United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Nicholas Ranjan, United States District Judge
case presents two novel procedural questions under the
amended removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441. First, what
happens when a plaintiff files a lawsuit in state court with
a federal-question claim and completely unrelated state-law
claims, and then the case is removed to federal court? Before
2011, district courts had discretion in how to deal with
these hybrid cases, including the discretion to keep the
entire case in federal court. Not anymore. The statute now
tells courts exactly what they must do. Federal courts must
retain the federal-question claim; and they then
“shall” sever and remand the unrelated state-law
claims, if those claims are not otherwise within the original
and supplemental jurisdiction of the federal court. Following
the amended statute and as discussed below, the Court shall
retain jurisdiction over the federal-question claim (here, a
claim under the FLSA); but since there is no independent
jurisdiction over the state-law claims here (except for one
state-law wage claim), the Court “shall” sever
and remand those claims.
second novel procedural question at play is: what's the
proper vehicle to raise severance? A motion to remand the
state-law claims filed by the removing defendant is likely
the answer. But even if the defendant does not move to remand
the state-law claims, Section 1441 makes clear that
the district court has an independent obligation to address
severance. This is important, because in some cases
(arguably, this one) severance may not be tied to a
jurisdictional defect, and thus if a remand motion is not
timely filed within 30 days of removal, then it could be
waived. But in the context of severance and remand of
state-law claims under Section 1441(c), that cannot
be the case, since district courts must independently address
the issue of severance “upon removal.” Thus,
while Defendants here did not file a motion to remand and
Plaintiff requests remand only if all of her claims are
remanded together, that is of no consequence. This Court,
exercising its independent duty to sever and remand state-law
claims under Section 1441(c), hereby severs and
remands Counts I & II of the complaint in this case to
a hybrid personal injury and employment action, in which
Plaintiff Nora Stewart asserts claims for negligence arising
from a slip-and-fall accident (against the Homeowner
Defendants), failure to provide workers' compensation
benefits (against the Amazon Defendants), and violations of
both the federal Fair Labor Standards Act
(“FLSA”) and Pennsylvania's analogous Wage
Payment and Collection Law (“WPCL”) (against the
Amazon Defendants). Following removal, the parties now dispute
which of these claims may remain in federal court.
alleged in the complaint, Ms. Stewart was a delivery driver
for the Amazon Defendants who was injured when she twisted
her ankle and fell in the Homeowner Defendants' driveway.
Ms. Stewart contends that the Homeowner Defendants were
negligent in failing to properly maintain their driveway.
Separately, Ms. Stewart alleges that the Amazon Defendants
failed to provide workers' compensation benefits and also
owe her unpaid wages as a result of misclassifying her as an
independent contractor, in violation of the FLSA and WPCL.
Stewart initiated her lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas of
Butler County (No. 18-10764) by writ of summons filed on
August 15, 2018. [ECF 1-3]. On June 17, 2019, she
filed her currently operative complaint against all
Defendants. [ECF 1-1]. Based on Ms. Stewart's
FLSA claim, and pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, Amazon
timely removed the case to this Court on July 16, 2019.
[ECF 1]. In its notice of removal, Amazon also
suggested that 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c)(2) required the Court
to sever and remand Ms. Stewart's negligence claim
against the Homeowner Defendants “upon removal.”
[ECF 1 at ¶ 6]. The Homeowner Defendants then
filed a “Response to Notice of Removal” on July
23, 2019, joining in Amazon's request that the Court
sever and remand Ms. Stewart's negligence claim. [ECF
August 15, 2019, Ms. Stewart filed a “Motion to Remand
This Action or, in the Alternative, to Not Sever the Claims
Against Homeowner Defendants.” [ECF 13]. In
her motion, Ms. Stewart asserted that it was “in the
interests of judicial economy to either remand the entire
action to the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County or, in
the alternative, to retain jurisdiction over the entire case,
so that in whatever forum this case lands, it lands whole and
intact, with no parts severed.” [ECF 13 at pp.
1-2; ECF 14]. Ms. Stewart also argued that her
workers' compensation claim is nonremovable pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1445(c). [ECF 14].
filed timely responses in accordance with the briefing
schedule set by the Court. [ECF 15; ECF 16;
ECF 17]. All Defendants argued that the Court had
jurisdiction over Ms. Stewart's FLSA claim, but was
required to sever and remand her negligence claim in
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c)(2). [ECF
16; ECF 17]. The Amazon Defendants further
argued that the Court should dismiss (or, alternatively,
remand) Ms. Stewart's workers' compensation claim, on
the grounds that, in addition to being nonremovable under
Section 1445(c), such claims may only be
asserted by petition to the Pennsylvania Workers'
Compensation Bureau. [ECF 17].
Discussion & Analysis
“Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.
They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and
statute.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of
Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). “[L]ower
federal-court jurisdiction is further limited to those
subjects encompassed within a statutory grant of
jurisdiction.” Home Depot U.S. A., Inc. v.
