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Indahl v. Modrall Sperling Roehl Harris & Sisk, P.A.

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 10, 2018

ANDREW B. INDAHL, Plaintiff,
MODRALL, SPERLING, ROEHL, HARRIS & SISK, P.A., a New Mexico Professional Association, Defendant.


         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. 5), filed June 20, 2018, and Defendant's Motion to Supplement the Record on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. 16), filed July 17, 2018. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(b), the parties have consented to me serving as the presiding judge and entering final judgment. Docs. 7, 8, 10. Having reviewed the submissions of the parties and the relevant law, the Court will grant Plaintiff's Motion to Remand and his request for reasonable attorney fees and costs in responding to the improper removal of this action from state court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Andrew Indahl was employed as an attorney at the Defendant law firm (“Modrall”), along with his wife, Anna Indahl. Plaintiff alleges that he complained about perceived discrimination by the firm against his wife after she had a child and that, in response, Modrall retaliated against him. Plaintiff filed three charges of discrimination with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), alleging conduct in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to e-17, and the New Mexico Human Rights Act (“NMHRA”), N.M. Stat. Ann §§ 28-1-1 to -15. Doc. 1-2, ¶¶ 31, 43, 47. Those charges were cross-filed with the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau (“NMHRB”). See Doc. 16 at 4 (Plaintiff's first charge of discrimination stating “I want this charged filed with both the EEOC and the State or local Agency, if any”); see also Mitchell-Carr v. McLendon, 1999-NMSC-025, ¶ 13, 980 P.2d 65 (explaining that the EEOC and the NMHRB have a work-sharing agreement, such that a complaint filed with the EEOC is deemed to be properly filed with the NMHRB). Plaintiff then filed this lawsuit in state court in the First Judicial District, Santa Fe County. Doc. 1-2. The Complaint alleges two claims for relief - retaliatory discharge and breach of contract. Id.

         Defendant removed the case to federal court on June 13, 2018, citing federal-question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1441 and 28 U.S.C. § 1331 for the retaliatory discharge claim and supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367 for the breach of contract claim. Doc. 1. The Notice of Removal asserts that “as pleaded in the Complaint, Plaintiff's claims rely upon and arise from Modrall Sperling's alleged violations of federal law, specifically Title VII . . . .” Doc. 1, ¶ 4. Citing Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. v. Darue Engineering & Manufacturing, 545 U.S. 308 (2005), Defendant argues that federal law is a necessary element of Plaintiff's retaliation claim. Plaintiff now moves to remand this action back to state court, arguing his Complaint makes only state-law claims that do not implicate any significant federal issues.[1]


         An action brought in state court may be removed to federal court when the federal court has original subject matter jurisdiction over the matter. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Federal district courts have “original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, law, or treaties of the United States, ” which is also known as federal-question jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. “Only state-court actions that originally could have been filed in federal court may be removed to federal court by the defendant. Absent diversity of citizenship, federal-question jurisdiction is required.” Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). If the federal court has original jurisdiction over a claim, the court also has supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that arise from the same case or controversy. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).

         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., 482 U.S. at 392 (citation omitted). The well-pleaded complaint must establish “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 Healthcare Assur., Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 690 (2006). Plaintiff is the master of his complaint, and he “may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law.” Caterpillar Inc., 482 U.S. at 392.

         “Under the ‘artful pleading' doctrine, however, a plaintiff may not defeat removal by failing to plead federal questions that are essential elements of the plaintiff's claim.” Turgeau v. Admin. Review Bd., 446 F.3d 1052, 1060-61 (10th Cir. 2006). The court therefore must determine if the plaintiff's state law claims are completely preempted by federal law or if “there is a substantial, disputed federal-law issue necessarily embedded in [plaintiff's] state-law claims.” Devon Energy Prod. Co. v. Mosaic Potash Carlsbad, Inc., 693 F.3d 1195, 1203-04 (10th Cir. 2012).

         Because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, a presumption exists against jurisdiction “absent an adequate showing by the party invoking federal jurisdiction.” United States ex. rel. Hafter D.O. v. Spectrum Emergency Care, Inc., 190 F.3d 1156, 1160 (10th Cir. 1999). Thus, in removed cases, the burden is on the defendant to establish jurisdiction. See id. “Removal statutes are to be strictly construed, and all doubts are to be resolved against removal.” Fajen v. Found. Reserve Ins. Co., 683 F.2d 331, 333 (10th Cir. 1982). Federal courts must remand cases over which they lack subject matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

         III. ANALYSIS

         a. Motion to Remand

         In this case, Defendant fails to demonstrate that a federal question appears on the face of Plaintiff's complaint or that the artful pleading doctrine applies. On the face of the Complaint, Plaintiff does not bring a federal cause of action and his state-law claims do not depend on the resolution of a substantial federal question.

         i. Plaintiff asserts no claims under a federal cause of action.

         Plaintiff's Complaint sets forth two claims for relief - retaliatory discharge and breach of contract. Defendant does not dispute that Plaintiff's breach of contract claim is based upon state law. See Doc. 1, ¶ 16. At issue is Indahl's retaliatory discharge claim, which Defendant asserts is “at the very least ambiguous as to whether it directly asserts a claim for retaliatory discharge in violation of Title VII.” Doc. 11 at 6. However, the Court finds that Plaintiff's Complaint clearly establishes that the retaliatory discharge claim is premised on violations of New Mexico public policy, not federal law. See Doc. 1-2, ΒΆΒΆ 57-60. The Complaint does not assert violations of Title VII, nor does it need to - a plaintiff ...

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