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Horner v. A'Viands, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 14, 2016

A'VIANDS, LLC and KRISTI ROMERO, individually and as an Employee of A'VIANDS, LLC, Defendants.



         THIS MATTER is before the Court upon Plaintiff Terence Horner's (Plaintiff's) Motion to Dismiss Defendants' Notice of Removal and Plaintiff's Motion to Remand Case to State District Court (Motion to Remand). [Doc. 7] The Court has considered the parties' submissions and the relevant law, and is otherwise fully informed. Also pending before this Court is the parties' Joint Motion to Stay Proceedings [Doc. 12]. That matter will be addressed by separate order. However, the Court does not believe that a decision on the pending Motion to Remand will have any effect on Plaintiff's administrative remedies should a stay be imposed and therefore believes it is the responsibility of the Court to clarify for the parties the jurisdictional questions based on the current state of the pleadings. For the following reasons, the Court denies Plaintiff's Motion to Remand.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 1, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in the Fourth Judicial District Court, San Miguel County, New Mexico. [Doc. 1-2] In the three-count Complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants A'Viands, LLC and Kristi Romero, individually and as an employee of A'Viands, LLC (collectively, Defendants), discriminated against him on the bases of sex and national origin contrary to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (“Title VII”) and the New Mexico Human Rights Act (“the NMHRA”). [Doc. 1-2] Plaintiff also alleged that Defendants retaliated against him contrary to Title VII and the NMHRA. [Doc. 1-2] Finally, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants intentionally inflicted emotional distress. [Doc 1-2]

         Defendants filed a Notice of Removal on October 21, 2016 [Doc. 1], and answered the Complaint on October 28, 2016. [Doc. 4] Defendants argued that removal to this Court is appropriate because (1) Plaintiff's action “involves claims that relate to the laws of the United States; specifically, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. [§] 2000e” and (2) this Court has supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state-law claims. [Doc. 1] Plaintiff moved for remand of the entire Complaint back to the Fourth Judicial District Court. [Doc. 7 (Plaintiff's Motion to Remand); Doc. 8 (Defendants' Response)] Plaintiff filed a Notice of Completion of Briefing on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand on December 13, 2016. [Doc. 11]

         II. ANALYSIS

         Generally, “any 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.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) (2012).

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, federal district courts have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. To determine whether [a] claim arises under federal law, [courts] examine the ‘well[-]pleaded' allegations of the complaint and ignore potential defenses. . . . Under the ‘well-pleaded complaint' rule, a suit arises under federal law only when the plaintiff's statement of his own cause of action shows that it is based on federal law. . . . By omitting federal claims from a complaint, a plaintiff can [generally] guarantee an action will be heard in state court.

Devon Energy Prod. Co. v. Mosaic Potash Carlsbad, Inc., 693 F.3d 1195, 1202 (10th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “For a case to arise under federal law within the meaning of § 1331, the plaintiff's ‘well-pleaded complaint' must establish one of two things: 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.” Firstenberg v. City of Santa Fe, N.M., 696 F.3d 1018, 1023 (10th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Plaintiff argues first that remand is proper because “[t]there is no federal question presented in this lawsuit requiring original federal jurisdiction.” [Doc. 7-1] Plaintiff does not address directly whether federal law created the causes of action in his Complaint. Instead, Plaintiff attempts to downplay the fact that he included Title VII claims in his Complaint and their importance to his suit. Plaintiff also argues that his state-law claims do not require resolution of a substantial federal question. Both approaches are unavailing.

         Plaintiff maintains that his “lawsuit arises under the NMHRA, ” that “the NMHRA is better suited for [P]laintiff's cause of action, ” and that “[t]he federal issue carries no significance.” [Doc. 7-1, pgs. 4, 6] In his Complaint, however, Plaintiff specifically states that counts 1 and 2 are based on both Title VII and the NMHRA. [Doc. 1-2, pg. 9] Plaintiff references exhaustion of administrative procedures with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which are required under Title VII. 42 U.S.C. § 5000e-5(b). [Doc. 1-2, pg. 7-8] Moreover, Plaintiff seeks attorney fees and costs pursuant to Title VII. 42 U.S.C. § 5000e-5(k). [Doc. 1-2, pg. 11] Thus, on its face, the Complaint indicates that Plaintiff is seeking relief under federal law. Cf. Fielden v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 03-1009-WEB, 2003 WL 1751000, at *3 (D. Kan. Mar. 27, 2003) (stating that the plaintiff had not stated a federal claim where “[n]o federal laws [we]re cited, no allegation [wa]s made regarding exhaustion of EEOC administrative remedies, and no exclusively federal relief [wa]s prayed for in the complaint.”). As master of his Complaint, Plaintiff could have avoided federal jurisdiction by pleading only state-law claims. Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987) (stating that the “well-pleaded complaint rule” “makes the plaintiff the master of the claim; he or she may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law.”). Plaintiff chose not to do so, nor has he moved to dismiss the Title VII claims from his Complaint.

         Plaintiff also relies on Gunn v. Minton to argue that federal jurisdiction is inappropriate because his state-law claims do not implicate a federal issue that 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.” 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1065 (2013). However, this analysis is necessary only if the first prong of the jurisdictional analysis-whether the Complaint alleges a cause of action that is created by federal law-is unsatisfied. Here, Plaintiff's Title VII claims are clearly created by federal law. Thus, there is no need to address this argument further.

         Next, Plaintiff argues that “[t]here is no basis for this [C]ourt to agree to take supplemental jurisdiction over the state[-]law claims” because the state-law claims “substantially predominate the Title VII claims.” [Doc. 7-1, pg. 8] 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) provides that “the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of ...

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