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Kolpinski v. Rushford Center, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 18, 2016



          STEFAN R. UNDERHILL, United States District Judge.

         Michael Kolpinski filed a two-count complaint against Rushford Center, Inc. (“Rushford”), in Connecticut Superior Court on July 27, 2015. Kolpinski, a former employee of Rushford, alleges that he was terminated as a result of his speech and subsequent whistleblower report relating to Rushford’s alleged illegal and unethical business practices. He contends that his termination was the result of retaliation in violation of Connecticut General Statutes §§ 31-51q and 31-51m.

         On August 24, 2015, Rushford filed a notice of removal, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1331, arguing that Kolpinski’s section 31-51q claim necessarily implicates a substantial question of federal law. After an answer was filed, Kolpinski responded by filing an amended complaint and a motion to remand on November 6, 2015.

         In his amended complaint and subsequent motion to remand, Kolpinski clarified that his state law claims for relief only seek to vindicate rights protected by the Connecticut Constitution. In the motion to remand, Kolpinski asserts that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because no federal question remains in his complaint. For the reasons detailed below, Kolpinski’s motion to remand (doc. # 21) is granted.

         I. Standard of Review

         The party opposing a motion to remand bears the burden of showing that the requirements for removal have been met. California Public Employees’ Retirement Sys.v. WorldCom, Inc., 368 F.3d 86, 100 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing Grimo v. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Vermont, 34 F.3d 148, 151 (2d Cir. 1994)); 14C Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3739 (3d ed. 1998) (collecting cases). “In light of the congressional intent to restrict federal court jurisdiction, as well as the importance of preserving the independence of state governments, federal courts construe the removal statute narrowly, resolving any doubts against removability.” Lupo v. Human Affairs Intern., Inc., 28 F.3d 269, 274 (2d Cir. 1994) (citing Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108 (1941); 1A J. Moore & B. Ringle, Moore’s Federal Practice ¶ 0.157, at 38 (2d ed. 1989)).

         II. Discussion

         Federal district courts have “original jurisdiction” over civil actions “arising under” federal law. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Unless otherwise provided by Congress, district courts also have removal jurisdiction over “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). “[F]ederal-question jurisdiction is invoked by and large by plaintiffs pleading a cause of action created by federal law.” New York ex rel. Jacobson v. Wells Fargo Nat’l Bank, N.A., 2016 WL 3093243, at *5 (2d Cir. June 2, 2016) (citing Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. v. Darue Engineering & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 312 (2005)). However, in a “‘special and small category’ of cases, ” id. at *5 (quoting Gunn v. Minton, ___U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1064 (2013)), federal-question jurisdiction will also “lie over state-law claims that implicate significant federal issues.” Id. at *5 (citing Hopkins v. Walker, 244 U.S. 486, 490-91 (1917)). “[T]he Supreme Court has been sparing in recognizing state law claims fitting this criterion.” Id. (quoting NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc. v. UBS Securities, LLC, 770 F.3d 1010, 1019 (2d Cir. 2014)).

         A state law cause of action will only “arise under” federal law if the “state-law claim necessarily raise[s] a stated federal issue, actually disputed and substantial, which a federal forum may entertain without disturbing any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.” Grable, 545 U.S. at 314. Construing Grable, the Court applied the following four-factor test:

[F]ederal jurisdiction over a state law claim will lie if a federal issue is: (1) necessarily raised, (2) actually disputed, (3) substantial, and (4) capable of resolution in federal court without disrupting the federal-state balance approved by Congress . . . .

Gunn, 133 S.Ct. at 1065. A state law claim may only be the basis for federal-question jurisdiction if “all four of these requirements are met . . . .” Id.

         A. “Necessarily Raised”

         “A state-law claim ‘necessarily’ raises federal questions where the claim is affirmatively ‘premised’ on a violation of federal law.” New York ex rel. Jacobson, 2016 WL 3093243, at *5 (quoting Grable, 545 U.S. at 314). The plaintiff’s “right to relief” must “necessarily depend[] on resolution of a substantial question of federal law.” See Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 28 (1983). That first element will not be satisfied where “all of the plaintiff’s claims seek relief under state law and none necessarily raises a federal issue.” New York ex rel. Jacobson, 2016 WL 3093243, at *5 (quoting Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. v. Manning, ___U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 1562, 1575 (2016) (internal alterations omitted). In order to determine whether a state law claim necessarily turns on a construction of federal law, the court must evaluate the allegations in the complaint. See Id. at *7. In New York ex rel. Jacobson, the plaintiff sought to remand an action filed under the New York False Claims Act, alleging that the defendants filed fraudulent federal tax forms to claim state and city tax exemptions. Id. at *1. Rather than evaluating New York’s False Claims Act statute in isolation, the Second Circuit looked to the allegations in the complaint to determine whether the claims necessarily turned on a construction of federal law. Id. at *7. The Court held that, “in order to establish a false statement or record within the meaning of the NYFCA, Jacobson must prove at least that the trusts did not qualify under federal law.” Id. Because proving a violation of federal law was a necessary component to the plaintiff’s right to relief, the Court held that federal jurisdiction was proper. Id.

         In contrast, when “the plaintiff can get all the relief he seeks just by showing [a violation of state law], without proving any violation of federal [] law, ” the claim does not belong in federal court. See Manning, 136 S.Ct. at 1568. Though the Court in Manning was evaluating the preemptive effect of the Exchange Act, its holding and reasoning are applicable to the instant suit because it compared the Exchange Act’s phrase, “brought to enforce, ” to section 1331’s language, “arising under.” See Id. at 1569. In Manning, the Court held that a complaint will only be found to have been “brought to enforce” the Exchange Act if it “explicitly or implicitly asserts that the defendant breached an Exchange Act duty.” Id. at 1568. In other words, “[a] plaintiff seeking relief under state law must undertake to prove, as the cornerstone of his suit, that the defendant infringed a requirement of the federal statute.” Id. at 1569. The Court analogized such a requirement to federal-question jurisdiction, which will only lie if the allegations in the complaint explicitly or implicitly assert that the defendant violated a federal right. See Id. at 1571-72 (“a federal court could adjudicate a suit stating only a state-law claim if it included as ‘an element, and an essential one, ’ the violation of a federal right.”) (citing PanAm. ...

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