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Richard Moser v. Nikolas Papadopoulos

June 15, 2011


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


Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion to Remand [doc. no. 3] and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [doc. no. 6]. Richard Moser originally filed his complaint in the Court of Common Pleas for Delaware County, Pennsylvania. In his two-count complaint, Plaintiff asserts state-law claims under the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law ("WPCL"),*fn1 and seeks punitive damages based upon the state common-law standard. Specifically, Moser's WCPL claim alleges that Defendants failed to pay overtime wages in violation of the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act*fn2 ("PMWA") and the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA").*fn3 But Moser does not seek relief pursuant to the FLSA; rather, he seeks to recover the wages Defendants are statutorily obligated to pay (under federal and state law) under the Pennsylvania Wage and Collection Law. Defendants argue that the alleged FLSA violation is an "essential element" of Plaintiff's state-law claim and thus the WPCL claim confers subject matter upon this court. For the reasons that follow, we disagree.

I. Background

Plaintiff Richard Moser, a Pennsylvania resident, filed this putative class action in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, Delaware County, on October 8, 2010, alleging that he and over 150 co-workers were not properly compensated by Defendants for overtime.*fn4

Defendant NTP Marble, Inc. d/b/a/ Colonial Marble & Granite ("NTP"), a company that installs marble and granite countertops, is a Pennsylvania corporation with its principal place of business in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.*fn5 The individual defendants are allegedly officers of NTP.

Moser was employed by NTP as a granite tile and marble installer from June 22, 2008 until August 29, 2008.*fn6 When he was hired, NTP offered him a weekly salary of $1,350.00.*fn7 During his employment, Moser worked approximately 180 hours of overtime, but NTP did not pay him overtime wages. Moser contends that the PMWA and FLSA obligated NTP to pay him $33.76 per overtime hour.*fn8

Moser also claims that Defendants did not reimburse any of its over 150 employees for overtime.*fn9 He brings his claims on behalf of a class including all non-exempt employees who were employed by NTP from January 1, 2008 to the present.

On November 19, 2010, Defendants timely filed a Notice of Removal [doc. no. 1] in this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1446 and 1331, on grounds that Plaintiff's claims arise under federal law.*fn10 Plaintiff has moved to remand, arguing that this Court lacks jurisdiction.*fn11 Because we may not consider a case over which we lack subject matter jurisdiction, we begin with the jurisdictional challenges that Moser raises in his motion to remand.

II. Discussion

A. The Law Governing Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

Removal of a civil action from state to federal court is proper only if the action initially could have been brought in federal court.*fn12 The removal statutes "are to be strictly construed against removal and all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand."*fn13 In this case, because there is no conceivable basis for federal jurisdiction apart from 28 U.S.C. § 1331,*fn14 the propriety of Defendants' removal hinges upon whether this Court has federal-question jurisdiction.

Section 1331 grants federal district courts original jurisdiction over "all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."*fn15 Although there is no mechanical test for determining when an "'action aris[es] under' federal law,"*fn16 it is generally accepted that the "well-pleaded complaint [must] establish[] 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."*fn17

"Arising under" federal-question jurisdiction is generally appropriate in two types of actions. The first, most common category, involves suits in which the plaintiff pleads a cause of action created by federal law.*fn18 In the second "slim category"*fn19 of cases, a plaintiff pleads a state-law cause of action that "implicate[s] significant federal issues" or "turn[s] on substantial questions of federal law,"*fn20 and therefore contains an "embedded federal question.

In both categories, every putative federal-question case must adhere to the "well-pleaded complaint" rule. Under that rule, a suit "'arises under' federal law 'only when the plaintiff's statement of his own cause of action shows that it is based upon [federal law].'"*fn21 The existence of a federal defense to a state-law cause of action will not suffice;*fn22 instead, the plaintiff's well-pleaded complaint must include, within its four corners, either an explicit federal cause of action or a state-law cause of action that contains an embedded federal question that is both substantial and disputed.*fn23 Moreover, "[t]he fact that a complaint mentions, or even incorporates a federal law, does not determine whether it 'arises under' the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States."*fn24

Here, Plaintiffs have pleaded only state-law causes of action. Consequently, the jurisdictional inquiry is whether Plaintiff's complaint contains an embedded-federal question. Because "the mere presence of a federal issue in a state cause of action does not automatically confer federal-question jurisdiction,"*fn25 embedded federal question jurisdiction only exists where three conditions are met: 1) the case necessarily raises a federal issue, 2) the federal issue is substantial and in actual dispute, and 3) the exercise ...

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