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Intenational Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers v. Insurance Co. of the West

March 30, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge


The plaintiff brings this action to enforce an Employer's Wage, Expense, Welfare, Pension, Annuity, Vacation and Industry Fund Payment Bond (the "Bond") executed by the defendant, the Insurance Company of the West ("ICW"), as surety, that guaranteed certain payments due from Refractory Engineering & Construction, Inc. ("RECON") pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement. Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 1. The plaintiff originally commenced this action in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ("Superior Court") on March 4, 2004. However, on April 1, 2004, ICW removed the case from the Superior Court to this Court pursuant 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b). The plaintiff, the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers ("IUBAC"), has now filed a Motion to Remand pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). Currently before the Court are (1) the plaintiff's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Motion to Remand ("Pl.'s Mem."); (2) the defendant's Response in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Remand ("Def.'s Opp'n"); and (3) the plaintiff's Reply Memorandum in Support of Motion to Remand ("Pl.'s Reply"). For the reasons set forth below, the plaintiff's motion to remand is granted.

I. Background

The plaintiff's complaint seeks to enforce and collect on a bond executed by the defendant. Under the collective bargaining agreement, the plaintiff alleges that RECON was obligated to make payments to a variety of health, pension, and other funds according to a rate schedule set forth in the collective bargaining agreement for all covered work. Compl. ¶ 6. The defendant, as surety, guaranteed these payments. Id. ¶¶ 1, 8-16. The plaintiff contends that RECON failed to make the payments required by the collective bargaining agreement and therefore, the plaintiff commenced this action against the defendant surety company to enforce the terms of the bond. According to the plaintiff's complaint, "[t]he action arises under the Bond and the laws of the District of Columbia." Id. ¶ 2. Specifically, the plaintiff seeks an order compelling the defendant to pay the amounts owed by RECON, in addition to accumulated interest, up to the $100,000 amount provided for by the bond. Id. ¶ 5.

On April 1, 2004, the defendant filed a Notice of Removal of Action Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b) ("Def.'s Not. Removal"), alleging that this Court has original jurisdiction over this action under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question jurisdiction), and therefore the case should be removed to this Court. Def.'s Not. Removal at 1. Specifically, the defendant claims "that the complaint asserts a violation of a contract between an employer and a labor organization in an industry affecting commerce...." Id. at 1-2. Because such a dispute is controlled by the Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a) ("LMRA"), the defendant contends that "this Court would have had original jurisdiction of this action had it been brought originally in this Court." Id. at 2. In addition, the defendant maintains "that the instant lawsuit was vexatiously brought in the Superior Court since it is merely a companion case to a... lawsuit [already pending in the United States District Court for the Central District of California]" involving the IUBAC and Recon Refractory & Construction, Inc. ("the California lawsuit"). Id.*fn1 The defendant argues that the action before this Court and the action in California are directly related because the case before this Court involves "a claim on the employer's bond arising from the California suit," and that the bond in question is a requirement "under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement at issue in the California lawsuit." Id.*fn2

II. The Parties' Arguments

The plaintiff argues that this matter must be remanded to the Superior Court because the defendant "cannot meet its burden of establishing the existence of a federal question sufficient to confer this Court with subject matter jurisdiction." Pl.'s Mem. at 5. The plaintiff asserts that its cause of action "is not created by any federal law," but "rather,... is created by, and arises under, the language of the bond and District of Columbia law." Id. The plaintiff further contends that its claim against the defendant "does not require or depend upon the analysis, interpretation, application or construction of the LMRA, other federal statutes pertaining to collective bargaining agreements or any other federal law or provision." Id. at 7.

The plaintiff relies heavily on a case from the Second Circuit, Greenblatt v. Delta Plumbing & Heating Corp., 68 F.3d 561, 570 (2d Cir. 1995), as support for its position that a bond claim does not raise a federal question, irrespective of its impact on a collective bargaining agreement, Pl.'s Mem. at 8, and concludes that the case must therefore be remanded to the Superior Court. Id. at 10. In addition to requesting remand, the plaintiff requests that the Court order the defendant to pay, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), its attorney's fees and costs incurred as a result of the inappropriate removal.

