currently suffers from, retroperitoneal malignant mesothelioma. She instituted this action against, inter alia, the Delaware River Port Authority ("DRPA") and the Port Authority Transit Corporation ("PATCO") on July 18, 2011 in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County. Among other claims against numerous other defendants, she alleges against the DRPA and PATCO common-law premises liability claims predicated upon secondary asbestos exposure. In short, Brust claims that her father, in his employment with DRPA and PATCO, was exposed to and then carried home on his clothing and person, asbestos.*fn1 She alleges this caused her to develop mesothelioma.

The DRPA removed this action to federal court on August 19, 2011, asserting federal question jurisdiction. Plaintiffs claim that the removal of this case was a delay tactic, done for the express purpose of frustrating the prosecution of Brust's claims during her lifetime. Defendants disclaim any illicit purpose and contend that Plaintiffs' claims raise questions of interpretation of the DRPA's inter-state compact, which gives rise to federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. However, the DRPA only asks remand be denied. Although it argues the common law claims alleged against it are improper, because it cannot be sued under the law of only one of its member states, it does not move for dismissal at this time.

The DRPA is a bi-state entity formed by a Congressionally approved compact. Construction of a Congressionally approved compact is a federal question. Cuyler v. Adams, 449 U.S. 433, 440 (1981). As a result, the limited issue here is whether there is a federal question presented on the face of Plaintiff's complaint.

II. Standard of Review

A. Motion for Remand

As the party removing the case, Defendants bear the burden of proving that federal court jurisdiction is proper at all stages of the litigation. See Samuel-Bassett v. KIA Motors Am., Inc., 357 F.3d 392, 396 (3d Cir. 2004); Boyer v. Snap-On Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir. 1990). The district court must resolve all contested issues of fact and uncertainties of law in favor of the plaintiff. See Boyer, 913 F.2d at 111. Moreover, the court should strictly construe removal statutes and resolve all doubts in favor of remand. See Abels v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 770 F.2d 26, 29 (3d Cir. 1985). The strict construction of removal statutes honors Congress' power to determine the contours of the federal court's limited subject matter jurisdiction. See Bowles v. Russell, 551 U.S. 205, 212-13 (2007) (internal citation omitted) ("Because Congress decides whether federal courts can hear cases at all, it can also determine when, and under what conditions, federal courts can hear them.").

B. Arising Under Jurisdiction

The DRPA contends that the Court has federal question jurisdiction to hear the case. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); U.S. Express Lines, Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 389 (3d Cir. 2002). The DRPA alleges that because this case involves the interpretation of an interstate compact, federal question jurisdiction exists. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331; U.S. Express, 281 F.3d at 389. Federal question jurisdiction applies to "all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treatises of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Only one claim conferring federal question jurisdiction is necessary for the entire case to be removed to federal court. See id. § 1441(c). The district court, however, may exercise its discretionary powers to remand all matters to state court in which state law predominates. See id.

C. Well Pleaded Complaint Rule

Pursuant to § 1331's "all civil actions arising under" language, only cases "in which a well-pleaded complaint establishes either [1] that federal law creates the cause of action or [2] that the plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law" confer federal question jurisdiction. Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 28 (1983). Under the well-pleaded complaint rule, the face of the plaintiffs' complaint must provide the basis for federal question jurisdiction by raising issues of federal law. See City of Chicago v. Int'l Coll. of Surgeons, 522 U.S. 156, 163 (1997); see also Krashna v. Oliver Realty, Inc., 895 F.2d 111, 113 (3d Cir. 1990) ("In order for a case to be removable under § 1441 and § 1331, the well-pleaded complaint rule requires that the federal question be properly presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.'") (quoting Railway Labor Executives Ass'n v. Pittsburgh & L.E.R.R., 858 F.2d 936, 939 (3d Cir. 1988)).

The basis for federal question jurisdiction must exist within the four corners of the complaint. See id. "The rule makes the plaintiff the master of the claim; he or she may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law." Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987) (footnote omitted). Therefore, a defense that raises a federal question does ...

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