Ahearn v. Charter Township of Bloomfield

Decision Date12 November 1996
Docket NumberNo. 95-1380,95-1380
Citation100 F.3d 451
PartiesBrian AHEARN, Virginia Grow, Emily Kay Murphy, Thomas N. Murphy, Ann Reed, Eleanor Whitson, and Frank Whitson, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. CHARTER TOWNSHIP OF BLOOMFIELD, a Michigan Municipal Corporation, Defendant-Appellee
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan

Mark S. Demorest, Hainer & Demorest, Troy, MI, (argued and briefed), for Brian Ahearn, Virginia Grow, Emily Kay Murphy, Thomas N. Murphy, Ann Reed, Eleanor Whitson, and Frank Whitson.

John M. Donohue, (argued), William P. Hampton, Robert H. Fredericks, (briefed), Kohl, Secrest, Wardle, Lynch, Clark & Hampton, Farmington Hills, MI, for Charter Township fo Bloomfield.

Before: NELSON and BATCHELDER, Circuit Judges; McKEAGUE, District Judge.*

BATCHELDER, Circuit Judge.

The plaintiffs filed this action in the Circuit Court of Oakland County, Michigan, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated. The defendant removed it to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, which denied the plaintiffs' motion to remand and granted summary judgment for the defendant. The plaintiffs appeal.1


The plaintiffs reside in defendant Charter Township of Bloomfield, in Oakland County, Michigan. In their complaint, they state that they all own land in the "Bloomfield Village Combined Sewer Overflow Area," the only part of Bloomfield Township where the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees voted to levy a special assessment under Chapter 20 of the Drain Code of 1956, Mich. Comp. Laws Section(s) 280.461 et seq. (1979 & Supp. 1996), to pay for a new sewage-retention treatment basin.

The current sewer system lets storm drainage and sewer drainage flow together2 from Bloomfield Township to the Evergreen-Farmington Sewage Disposal System, which the Oakland County Drain Commissioner operates. The drainage ultimately flows to a wastewater-treatment plant in Detroit. The volume of sewage which may flow from Bloomfield Township to the Evergreen-Farmington system is limited by the capacity of that system and the capacity of the Detroit treatment plant. According to the complaint, when the system reaches capacity, which sometimes occurs during heavy rain, the overflow of combined storm drainage and sewage diverts untreated into the Rouge River and may contribute to the pollution of the river basin.

The complaint avers that in October 1992, the Michigan Water Resources Commission issued an "Authorization to Discharge Under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System" to the Oakland County Drain Commissioner, the city of Birmingham, Michigan, the city of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and Bloomfield Township. This "NPDES Permit" authorizes the permittees to discharge combined storm/sewer drainage from the Bloomfield Village Combined Sewer Overflow Area only if a basin is constructed to retain and treat the drainage before it discharges into the Rouge River.

Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, and Bloomfield Township have asked the Oakland County Drain Commissioner to build such a basin. The three municipalities have agreed to pay for the basin, with the Oakland County Road Commission and higher levels of government also paying some of the cost. While Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills have agreed to pay their shares from general municipal money, the Bloomfield Township Board has levied a special assessment only against property owners in the Bloomfield Village Combined Sewer Overflow Area, in which the plaintiffs live.

The plaintiffs filed this action within 45 days of the Board's action, see id. Section(s) 280.489a(4)(a) (Supp. 1996), asserting that the assessment is illegal and unenforceable under Michigan law, because the project will not cause the value of assessed properties to rise, and because it provides no special benefit to the assessed properties different from the benefit which will accrue to any other residents of Bloomfield Township or of southeastern Michigan. They seek a declaratory judgment that the use of special assessments to pay for this project is illegal.

The defendant removed the action, and the district court summarily denied the plaintiffs' timely motion to remand. After a hearing on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment, the district court granted summary judgment for the Township and held that the special assessment was valid under Michigan law.

