United States District Court, D. Connecticut
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND OPPORTUNITIES, ex rel. HILLARY NAMMACK Plaintiff,
445 W. PUTNAM, LLC; JTM REALTY, LLC; and JEFFREY T. MILLER, Defendants.
RULING GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO
BOND ARTERTON, U.S.D.J.
Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities
("CHRO") moves to remand this action to the
Connecticut Superior Court, Judicial District of
Stamford/Norwalk, at the Norwalk Housing Session. (Mot. to
Remand [Doc. # 14] at 1.) Defendants oppose, arguing that
this action was properly removed to this Court. (Defs.'
Opp. [Doc. # 16].) For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs
Motion to Remand is granted.
Nammack filed complaints of housing discrimination with the
CHRO against Defendants 445 W. Putnam, LLC, JTM Realty, LLC,
and Jeffrey T. Miller. (Mem. Supp. Mot. to Remand [Doc. #
14-1] at 1.) The CHRO investigated Ms. Nammack's
complaint and "found reasonable cause to believe that a
discriminatory housing practice had occurred."
(Id.) Defendants elected to proceed via civil action
instead of via administrative proceedings. (Id.)
CHRO filed this action against Defendants in the Connecticut
Superior Court for the Judicial District of Stamford/Norwalk.
(Id; Not. of Removal [Doc. 1] ¶ 1.) The
Complaint asserted only violations of Conn. Gen. Stat. §
46a-64c and did not bring any claims arising under federal
law. (Mem. Supp. Mot. to Remand at 1; Ex. A (Complaint) to
Not. of Removal [Doc. # 1] at 3-9.)
then removed the case to this Court. (Not. of Removal.)
Defendants argued that removal was proper under 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1331, 1441, and 1446 because "courts must
interpret Connecticut's fair housing laws by reference to
the Federal Fair Housing Act" and because the
"CHRO's Final Investigative Report indicated that
the CHRO was pursuing the claims against the Defendants . . .
PURSUANT TO TITLE VIII OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS[ ]ACT OF 1968 AS
AMENDED BY THE FAIR HOUSING AMENDMENTS ACT OF 1988."
(Id. ¶ 7 (caps in original)). The Notice of
Removal explained that although the Complaint actually filed
by the CHRO did not "mention the Fair Housing Act[, ]
... the claims asserted in the Complaint necessarily raise a
significant federal issue, actually disputed and substantial,
such that the case warrants federal question
CHRO now moves to remand this action to the Connecticut
28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), a defendant "in a state-court
action over which the federal courts would have original
jurisdiction" may "remove that action to federal
court." Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. v. Jackson, 139
S.Ct. 1743, 1746 (2019). "[W]hen determining whether
[the federal court] has original jurisdiction over a civil
action," courts "should evaluate whether that
action could have been brought originally in federal
court." Id. at 1748. "This requires a
district court to evaluate whether the plaintiff could have
filed its operative complaint in federal court, either
because it raises claims arising under federal law or because
it falls within the court's diversity jurisdiction."
Id. Defendants claim only federal question
jurisdiction (and make no argument regarding diversity
jurisdiction), and thus the only relevant question is whether
this Court could properly have exercised federal question
jurisdiction over this action if it had been brought
originally in federal court. Defendants bear the burden of
demonstrating that removal was proper. United Food &
Commercial Workers Union, Local 919, AFL-CIO v. Centermark
Properties Meriden Square, Inc., 20 F.3d 298, 301 (2d
Cir. 1994) ("Where, as here, jurisdiction is asserted by
a defendant in a removal petition, it follows that the
defendant has the burden of establishing that removal is
concede that the Complaint does not mention or explicitly
state any claims arising under federal law. (See
Defs.' Opp. to Mot. to Remand [Doc. # 16] at 2.) But
"in certain cases federal-question jurisdiction will lie
over state-law claims that implicate significant federal
issues." Grabel & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v.
Dame Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 312 (2005).
State law claims implicate a significant federal issue such
that federal question jurisdiction over those claims is
proper if the "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 v.
Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 258 (2013).
order for this Court to exercise jurisdiction over the
Complaint, the state law claims it brings must
"necessarily raise" a federal issue. Defendants
argue that the CHRO's state law claims raise a federal
issue because the allegations based on Connecticut's Fair
Housing Act "necessarily invoke and rel[y] on Title
VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended by the Fair
Housing Amendments Act of 1988." (Defs.' Opp. at 3.)
Defendants argue that this is so because (i) the
"landscape of Connecticut's fair housing laws
demands reference to federal fair housing laws" and (ii)
"other documents filed in the administrative proceeding
and referenced in the State Court Complaint do" mention
and cite federal law. (Id. at 5.)
in support of their argument the state laws under which the
CHRO brings its claims "demand reference to
federal" laws, Defendants contend that "when it
comes to Connecticut's fair housing law, [Connecticut
courts] must follow federal courts'
interpretations of the analogous federal fair housing
laws." (Id. at 6 (emphasis added).) Defendants
cite several Connecticut cases which, they argue, stand for
the proposition that Connecticut fair housing claims are
necessarily determined by the substance of federal fair
housing law, but none of those cases support the
Comm'n on Human Rights & Opportunities v. Savin
Rock Condominium Assoc, Inc., the Connecticut Supreme
Court acknowledged that "when the overlap between state
and federal law is deliberate, as in this case, federal
decisions are particularly persuasive." 273 Conn. 373,
386 (2005). Defendants suggest that this reliance on federal
law demonstrates that Connecticut state courts "must
follow federal courts' interpretations of the analogous
federal fair housing laws." (Defs.' Opp. at 6.) But
that interpretation of Savin Rock is plainly
inconsistent with the Connecticut Supreme Court's clear
pronouncement-in that same case-that although it found the
reasoning of federal courts "persuasive," it is
"not bound to follow the federal courts'
construction of the federal counterpart to our [fair housing]
statute." Id. at 389 (emphasis added).
also cite Comm'n on Human Rights & Opportunities
v. Brookstone Court, LLC, 2006 WL 932538 (Conn. Super.
Ct. Mar. 23, 2006), in support of their assertion that
"Connecticut courts interpreting the [Connecticut Fair
Housing Act] are 'obligated' to follow federal court
interpretations of the [Federal Fair Housing Act], even when
the language of the Connecticut statute might lend itself to
a different, but equally legitimate interpretation."
(Defs.' Opp. at 8). In that case, a Connecticut Superior
Court, considering a complaint which brought both state and
federal fair housing claims, recognized that state courts are
"obligated to follow federal court[s']
interpretation of federal statutes." Brookstone
Court, 2006 WL 932538, at *2. But contrary to
Defendants' suggestion, this case recognizes only the
well-established principles that federal courts'
interpretation of federal laws are binding on state
courts applying those federal laws, and that federal
interpretation of federal statutes may ...