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Minton v. Paducah & Louisville Railway, Inc.

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

October 28, 2019

KENNETH MINTON, Individually, and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Phyllis J. Minton, deceased PLAINTIFF


          Joseph H. McKinley Jr., Senior Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on a motion to remand by Plaintiff Kenneth Minton, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Phyllis J. Minton, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) [DN 11] and on a motion by Defendant, Paducah & Louisville Railway, Inc., for leave to file a sur-reply in opposition to Plaintiff's motion to remand [DN 16]. Fully briefed, these matters are ripe for decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 28, 2018, Phyllis Minton was driving her vehicle northbound on Blackrock Drive, just north of U.S. Highway 62, in Leitchfield, Kentucky, when an eastbound train owned and operated by Defendant, Paducah & Louisville Railway, Inc. (“P & L Railway”) struck her vehicle at a railroad crossing (the “Blackrock Crossing”). The Blackrock Crossing is owned, controlled, and maintained by P & L Railway. On June 7, 2019, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against P & L Railway, Engineer Matthew Norwood, and Conductor William Franke for the wrongful death of Phyllis Minton asserting a negligence claim against all three Defendants and a premises liability claim against P & L Railway.

         On July 3, 2019, Defendant, P & L Railway, removed this action from the Grayson Circuit Court to this Court alleging federal question jurisdiction. Norwood and Franke consented to the removal. Defendant maintains that removal is proper because Plaintiff asserts claims that are completely preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 (“ICCTA”), 49 U.S.C. § 10101 (Def.'s Removal Notice [DN 1] ¶ 14.) Defendant contends that Plaintiff's claims concerning the design, construction, maintenance, operation, and repair of the Blackrock Crossing, although pleaded in terms of state law negligence, are actually federal claims, which are governed by ICCTA and are under the jurisdiction and authority of the Surface Transportation Board (“STB”). (Def.'s Removal Notice [DN 1] ¶ 21; Def.'s Response [DN 12] at 2.) Defendant maintains that the Court has supplemental jurisdiction over any other state-law claims asserted in the Complaint. (Def.'s Removal Notice [DN 1] ¶ 29.)

         On August 2, 2019, Plaintiff filed this Motion to Remand [DN 11] the case to Grayson Circuit Court arguing that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant's claim that the Court has jurisdiction based on the ICCTA is unavailing because Plaintiff did not allege any federal cause of action in the Complaint. Plaintiff maintains that this case is a typical negligence claim seeking damages for a railroad crossing collision and does not directly attempt to manage or govern a railroad's decision in the economic realm. Additionally, Plaintiff argues that even if the ICCTA may defensively preempt some of the negligence claims asserted by Plaintiff, the defense of preemption does not create federal jurisdiction. As there is not complete diversity between the parties, Plaintiff maintains that the case must be remanded pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).


         Under the removal statute, “any 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” to federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The party seeking removal bears the burden of establishing that the district court has original jurisdiction. Eastman v. Marine Mech. Corp., 438 F.3d 544, 549 (6th Cir. 2006). “If 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). One category of cases of which district courts have original jurisdiction is “federal question” cases: cases “arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         “Ordinarily, determining whether a particular case arises under federal law turns on the ‘well-pleaded complaint' rule, ” Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 207 (2004), i.e., whether 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. Accordingly, “the existence of a federal defense normally does not create” federal-question jurisdiction, Davila, 542 U.S. at 207, and “a defendant may not [generally] remove a case to federal court unless the plaintiff's complaint establishes that the case ‘arises under' federal law, ” id. (alteration in original) (quoting Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 10 (1983)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         However, a corollary or exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule exists: the complete preemption doctrine. “[W]hen a federal statute wholly displaces the state-law cause of action through complete pre-emption, ” the state-law claim arises under federal law and can be removed. Beneficial National Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 8 (2003). Removal is permitted in this context because “[w]hen the federal statute completely pre-empts the state-law cause of action, a claim which comes within the scope of that cause of action, even if pleaded in terms of state law, is in reality based on federal law.” Id.; Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 393 (noting that complete preemption creates federal question jurisdiction when “the pre-emptive force of a statute is so ‘extraordinary' that it ‘converts an ordinary state common-law complaint into one stating a federal claim for purposes of the well-pleaded complaint rule'”). The Supreme Court has found only three statutes that evince congressional intent to completely preempt a field: § 301 of the LMRA, 29 U.S.C. §185, see Avco Corp. v. Aero Lodge No. 735, International Ass'n of Machinists, 376 F.2d 337, 339-40 (6th Cir. 1967), aff'd, 390 U.S. 557, 560 (1968); § 502(a) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a), see Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 63-66 (1987); and §§ 85 and 86 of the National Bank Act, 12 U.S.C. §§ 85, 86, see Beneficial National Bank, 539 U.S. at 10-11. Any complaint that purports to assert a state law claim within the scope of one of these three federal causes of action “necessarily ‘arises under' federal law.” Franchise Tax Bd., 463 U.S. at 23-24.

         “Essential to complete preemption is an alternative federal cause of action the plaintiff could have invoked.” Dillon v. Medtronic, Inc., 992 F.Supp.2d 751, 758 (E.D. Ky. 2014) (citing Beneficial National Bank, 539 U.S. at 9-10 (holding that preemption supports jurisdiction only if federal law “provide[s] the exclusive cause of action”); see also Strong v. Telectronics Pacing Sys., Inc., 78 F.3d 256, 260 (6th Cir. 1996)). Without a federal cause of action, “there would simply be nothing into which to convert the plaintiff's state-law claims.” Dillon, 992 F.Supp.2d at 758. “A plaintiff otherwise ‘would be forced into federal court with no relief available.'” Id. (quoting Rogers v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 308 F.3d 785, 788 (7th Cir. 2002)). “Recharacterizing state claims to prevent artful pleading around an exclusive federal cause of action is one thing . . ., but knowingly repleading the plaintiff right out of court would make a mockery of the well-pleaded complaint rule.” Dillon, 992 F.Supp.2d at 758. “So, while complete preemption displaces the plaintiff as master of his complaint, recasting state claims as federal ones satisfies the traditional rule that ‘a case arises under federal law when federal law creates the cause of action asserted.'” Dillon, 992 F.Supp.2d at 758 (quoting Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1064 (2013) (citing American Well Works Co. v. Layne & Bowler Co., 241 U.S. 257, 260 (1916))). However, “preemption alone ‘does not transform the plaintiff's state-law claims into federal claims but rather extinguishes them altogether.'” Dillon, 992 F.Supp.2d at 758 (quoting Rivet v. Regions Bank of Louisiana, 522 U.S. 470, 476 (1998)). “Absent a federal remedy, preemption remains merely a defense and thus cannot satisfy the well-pleaded complaint rule.” Id.


         In determining whether removal of this action to federal court was proper, the Court must determine whether the ICCTA completely preempts any of Plaintiff's state law claims. Congress enacted the ICCTA in 1995, “establishing the Surface Transportation Board (“STB”) and giving the STB exclusive jurisdiction over certain aspects of railroad transportation. 49 U.S.C. §§ 1301, 10501(b).” CSX Transportation, Inc. v. City of Sebree, Kentucky, 924 F.3d 276, 282 (6th Cir. 2019). Specifically, the ICCTA provides that:

(1) transportation by rail carriers, and the remedies provided in this part with respect to rates, classifications, rules (including car service, interchange, and other operating rules), practices, routes, ...

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