Jackson, 139 S.Ct. 1743, 1746 (2019) (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted). Accordingly, “the district
courts may not exercise jurisdiction absent a statutory
basis.” Id. (citation omitted).
U.S.C. § 1331, Congress granted federal courts original
jurisdiction over cases “arising under” federal
law. The power to hear such cases is commonly referred to as
“federal-question” jurisdiction, Home Depot
U.S.A., Inc., 139 S.Ct. at 1746, which Amazon asserts as
the basis for its removal of this action. [ECF 17];
see28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) (“[A]ny
civil action brought in a State court of which the district
courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may
be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the
district court of the United States for the district and
division embracing the place where such action is
pending.”). More specifically, Amazon contends that
this Court may properly exercise federal-question
jurisdiction over Ms. Stewart's FLSA claim.
removal, Defendants did not move to remand the state-law
claims. Instead, Ms. Stewart moved to remand this entire
action to state court. “Remand to state court is
required if at any time before final judgment it appears that
the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.”
Hoffman v. Nutraceutical Corp., 563 Fed.Appx. 183,
185 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted); 28
U.S.C. § 1447(c). “The defendant's right to
remove is to be determined according to the plaintiffs'
pleading at the time of the petition for removal, and it is
the defendant's burden to show the existence of federal
jurisdiction.” Van Scyoc v. Equitrans, L.P.,
255 F.Supp.3d 636, 639 (W.D. Pa. 2015) (citing Abels v.
State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 770 F.2d 26, 29 (3d Cir.
1985)). “The federal removal statute … is
strictly construed, requiring remand if any doubt exists over
whether removal was proper.” Carlyle Inv. Mgmt. LLC
v. Moonmouth Co. SA, 779 F.3d 214, 218 (3d Cir. 2015).
However, the Court must also proceed with appropriate
caution, “lest it erroneously deprive a defendant of
the right to a federal forum.” Hunter v. Greenwood
Tr. Co., 856 F.Supp. 207, 211 (D.N.J. 1992).
Court will consider the parties' arguments with respect
to each of Ms. Stewart's claims in turn, beginning with
her FLSA claim.
The Court Will Retain Jurisdiction Over Ms. Stewart's
FLSA Claim Against the Amazon Defendants.
the Court has little difficulty concluding that Ms.
Stewart's FLSA claim against the Amazon Defendants should
remain in federal court. [ECF 1]. “Federal
question jurisdiction exists when the plaintiff's
well-pleaded complaint establishes that ‘federal law
creates the cause of action.'” Metro. Life Ins.
Co. v. Price, 501 F.3d 271, 276 (3d Cir. 2007)
(citing Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers
Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 27-28 (1983)). Ms. Stewart
alleges that the Amazon Defendants have violated specific
provisions of the FLSA and that she is entitled to relief
authorized by 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Thus, a
federal statute directly “creates the cause of action,
” ending the inquiry. Id.
Ms. Stewart does not identify any legal basis for the Court
to deny Amazon its “right to a federal forum for this
case.” Koresko v. Murphy, 464 F.Supp.2d 463,
469 (E.D. Pa. 2006); Home Depot U.S. A., Inc., 139
S.Ct. at 1746 (“Federal-question jurisdiction affords
parties a federal forum in which ‘to vindicate federal
rights[.]'”) (citation omitted). In fact, she
outright concedes that “there is no bar to removal of a
suit under the FLSA from state to federal court, ” and
indicates that she “does not contest removal, so long
as all claims remain with this Court.” [ECF 14
at pp. 2-3]. Clearly, a litigant's mere preference to
prosecute her claims in a single forum cannot overcome the
plain language of the removal statute, which gives the Amazon
Defendants a right to defend against federal claims in a
federal forum. Thus, irrespective of whether the Court can
retain Ms. Stewart's other claims, jurisdiction over her
FLSA claim is proper.
Court will also exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Ms.
Stewart's claim under the analogous WPCL, which is based
on the exact same allegations. See28 U.S.C. §
1367; Lyon v. Whisman, 45 F.3d 758, 760 (3d Cir.
1995) (explaining that it is “obvious” that a
district court can exercise supplemental jurisdiction
“when the same acts violate parallel federal and state
laws[.]”); Braun v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 24
A.3d 875, 961 (Pa. Super. 2011) (noting that “the WPCL
is analogous to the federal Fair Labor Standards
Act[.]”); see, e.g. Goldman v. Radio Shack
Corp., No. 2:03-cv-0032, 2003 WL 21250571, at *2-3 (E.D.
Pa. Apr. 16, 2003) (exercising supplemental jurisdiction over
WPLC claim in an FLSA action).
The Court Will Sever and Remand Ms. Stewart's State-Law
Negligence Claim Against the Homeowner Defendants Pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1441(c)(2).
Defendants argue that 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c)(2) requires
the Court to sever and remand Ms. Stewart's state-law
negligence claim against the Homeowner ...