Removed from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Civil No. 2010CA007910
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge
Plaintiff District of Columbia filed suit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ("Superior Court") to condemn property in which defendant Autozone Stores, Inc. et al. ("Autozone") had a leasehold interest. The suit, authorized by District statutes providing for the condemnation of certain blighted property within the District, was removed to this Court by defendants. Before the Court is plaintiff's motion to remand the proceedings to the Superior Court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. For the reasons stated herein, the Court will grant plaintiff's motion.
The National Capital Revitalization Corporation Eminent Domain Clarification and Skyland Eminent Domain Approval Amendment Act, D.C. Law 15-286, 52 D.C. Reg. 859 (2004) ("Skyline Eminent Domain Act"), authorized the National Capital Revitalization Corporation ("NCRC") to exercise eminent domain over the property comprising the Skyland Shopping Center, D.C. Code § 2-1219.19(c) (2005) (repealed 2008), which consists of 18.5 acres on the north side of the intersection of Good Hope Road, Alabama Avenue, and Naylor Road, S.E. in the Hillcrest neighborhood of Ward 7, and includes the property at issue in this case. (Pl.'s Mot. to Remand at 5-6.) The Act was enacted based on the findings by the District of Columbia Council that the communities surrounding the Shopping Center were economically depressed in large part due to the "underused, neglected, and poorly maintained" Shopping Center property that "fueled crime" and was a "blighting factor" on those communities. 52 D.C. Reg. 859 (2005). The Council further found that redeveloping the Shopping Center would require assemblage of its properties, which would be "highly unlikely" without the use of eminent domain by the NCRC. Id. Thus, the Skyline Eminent Domain Act authorized the NCRC to initiate condemnation proceedings in the Superior Court and to take title to the condemned properties. D.C. Code § 2-1219.19(c)(2)-(3) (2005) (repealed 2008). Section 2(a)(15) of the Act enumerated "important public purposes" that would be served by condemnation, including the removal of unsafe and unsanitary conditions, crime reduction, and the revitalization of an economically distressed community.
The National Capital Revitalization Corporation and Anacostia Waterfront Corporation Reorganization Act of 2008, D.C. Code § 2-1225 et seq. (Supp. 2010) ("NCRC Reorganization Act"), reiterated the findings of the Skyland Eminent Domain Act, but dissolved the NCRC's board of directors and transferred its "powers, duties, and responsibilities" to the Mayor, including the power to exercise eminent domain over the Skyland Shopping Center. D.C. Code §§ 2-1225.01, 2-1225.42. Specifically, when property within the District is needed by the Mayor for any "municipal use," a complaint may be filed in the Superior Court in the name of the District for the condemnation of that property. D.C. Code §§ 2-1225.42, 16-1311.
The property at issue in this case is part of the Skyland Shopping Center, and on October 22, 2010, plaintiff initiated condemnation proceedings in the Superior Court against the property and Autozone. (Pl.'s Mot. to Remand at 8.) Autozone, which is incorporated in Nevada and has its principal place of business in Tennessee (Defs.' Notice of Removal ¶ 10), had a leasehold interest in the property. (Pl.'s Mot. to Remand at 8.) In their Answer, defendants raised several defenses including that the proposed condemnation violated the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, U.S. Const. Amend. V, because it was not for a public use. (Defs.' Notice of Removal Ex. A, Defs.' Answer at 9.) On November 18, 2010, defendants removed the case to federal court. (Defs.' Notice of Removal at 1-2.) Before the Court is plaintiff's motion to remand to the Superior Court on grounds that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.
A civil action filed in state court may only be removed to a United States district court if it could have originally been brought in federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Federal courts have original jurisdiction over "all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States," 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as well as civil actions involving "citizens of different states" where the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).
Upon a motion to remand a removed case to state court, the party opposing the motion '"bears the burden of establishing that subject matter jurisdiction exists in federal court."' RWN Dev. Grp., LLC v. Travelers Indem. Co. of Conn., 540 F. Supp. 2d 83, 86 (D.D.C. 2008) (quoting Int'l Union of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers v. Ins. Co. of the West, 366 F. Supp. 2d 33, 36 (D.D.C. 2005)). Furthermore, courts are to construe the removal statute narrowly in order to avoid federalism concerns, Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108 (1941), and any doubts about the existence of subject matter jurisdiction are to be resolved in favor of remand. Hood v. F. Hoffman-La Roche, Ltd., 639 F. Supp. 2d 25, 28 (D.D.C. 2009) (citing Gasch v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 491 F.3d 278, 281-82 (5th Cir. 2007)).
Defendants claim that removal in this case is proper under both federal question and diversity jurisdiction. The Court will examine each doctrine in turn.
II.FEDERAL QUESTION JURISDICTION
Federal question jurisdiction exists when 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 Healthchoice Assurance, Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 690 (2006) (quoting Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 27-28 (1983)). In the latter scenario, "federal question jurisdiction will lie over state-law claims that implicate significant federal issues." Grable & Sons Metal Prods. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 312 (2005). However, "[i]t is 'settled law that a case may not be removed to federal court on the basis of a federal defense'. . . 'even if the defense is ...