Lynchburg Range & Training v. Northam

Citation455 F.Supp.3d 238
Decision Date22 April 2020
Docket NumberCase No. 6:20-cv-00020
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Virginia
Parties LYNCHBURG RANGE & TRAINING, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Ralph NORTHAM, et al., Defendants.

David Gerard Browne, Spiro & Browne PLC, Richmond, VA, William Jeffrey Olson, William J. Olson, P.C., Vienna, VA, for Plaintiffs.

Toby Jay Heytens, Office of the Attorney General, Richmond, VA, for Defendants.



Before the Court is an "Emergency Motion to Remand Case to State Court" by Plaintiffs Lynchburg Range & Training, LLC, Virginia Citizens Defense League, Gun Owners of America, Inc., and Association of Virginia Gun Ranges. Dkt. 2. The motion is opposed by Defendants, Governor Ralph S. Northam and Virginia State Police Superintendent Garry T. Settle, who assert that removal was proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1441 because this Court has jurisdiction over the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367. Dkt. 13.

This Court has no jurisdiction over this action because it presents quintessential questions of state law traditionally adjudicated by state courts. Virginia businesses and gun rights groups challenge the Virginia Governor's authority to respond to an unprecedented statewide health crisis, arguing that in issuing Virginia Executive Order 53, the Virginia Governor violated their rights recognized by the Virginia Constitution and acted in excess of Virginia state law. Virginia's courts have not yet weighed in on these issues. Under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, federal court jurisdiction should not be found where it would encroach on core state judicial responsibilities, as would be the case here. Independent from this, jurisdiction is improper because none of Plaintiffs' claims necessarily depend on the resolution of some proposition of federal law. Rather, they hang on the scope of two state constitutional rights and a state statute.

For both of these reasons, this Court finds it is without jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and thereby will remand the case to the state court. As it is without jurisdiction to hear the case, the Court need not address Plaintiffs' arguments that it should abstain under various federal preemption doctrines. The Court also concludes that Plaintiffs are not entitled to attorneys' fees or costs incurred by litigating the removal and remand of this action.


On April 7, 2020, various firearm advocacy groups and a Lynchburg gun range filed suit in the Circuit Court for the City of Lynchburg, seeking to enjoin Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Virginia State Police Superintendent Gary Settle from enforcing Executive Order 53 ("EO 53"), issued by Governor Northam as part of the Commonwealth's response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Dkt. 13 at 1; see Lynchburg Field & Training, et al. v. Ralph Northam, et al. , No. 6:20-cv-00019. The complaint, accompanied by a motion for a temporary restraining order, sought declaratory and injunctive relief on three grounds: (1) EO 53 is "ultra vires and beyond the scope of the Governor's executive authority under the Constitution of Virginia, the Emergency Services and Disaster Law (Va. Code § 44.1-146.13, et seq. ,) and otherwise"; (2) by ordering the closure of all indoor gun ranges, EO 53 violates the right to bear arms secured by the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, § 13 of the Virginia Constitution ; (3) EO 53 violates the Virginia Constitution's Anti-Suspension Provision, Art. I, § 7. Lynchburg Field & Training, et al. v. Ralph Northam, et al. , No. 6:20-cv-00019 (W.D. Va.) (Defendants' notice of removal).

Defendants removed the case to this Court, asserting federal court jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and § 1367, but Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the suit shortly after. Id. On April 9, 2020, Plaintiffs refiled the action in the Lynchburg Circuit Court. The second complaint is by and large identical to the first suit; however, Plaintiffs omit from it their plea for relief under the U.S. Constitution, instead relying solely on the Virginia Constitution's right to bear arms under Article I, § 13. Days later, Defendants again removed, Dkt. 1, and Plaintiffs filed the present emergency motion to remand, Dkt. 2. The parties completed an expedited hearing and briefing schedule, and the matter is now ripe for review. Dkt. 5, 9.


Federal district courts possess only the jurisdiction permitted by the U.S. Constitution and authorized by Congress. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am. , 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994). Generally, state court defendants may remove a case to federal district court if the state court action could have been originally filed there. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) ("Except as otherwise expressly provided by Act of Congress, 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 defendants, to the district court").

