United States District Court, District of Columbia
COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, United States District Judge
Animal Legal Defense Fund ("ALDF") filed suit
against Defendant meat producer Hormel Foods Corporation
("Hormel") in the Superior Court of the District of
Columbia, alleging that Defendant violated the District of
Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act
("DCCPPA") by misleading consumers with its
"Natural Choice" advertising campaign. In short,
Plaintiffs Complaint claims that Hormel's meat products
are not "natural" in the way that its advertising
campaign implies. Defendant removed the case to this Court,
invoking the Court's federal question, diversity and
Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA") jurisdiction.
Plaintiff has moved to remand the case back to Superior
Court. Upon consideration of the pleadings,  the relevant
legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court will
GRANT Plaintiffs  Motion to Remand.
is required because the Court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction. First, the Court lacks federal question
jurisdiction because Plaintiff asserts only a single cause of
action under District of Columbia law, and the Court rejects
Defendant's argument that Plaintiffs Complaint
nonetheless "necessarily raises" federal issues.
Second, the Court finds that it lacks diversity jurisdiction
because Defendant has not demonstrated that $75, 000 is in
controversy in this case. The Court does not deem it
appropriate to measure the amount in controversy as the total
cost to the Defendant of complying with the requested
injunctive relief and is also not convinced that speculation
as to possible attorneys' fees is sufficient to establish
jurisdiction. Finally, the Court lacks class action
jurisdiction under CAFA because this case is not a class
is a non-profit organization that focuses on animal
protection issues. Compl., ECF No. 1-1, ¶¶ 28-30.
Plaintiff brought this suit in the Superior Court of the
District of Columbia, alleging that Defendant Hormel misleads
consumers in Washington D.C. when it sells them meat products
pursuant to a "Make the Natural Choice" marketing
campaign that suggests that Defendant's products are
"natural" when in fact they are not. Id.
¶¶ 1-23. Based on these and other alleged
misrepresentations Plaintiff asserts a cause of action under
the DCCPPA. Id. ¶¶ 211-26. As relief,
Plaintiff seeks a declaration that Hormel's conduct is in
violation of the DCCPPA, an order enjoining such conduct and
requiring corrective advertising, and attorneys' fees,
costs and pre-judgment interest. Id. at 41-42.
this Complaint was filed in the Superior Court of the
District of Columbia, Defendant removed it to this Court,
invoking the Court's federal question, diversity and CAFA
jurisdiction. Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. Defendant then
filed in this Court a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint
pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and
12(b)(6). Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss PL's Compl., ECF No.
11. Before it was required to respond to that Motion,
Plaintiff filed the pending Motion to Remand for Lack of
Subject Matter Jurisdiction. ECF No. 15. The Court then
stayed briefing on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss pending
the resolution of Plaintiff s Motion to Remand. Plaintiffs Motion
is now fully briefed and ripe for resolution.
Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has
explained that "[w]hen it appears that a district court
lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a case that has been
removed from a state court, the district court must
remand the case." Republic of Venezuela v. Philip
Morris Inc., 287 F.3d 192, 196 (D.C. Cir. 2002)
(emphasis added). Because removal implicates significant
federalism concerns, a court must "strictly construe[ ]
the scope of its removal jurisdiction." Downey v.
Ambassador DeveL, LLC, 568 F.Supp.2d 28, 30 (D.D.C.
2008) (citing Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v.
Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 107-09 (1941)). '"[I]f
federal jurisdiction is doubtful, a remand to state court is
necessary.'" Id. (quoting Dixon v.
CoburgDairy, Inc., 369 F.3d 811, 816 (4th Cir. 2004));
see also Johnson-Brown v. 2200 MSt. LLC, 257
F.Supp.2d 175, 177 (D.D.C. 2003) ("Where the need to
remand is not self-evident, the court must resolve any
ambiguities concerning the propriety of removal in favor of
remand."). "The party seeking removal of an action
bears the burden of proving that jurisdiction exists in
federal court." Downey, 568 F.Supp.2d at 30. If
the party "cannot meet this burden, the court must
remand the case." Johnson-Brown, 257 F.Supp.2d
presents three different theories by which it contends that
this Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this case.
First, Defendant invokes the Court's federal question
jurisdiction because Defendant claims that despite the fact
that this case arises under District of Columbia law, it
necessarily raises federal issues. Second, Defendant asserts
that the Court has diversity jurisdiction because the parties
are of diverse citizenship and the cost of complying with the
requested injunction, plus the attorneys' fees at issue,
exceeds $75, 000. Finally, Defendant asserts that the Court
has jurisdiction under CAFA. The Court is not convinced by
any of these arguments, and accordingly it must remand this
case back to Superior Court.
Federal Question Jurisdiction
the Court rejects Defendant's contention that federal
question jurisdiction exists over this action. Federal
question jurisdiction grants district courts "original
jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the
Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."
28 U.S.C. § 1331. The scope of this jurisdiction is
defined by the well-pleaded complaint rule, which states that
"federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal
question is presented on the face of the plaintiffs properly
pleaded complaint." Caterpillar Inc. v.
Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). No such federal
issue appears on the face of Plaintiff s Complaint. Plaintiff
does not assert a federal cause of action, nor does it
otherwise rely on federal law in any way. Because no federal
issue appears on the face of Plaintiff s well-pleaded
Complaint, federal question jurisdiction does not exist in
seeks to avoid this result by invoking a narrow doctrine
whereby cases brought under state law may be heard in federal
court if they "necessarily raise" certain federal
issues. In Gunn v. Minton, the Supreme Court
explained that "even where a claim finds its origins in
state rather than federal law, " there exists "a
'special and small category' of cases in which
arising under jurisdiction still lies." 133 S.Ct. 1059,
1064 (2013). The Court in Gunn stated that this
"special and small category" is comprised of cases
where "a federal issue is: (1) necessarily raised, (2)
actually disputed, (3) substantial, and (4) capable of
resolution in federal court without disrupting the
federal-state balance approved by Congress."
Id. at 1065 (citing Grable & Sons Metal
Prod, Inc. v. Darue Eng'g &Mfg, 545 U.S. 308,
attempts to bring this case under the doctrine discussed in
Gunn by claiming that "Plaintiffs CPPA claims
necessarily challenge" a "federal scheme."
Def's Opp'n at 41. Defendant asserts that "[a]
comprehensive national regulatory system governs nearly every
aspect of meat and poultry production, including the various
practices directly challenged in Plaintiffs lawsuit" and
that the United States Department of Agriculture "has
issued specific guidance on use of 'natural' and
'no preservative' claims, and [the Food Safety and
Inspection Service] has specifically approved Hormel
Foods' use of those claims to describe the Natural Choice
products at issue." Id. at 40. According to
Defendant, "[t]he Complaint thus calls into question the
scope and validity of federal law governing meat and poultry
products." Id. at 41.
argument fails at the first step of the Gunn
analysis because it does not demonstrate that a federal issue
is "necessarily raised" by Plaintiffs claims.
First, despite Defendant's rather extreme statement that
Plaintiffs claims are an "attempt to subvert the federal
system of regulation, " id. at 42, it is not at
all clear that there is any real conflict between the false
advertising claims in this case and the federal laws
Defendant cites. Defendant has directed the Court to certain
federal laws and regulations related to meat
labelling and packaging. But this case is
not about the labels or packages on particular meat products
produced by Defendant. It is about a national
advertising campaign including, among other things,
magazine advertisements, newspaper inserts and webpages. The
federal laws and regulations cited by Defendant may grant
Defendant the right to use various terms on its meat
labels-when accompanied by certain disclaimers-but they do
not appear to have given Defendant any sort of approval to
produce the advertisements challenged in this case.
Nor has Defendant pointed to any federal law that would
permit advertisements for meat products simply because those
advertisements contain pictures of federally-approved meat
labels or contain phrases similar to those found on such
labels, as Defendant argues is the case here. Moreover, the
Court is not convinced that the fact that Defendant's
treatment of animals is, allegedly, in compliance with
certain federal laws means that the challenged advertisements
could not be misleading with respect to how such treatment is
portrayed. As Plaintiff persuasively argues in its Reply, the
Complaint in this case does not allege that Defendant's
treatment of animals is necessarily illegal.
PL's Reply at 24. It merely alleges that such treatment
is misleadingly portrayed. For all of these reasons, the
Court does not agree that Plaintiffs advertising claims are
inherently in conflict with the federal laws relied on by
even if some degree of conflict did exist between Plaintiffs
claims and the federal laws cited, jurisdiction under
Gunn would still not be appropriate because this is
not a case where the resolution of Plaintiff s claims would
"necessarily require application of [federal] law to the
facts of [Plaintiffs] case." Gunn, 133 S.Ct. at
1065. In Gunn, "the Court found that
application of patent law was a necessary part of a legal
malpractice claim brought by a plaintiff, who was the losing
party in a prior patent infringement action, since the
plaintiff would have to show that he would have prevailed if
his prior counsel had timely made a particular patent law
argument on his behalf." Millepede Mktg. Ltd. v.
Harsley, 928 F.Supp.2d 109, 116 (D.D.C. 2013). The
situation here is fundamentally different. Unlike in
Gunn, where application of federal patent law was
necessary to resolve plaintiffs legal malpractice claim, it
is not necessary to apply any federal laws or regulations to
resolve Plaintiffs DCCPPA claims. Instead, these federal laws
would constitute, if anything, a defense that
Defendant may choose to present.
fact, Defendant has raised precisely such a defense, based on
federal preemption and its compliance with these federal
laws, in its pending Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint.
But such a defense by its very nature is not
"necessarily raised" by Plaintiffs Complaint, and
indeed it is black letter law that "a case may
not be removed to federal court on the basis of a
federal defense, including the defense of pre-emption."
Caterpillar Inc., 482 U.S. at 393. Indeed, Defendant
concedes that the defense of preemption that it has raised in
its pending Motion to Dismiss "is ...