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Lane v. CBS Broadcasting Inc.

April 28, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Surrick, J.


Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand. (Doc. No. 12.) For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion will be granted.


This lawsuit arises out of the January 1, 2008 termination of Alycia Lane ("Plaintiff") as a KYW TV news anchor following an incident in New York City in December 2007. We have described the factual and procedural background of this litigation in several prior opinions addressing the parties' removal disputes. See Lane v. CBS Broad. Inc., No. 08-3175, Order dated October 31, 2008; Lane v. CBS Broad. Inc., No. 08-3175, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65613 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 27, 2008); Lane v. CBS Broad. Inc., No. 08-0777, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26906 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 2, 2008). This opinion will pick up where the Memorandum and Order dated August 27, 2008, denying Plaintiff's motion to remand, and the Order of October 31, 2008, denying Defendants' motion to vacate Plaintiff's notice of dismissal in No. 08-3175, left off.

On September 23, 2008, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas naming as defendants CBS Broadcasting Inc. t/a KYW TV ("CBS"), KYW TV president Michael Colleran ("Colleran"), news anchor Lawrence Mendte ("Mendte"), Philadelphia Media Holdings, LLC, Philadelphia Newspapers, LLC t/a Philadelphia Daily News, news columnist Dan Gross ("Gross"), and John Doe and Jane Doe (collectively, "Defendants").*fn1 Plaintiff's Complaint contains eighteen state-law claims including: defamation; false light; invasion of privacy; tortious interference with prospective contractual relations; unlawful interception and disclosure of electronic communications under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 5703, 5725; negligence; unlawful access to stored communications under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 5741, 5747; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and civil conspiracy. (See generally Compl.) The Complaint incorporates by reference the factual averments and legal conclusions of three federal criminal documents: (1) the Information (Criminal No. 08-417) filed against Mendte on July 21, 2008 ("Information"); (2) the Government's Plea Memorandum dated August 22, 2008 ("Plea Memorandum"); and (3) the transcript of Mendte's guilty plea hearing held on August 22, 2008, before United States District Judge Mary M. McLaughlin of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ("Mendte Hr'g Tr.").

On October 10, 2008, Defendants filed a Notice of Removal, contending that Plaintiff's Complaint raised substantial issues of federal law that should be litigated in federal court. (Doc. No. 1.) In response, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand arguing that her Complaint set forth causes of action "created solely by Pennsylvania state tort common law and statutes." (Doc. No. 12 at 1.) Defendant responded that Plaintiff "has 'artfully pled' her Complaint to make it appear that claims based on federal law are not at issue, when in fact they are." (Doc. No. 14 at 2.)


State-court actions that originally could have been filed in federal court may be removed to federal court. Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1441).*fn2 However, a case removed to federal court shall be remanded to state court "[i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction" over the claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) (2006). The removing party bears the burden of proving that federal subject matter jurisdiction exists. Samuel-Bassett v. Kia Motors Am., Inc., 357 F.3d 392, 396 (3d Cir. 2004). "The removal statutes are to be strictly construed against removal and all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

Jurisdiction in a federal district court may be based upon either (1) a federal question under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 or (2) diversity under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.*fn3 The parties here are not diverse. Therefore, if federal jurisdiction exists, it must rest upon the existence of a federal question. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b) ("Any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction founded on a claim or right arising under the Constitution, treaties or laws of the United States shall be removable without regard to the citizenship or residence of the parties."). The federal question statute provides that "[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. "A case 'arises under' federal law within the meaning of § 1331... if a 'well-pleaded complaint establishes either that federal law creates the cause of action or that the plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law.'" Empire Healthcare Assurance, Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 689-90 (2006) (quoting Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 27-28 (1983)).

"However, a well-established corollary to the well-pleaded complaint rule is the 'artful pleading doctrine,' under which 'a court will not allow a plaintiff to deny a defendant a federal forum when the plaintiff's complaint contains a federal claim artfully pled as a state law claim.'" Thibodeau v. Comcast Corp., No. 05-1777, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20999, at *9-10 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 21, 2004) (quoting Goepel v. Nat'l Postal Mail Handlers Union, 36 F.3d 306, 311 n.5 (3d Cir. 1994)). "Removal is permitted under the artful pleading doctrine if '(1) federal law has completely preempted the state law that serves as the basis for the plaintiff's complaint, or (2) a federal question, not pleaded in the plaintiff's complaint, is nonetheless both intrinsic and central to the plaintiff's cause of action.'"*fn4 Thibodeau, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20999, at *10 (quoting Guckin v. Nagle, 259 F. Supp. 2d 406, 410 (E.D. Pa. 2003)). Under the second category of cases, "the mere presence of a federal issue in a state cause of action does not automatically confer federal-question jurisdiction." Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 813 (1986). Rather, the Supreme Court has "confined federal-question jurisdiction over state-law claims to those that really and substantially involve a dispute or controversy respecting the validity, construction or effect of federal law." Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 313 (2005) (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted).


A. The Grable Case

In Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. v. Darue Engineering & Manufacturing, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the doctrine that "federal-question jurisdiction will lie over state-law claims that implicate significant federal issues," even in the absence of a federal cause of action.

545 U.S. at 312. The Court reasoned that this "doctrine captures the commonsense notion that a federal court ought to be able to hear claims recognized under state law that nonetheless turn on substantial questions of federal law, and thus justify resort to the experience, solicitude, and hope of uniformity that a federal forum offers on federal issues." Id. To determine whether a federal issue exists to support federal jurisdiction, Grable instructs that courts ask whether "a 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." Id. at 314.

The litigation in Grable arose after the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") seized real property belonging to Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. ("Grable"), in order to satisfy Grable's federal tax deficiency. Id. at 310. Darue Engineering & Manufacturing ("Darue") purchased the property from the IRS. Id. Five years later, Grable brought an action to quiet title in state court, claiming that the IRS had failed to satisfy the notice requirement in 26 U.S.C. ยง 6335 when it gave Grable notice by certified mail, rather than personal service. Id. at 311. It was undisputed, however, that Grable had received actual notice of the seizure before the sale of the property to Darue. Id. at 310. Darue removed the case to federal court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. Id. at 311. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court determinations that removal was proper, finding that "[w]hether Grable was given notice within the meaning of the federal statute is... an essential element of its quiet title claim, and the meaning of the federal ...

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