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Pierson v. Northwest Steel & Pipe, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

June 7, 2018




         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's motion to remand (Dkt. No. 10). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby GRANTS the motion for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Doherty Pierson worked for Defendant Northwest Steel & Pipe, Inc. as a truck driver until he was terminated for insubordination after refusing to load additional materials into his truck at a job site. (Dkt. No. 10 at 2-3.) Defendant relied upon disciplinary terms in a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between Defendant and Plaintiff's union to terminate Plaintiff. (Dkt. No. 11 at 1.) Plaintiff subsequently brought suit in King County Superior Court alleging that Defendant terminated him in violation of Washington State public policy and the Washington Law Against Discrimination (“the WLAD”). (Dkt. No. 10 at 3); see Wash. Rev. Code § 49.60, et seq. Defendant removed the case to federal court based on federal questions jurisdiction. (Dkt. No. 1.) Plaintiff moves to remand. (Dkt. No. 10.)


         A. Legal Standard

         A defendant is entitled to remove a lawsuit if the action could have originally been brought in federal district court. Grable & Sons Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 312 (2005); 28 U.S.C § 1441(a). The removing party bears the burden of establishing that federal subject matter jurisdiction existed at the time of removal. Prize Frize, Inc. v. Matrix Inc., 167 F.3d 1261, 1265 (9th Cir. 1999). “The removal statute is strongly construed against removal jurisdiction.” Prize Frize, 167 F.3d at 1265. The Court must remand a case if it lacked subject matter jurisdiction at the time of removal. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

         B. Analysis

         Defendant asserts the Court has subject matter jurisdiction because Plaintiff raised a federal question by referencing or relying on federal law. (Dkt. No. 1 at 3-4.) First, Defendant argues that Plaintiff raised a federal question by citing the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (“STAA”), 49 U.S.C. section 31105, in support of his claim that his termination violated Washington State public policy. (Id. at 3.) Additionally, Defendant contends that Plaintiff's wrongful termination claim is founded on rights “created by the [CBA].” (Id. at 3.) Accordingly, Defendant argues that section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), 29 U.S.C. section 185(a), preempts Plaintiff's state-law claims, since these claims are “inextricably intertwined” with the terms of the CBA. (Id. at 4.)

         Federal question jurisdiction exists only where the well-pleaded complaint clearly shows that federal law creates the cause of action or that vindication of a right under state law “necessarily depends on a substantial question of federal law.” Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 258 (2013); Easton v. Crossland Mortg. Corp., 114 F.3d 979, 982 (9th Cir. 1997). When a plaintiff invokes federal law as part of a state-law claim, the Court determines whether jurisdiction is appropriate. Merrell Dow Pharms. Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 813-14 (1986). This determination rests not merely on the “literal language” of the complaint, but also on a practical analysis of the plaintiff's claims and the form that a “well-pleaded complaint” would take. Easton, 144 F.3d at 982.

         1. Removal under STAA

         Plaintiff's reference to the STAA does not raise a federal question. (See Dkt. No. 1-2 at 4.) Defendant correctly concedes this point. See Easton, 144 F.3d at 982 (a mechanical reference to a federal law does not necessarily confer jurisdiction); (see generally Dkt. No. 11 at 1-12) (failing to argue this basis for jurisdiction in response to Plaintiff's motion to remand).

         2. Removal under Section 301

         This Court's jurisdiction rests on whether section 301 preempts Plaintiff's claim for discrimination in violation of public policy or the WLAD. Section 301 preempts state-law claims “founded directly on rights created by collective bargaining agreements.” Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 394 (1987). However, if the state-law claims exist independently of the CBA provisions, as they do here, then section 301 only preempts the claims if they rely substantially on interpretation of the CBA. Burnside v. Kiewit Pac. Corp., 491 F.3d 1053, 1059 (9th Cir. 2007). To decide whether claims rely substantially on interpretation of the CBA, the Court must determine whether the “claim[s] can be resolved by looking to versus interpreting the CBA.” Burnside, 491 F.3d at 1060. When the Court need only look at the CBA to resolve the claims, they are not preempted. Id. (emphasis added). Furthermore, the Ninth Circuit has ruled that “a CBA ...

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