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Briggs v. Lsm Properties of Kentucky, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

April 17, 2017




         This matter is before the Court upon Plaintiff's Motion to Remand and for Costs (DN 7) and Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (DN 10), which are ripe for adjudication. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Defendant's motion is DENIED AS MOOT.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is a personal injury case. Plaintiff Michele Briggs (“Briggs”) filed this action in Jefferson Circuit Court alleging that Defendant LSM Properties of Kentucky, LLC (“LSM”) failed to adequately maintain an access ramp on one of its properties, which caused her injury. (Notice of Removal Ex. 1, at 2-6, DN 1-1 [hereinafter Compl.]). Her allegations can be briefly summarized as follows: On September 2, 2015, Briggs went to an LSM property to purchase a cellphone from LSM's lessee, the Sprint Store. (Compl. ¶ 9). After conducting her business in the store, Briggs, who uses a wheelchair for mobility, exited and proceeded down the concrete access ramp that connects the store's entrance to the parking lot. (Compl. ¶ 11). There was a considerable gap between the bottom of the access ramp and the pavement of the parking lot. (Compl. ¶ 12). As Briggs moved down the ramp, her wheelchair stalled in the gap, resulting in her being ejected from the wheelchair and causing her injury. (Compl. ¶¶ 13, 21). The Complaint forwards two theories of recovery: negligence and negligence per se. (Compl. ¶¶ 17-18). Brigg's negligence per se theory is based upon KRS 198B.260, which adopts the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213, (“ADA”) and its guidelines. (Compl. ¶ 18; Pl.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Remand & Costs 2, DN 7-1).

         Defendant removed this case from state court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441. (Notice of Removal 1, DN 1). Defendants contend that “[t]his court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 1331 because Plaintiff's Complaint alleges violations of the [ADA] . . . .” (Notice of Removal 2).[1] Subsequently, Briggs filed a motion to remand this action to Jefferson Circuit Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). (Pl.'s Mot. Remand & Costs, DN 7).


         Removal of an action from state court to federal court is proper when the plaintiff could have brought the action in federal court originally. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) (“[A]ny civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant . . . .”). Unlike state trial courts, federal district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction; they hold only that power authorized by statute and the U.S. Constitution and statute. Gunn v. Minton, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1964 (2013) (citation omitted). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, district courts have original jurisdiction over “actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” Id. Moreover, “[t]he party seeking removal bears the burden of demonstrating that the district court has original jurisdiction.” Eastman v. Marine Mech. Corp., 438 F.3d 544, 549 (6th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). “[B]ecause lack of jurisdiction would make any decree in the case void and the continuation of the litigation in federal court futile, the removal statute should be strictly construed and all doubts resolved in favor of remand.” Id. at 549-50 (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citation omitted).

         Familiar to this analysis is the well-pleaded complaint rule which directs courts to examine the “[w]ell pleaded allegations of the complaint and ignore potential defenses” in determining whether a claim arises under federal law. Beneficial Nat'l Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 6 (2003) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Merrell Dow Pharms. Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 808 (1986) (“Under our longstanding interpretation of the current statutory scheme, the question whether a claim ‘arises under' federal law must be determined by reference to the ‘well-pleaded complaint.'” (citation omitted)). Within the confines of the well-pleaded complaint rule, there are two paths to federal court under Section 1331: (1) federal claims, i.e., cases where federal law creates the cause of action; and (2) state causes of action that implicate “significant federal issues.” Eastman, 438 F.3d at 550; Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 312 (2005); Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Tr. for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 27-28 (1983).

         The first path is simple and covers the “vast majority of cases that come within the district courts' original jurisdiction . . . .” Franchise Tax Bd., 463 U.S. at 9. A cause of action is created by federal law where federal law provides a right to relief. Eastman, 438 F.3d at 550. The second path, which is known as the “substantial-federal-question doctrine, ” is more complicated. The Supreme Court has found that “a case may arise under federal law ‘where the vindication of a right under state law necessarily turn[s] on some construction of federal law.'” Merrell Dow Pharms., 478 U.S. at 808-09 (quoting Franchise Tax Bd., 463 U.S. at 9). That being said, “the mere presence of a federal issue in a state cause of action does not automatically confer federal-question jurisdiction.” Id. at 813. The substantial-federal-question doctrine confers jurisdiction only if the following elements are met: (1) the state-law claim necessarily raises a disputed federal issue; (2) the federal interest in the issue is substantial; and (3) the exercise of jurisdiction does not disturb any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities. Mikulski v. Centerior Energy Corp., 501 F.3d 555, 568 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Grable & Sons, 545 U.S. at 313).

         The first path does not lead LSM to federal court because Briggs is not suing LSM under the ADA. Title III of the ADA is the only title under which Briggs could bring an ADA claim.[2]It is well settled that Title III does not provide a private cause of action for monetary damages. See, e.g., Smith v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 167 F.3d 286, 293 (6th Cir. 1999) (recognizing that Title III enforcement statute, 42 U.S.C. § 12188, which incorporates the remedies of 42 U.S.C. § 2000a-3(a), does not include money damages); see also Ajuluchuku v. Yum! Brand, Inc., No. 3:05CV-826-H, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34301, at *4 (W.D. Ky. May 23, 2006) (citations omitted). Briggs seeks only monetary damages from LSM and thus cannot be bringing suit under Title III.

         Neither does the second path lead LSM to federal court. As to the first element of the substantial-federal-question test, Briggs apparently concedes that her negligence per se theory necessarily raises a federal issue that is actually disputed, but the Court is not convinced. The doctrine of negligence per se allows a plaintiff to substitute the general standard of care with a statutory standard of care, Lewis v. B & R Corp., 56 S.W.3d 432, 438 (Ky. App. 2001), if: “the plaintiff comes within the class of persons intended to be protected by the statute [alleged to have been violated] . . .[;] [t]he statute [is] specifically intended to prevent the type of occurrence that took place . . . [;] [and] the violation [of the statute] [is] a substantial factor in causing the result.” McCarty v. Covol Fuels No. 2, LLC, 476 S.W.3d 224, 227-28 (Ky. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citations omitted). Briggs alleges negligence per se based on LSM's alleged violation of KRS 198B.260. KRS 198B.260 in relevant part provides:

(1) The [department] . . . shall promulgate administrative regulations . . . applicable to all new and altered buildings which shall establish requirements for making all buildings accessible to and usable by persons with a disability . . . .
(2) The administrative regulations promulgated by the department shall be consistent with the Federal 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act and the American Disabilities Act Guidelines.

KRS 198B.260(1)-(2). KRS 198B.260(2) adopts the ADA and makes it part of Kentucky law. See Conley v. Nikken, No. 2002-CA-001849-MR, 2004 Ky. App. Unpub. LEXIS 740, at *5 (May 7, 2004) (explaining that the plaintiff alleged “negligence per se on the basis that [the defendant] violated the ADA by failing to remove the architectural barrier which caused her injury . . . in violation of the ADA as adopted in Kentucky by KRS 198B.260(2).” (citations omitted)); seealso Smith, 167 F.3d at 293 (“A state can incorporate requirements of federal law into its law . . .”). As a result, Briggs references the ADA in the Complaint merely to establish negligence per ...

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