"Because removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns, we must strictly construe removal jurisdiction." Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co. , 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994) ; Consequently, all doubts about the propriety of removal are resolved in favor of retained state court jurisdiction. Flying Pigs, LLC v. RRAJ Franchising, LLC , 757 F.3d 177, 181 (4th Cir. 2014) ; Marshall v. Manville Sales Corp. , 6 F.3d 229, 232 (4th Cir. 1993). The removing party bears the burden of showing removal was proper. Md. Stadium Auth. v. Ellerbe Becket Inc. , 407 F.3d 255, 260 (4th Cir. 2005). Simply put, "[i]f federal jurisdiction is doubtful, a remand is necessary." Mulcahey , 29 F.3d at 151 ; see Elizabeth Y. McCuskey, Clarity and Clarification: Grable Federal Questions in the Eyes of Their Beholders , 91 Neb. L. Rev. 387, 417 (2012) ("The Fourth Circuit and other circuit courts have cited ‘significant federalism concerns’ justifying the strict construction and the presumption against jurisdiction. This presumption further tips the scale toward remand in doubtful and debatable cases.").


"Subject matter jurisdiction defines a court's power to adjudicate cases or controversies—its adjudicatory authority—and without it, a court can only decide that it does not have jurisdiction." United States v. Wilson , 699 F.3d 789, 793 (4th Cir. 2012). Defendants assert that this Court possesses subject-matter jurisdiction over this action by virtue of 28 U.S.C. § 1331, which grants federal courts jurisdiction over actions "arising under" federal law. Burrell v. Bayer Corp. , 918 F.3d 372, 380 (4th Cir. 2019). Courts evaluate assertions of "arising under" jurisdiction using 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, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 96 L.Ed.2d 318 (1987). This means that affirmative defenses, counter arguments, or federal questions that may (or even must) arise later in the case do not count. The rule also "makes the plaintiff the master of the claim; he or she may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law." Caterpillar Inc. , 482 U.S. at 392, 107 S.Ct. 2425. But see Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor , 481 U.S. 58, 65, 107 S.Ct. 1542, 95 L.Ed.2d 55 (1987) ("a plaintiff's characterization of a claim as based solely on state law is not dispositive of whether federal question jurisdiction exists").

"[T]he vast majority" of cases arising under federal law "are those in which federal law creates the cause of action." Merrell Dow Pharm. Inc. v. Thompson , 478 U.S. 804, 808, 106 S.Ct. 3229, 92 L.Ed.2d 650 (1986). However, an alternative, "slim category" of cases may also be said to arise under federal law even when a plaintiff sues purely under state causes of action, Gunn v. Minton , 568 U.S. 251, 258, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 185 L.Ed.2d 72 (2013), but only where "the vindication of a right under state law necessarily turn[s] on some construction of federal law." Merrell Dow Pharm. Inc. , 478 U.S. at 808, 106 S.Ct. 3229 (quoting Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Tr. , 463 U.S. 1, 9, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 77 L.Ed.2d 420 (1983) ). This "special and small category" of cases, Gunn , 568 U.S. at 258, 133 S.Ct. 1059, "captures the commonsense notion that a federal court ought to be able to hear claims recognized under state law that nonetheless turn on substantial questions of federal law, and thus justify resort to the experience, solicitude, and hope of uniformity that a federal forum offers on federal issues," Grable & Sons Metal Prod., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg. , 545 U.S. 308, 312, 125 S.Ct. 2363, 162 L.Ed.2d 257 (2005).

Under this branch of "arising under" jurisprudence, "federal jurisdiction over a state law claim will lie if 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." Gunn , 568 U.S. at 258, 133 S.Ct. 1059. "Federal jurisdiction will lie only if a case meets all four requirements." Pressl v. Appalachian Power Co. , 842 F.3d 299, 303 (4th Cir. 2016). As it is Defendants' burden to establish the propriety of removal, it is likewise Defendants' burden to establish that the four factors outlined in Gunn are satisfied. See Burrell , 918 F.3d at 381 (finding no jurisdiction because the defendants failed to establish Gunn 's third and fourth prongs). Because the Defendants cannot demonstrate that the first or fourth factors of the Gunn analysis weigh in favor of finding jurisdiction, the Court need not address whether an issue of federal law is substantial or actually disputed in this case.

a. Necessarily raised

Defendants argue that because Article I, § 13 of the Virginia...

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