A. Standard of Review

We look to the complaint at the time of removal, Pullman Co. v. Jenkins, 305 U.S. 534, 537, 59 S.Ct. 347, 349 (1939) (citations omitted), review the denial of a motion to remand de novo, The Queen ex rel. Ontario v. City of Detroit, 874 F.2d 332, 338 (6th Cir. 1989) (citations omitted), and determine whether the action was properly removed in the first place. Fakouri v. Pizza Hut of Am., Inc., 824 F.2d 470, 472 (6th Cir. 1987) (citation omitted). Removing defendants bear the burden of establishing federal subject-matter jurisdiction. See, e.g., Carson v. Dunham, 121 U.S. 421, 425-26, 7 S.Ct. 1030, 1032 (1887). Due regard for state governments' rightful independence requires federal courts scrupulously to confine their own jurisdiction to precise statutory limits. Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 109, 61 S.Ct. 868, 872 (1941) (quoting Healy v. Ratta, 292 U.S. 263, 270, 54 S.Ct. 700, 703 78 L.Ed. 1248 (1934)).

B. The Statutes

The applicable removal statute states:

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 the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending. For purposes of removal under this chapter, the citizenship of defendants sued under fictitious names shall be disregarded.

28 U.S.C. Section(s) 1441(a) (1994) (emphasis added).

The issue that confronts us here is whether the district court had "original jurisdiction" over this matter. No one asserts -- indeed no one could plausibly assert -- that original diversity jurisdiction exists. See 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 1332(a) (1993). Nor does the complaint present any federal question. See id. Section(s) 1331 (1993). However, Bloomfield Township asserts the district court had supplemental jurisdiction. The supplemental-jurisdiction statute, which became law in 1990, Pub.L. 101-650, Title III, Section(s) 310(a), 104 Stat. 5113 (1990), and codified pendent and much of ancillary jurisdiction, Peacock v. Thomas, 516 U.S. ____, ____ n.5, 116 S.Ct. 862, 867 n.5 (1996); Swint v. Chambers County Comm'n, 514 U.S. ____, ____ n.6, 115 S.Ct. 1203, 1211 n.6 (1995), states:

(a) Except as provided in subsections (b) and (c) or as expressly provided otherwise by Federal statute, in any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, 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 the United States Constitution. Such supplemental jurisdiction shall include claims that involve the joinder or intervention of additional parties.

(b) In any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction founded solely on section 1332 of this title, the district courts shall not have supplemental jurisdiction under subsection (a) over claims by plaintiffs against persons made parties under Rule 14, 19, 20, or 24 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or over claims by persons proposed to be joined as plaintiffs under Rule 19 of such rules, or seeking to intervene as plaintiffs under Rule 24 of such rules, when exercising supplemental jurisdiction over such claims would be inconsistent with the jurisdictional requirements of section 1332.

(c) The district courts may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim under subsection (a) if --

(1) the claim raises a novel or complex issue of State law,

(2) the claim substantially predominates over the claim or claims over which the district court has original jurisdiction,

(3) the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction, or

(4) in exceptional circumstances, there are other compelling reasons for declining jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 1367 (a, b, c) (1993) (emphasis added).

C. The Propriety of Removal

Bloomfield Township contends the basis for supplemental jurisdiction in this action is United States v. Michigan, No. 77-71100 (E.D. Mich.). According to Bloomfield Township, the state and federal claims in both this action and Michigan form part of the same case or controversy because they "derive from a common nucleus of operative fact." United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 725, 86 S.Ct. 1130, 1138 (1966). The "common nucleus of operative fact," the Township says, is the continuing pollution of the Rouge River.

The United States filed Michigan in 1977 at the request of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, alleging that the defendants -- the city of Detroit, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, and the state of Michigan -- violated the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, also known as the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. Section(s) 1251 et seq. (1986 & Supp. 1996), by discharging effluents and pollutants from wastewater and sewage facilities into navigable waters. County of Oakland v. City of Berkley, 742 F.2d 289, 290-91 (6th Cir. 1984); United States v. City of Detroit, 720 F.2d 443, 445 (6th Cir. 1983); see also City of Detroit ex rel. Detroit Water & Sewerage Dep't v. Michigan, 803 F.2d 1411, 1412-13 (6th Cir. 1986).3

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