In response to the plaintiff's motion to remand, the defendant argues that under Section 301 of the LMRA, 29 U.S.C. § 185, state law claims are converted into federal claims "wherever the interpretation of labor contracts is concerned." Def.'s Opp'n at 4. Under § 301, actions between an employer and a labor organization alleging a violation of a contract "may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction over the parties." 29 U.S.C. § 185(b). As a result of this authorization, the defendant opines that § 301 preempts any applicable state law claims and mandates "a removal of the claim to federal court." Id. (citing Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 65-66 (1987)). According to the defendant, the plaintiff's claims are dependant on the collective bargaining agreement, arguing that "[t]he bond itself expressly requires the Court to interpret" the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement, "for which there is no final finding that RECON is responsible for a breach." Id. at 8. Accordingly, the defendant posits that remand to the Superior Court is inappropriate.

III. Standard of Review

Removal of cases to federal court is derived solely from 28 U.S.C. § 1441.*fn3 See Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1441). The party opposing a motion to remand bears the burden of establishing that subject matter jurisdiction exists in federal court. See id. ("The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction is placed upon the party seeking removal.") (citing Wilson v. Republic Iron & Steel Co., 257 U.S. 92 (1921)); In re Tobacco/Gov'tal Health Care Costs Litig., 100 F. Supp. 2d 31, 35 (D.D.C. 2000). "Because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, the removal statute is to be strictly construed." Kopff v. World Research Group, LLC, 298 F. Supp. 2d 50, 54 (D.D.C. 2003) (citing Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 100-07 (1941); Diaz v. Sheppard, 85 F.3d 1502, 1505 (11th Cir. 1996); Williams v. Howard Univ., 984 F. Supp. 27, 29 (D.D.C. 1997)). Therefore, in instances "[w]here the need to remand is not self-evident, the court must resolve any ambiguities concerning the propriety of removal in favor of remand." Johnson-Brown v. 2200 M St. LLC, 257 F. Supp. 2d 175, 177 (D.D.C. 2003) (citing Univ. of S. Alabama v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 411 (11th Cir. 1999); Nwachukwu v. Karl, 223 F. Supp. 2d 60, 66 (D.D.C. 2002)); see also Mulcahey, 29 F.3d at 151 ("If federal jurisdiction is doubtful, a remand is necessary."). "The presence or absence of federal question jurisdiction is governed by the 'well-pleaded complaint rule,' which provides that federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint." Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987) (citing Gully v. First Nat'l Bank, 299 U.S. 109, 112-113 (1936)). "The rule makes the plaintiff the master of the claim...." Id.

"One corollary to the well-pleaded complaint rule... is that Congress may so completely pre-empt a particular area that any civil complaint raising this select group of claims is necessarily federal in character." Metro. Life, 481 U.S. at 63-64. "When the federal statute completely preempts the state-law cause of action, a claim which comes within the scope of that cause of action, even if pleaded in terms of state law, is in reality based on federal law." Beneficial Nat'l Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 8 (2003). One "select group of claims" the Supreme Court has singled out for special treatment involve claims preempted by § 301 of the LMRA. Metro. Life, 481 U.S. at 63-64. "Section 301 of the LMRA not only preempts state law but also authorizes removal of claims that purport[ ] to seek relief only under state law." Bush v. Clark Constr. & Concrete Corp., 267 F. Supp. 2d 43, 46 (D.D.C. 2003) (citing Beneficial Nat'l Bank, 529 U.S. at 6-7).

IV. Legal Analysis

The issue before this Court is whether this case presents a federal question that warrants this Court retaining jurisdiction over the plaintiff's claims. For the reasons that follow, it is clear that this matter simply involves the defendant's obligations, as surety, pursuant to the bond as prescribed under the laws of the District of Columbia, and is not substantially dependant on the interpretation ...

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