Brown v. STP Nuclear Operating Co., CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:18-CV-441

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
Writing for the CourtJEFFREY VINCENT BROWN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Decision Date25 March 2020
PartiesSHARON BROWN, Plaintiff, v. STP NUCLEAR OPERATING CO., et al, Defendants.
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 3:18-CV-441

SHARON BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
STP NUCLEAR OPERATING CO., et al, Defendants.

CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:18-CV-441

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS GALVESTON DIVISION

March 25, 2020


ORDER

This is a state-law employment discrimination and retaliation case. The plaintiff, Sharon Brown, filed this lawsuit against her former employer, STP Nuclear Operating Company, in the 130th Judicial District Court of Matagorda County. Dkt. 1-4. Brown alleges STP discriminated against her on the basis of age, sex, and race in violation of the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act. Id.

STP removed the case to this court on December 21, 2018, based on federal-question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1441, claiming Brown's state-law claims are preempted by federal law and corresponding NRC regulations governing nuclear safety. Dkt. 1. STP reasoned Brown's claim falls within the preempted zone of nuclear safety because STP terminated Brown for issues relating to a safety and quality-concerns investigation. Id. at 1-2. Brown alleges STP's stated reasons for terminating her were pretextual. Dkt. 1-4.

Pending before the court is Brown's motion to remand. Dkt. 11. The court has carefully considered the motion (Dkt. 11), STP's response (Dkt. 14), the

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pleadings, other relevant materials in the record and the applicable law, and finds that the case should be remanded to state court.

Analysis

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), a defendant may remove any civil action to federal court if the plaintiff's complaint presents a federal question. A plaintiff may avoid federal jurisdiction by relying exclusively on state law. Holmes Grp., Inc. v. Vornado Air Circulation Sys., Inc., 535 U.S. 826, 831 (2002) (quoting Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 399-99 (1987)). Nevertheless, the application of complete preemption converts an ordinary state-law complaint into one stating a federal claim that is removable to federal court. Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 67 (1987).

1. Field preemption

"Field preemption occurs when Congress intends to 'occupy the field,' taking over a field of law to the exclusion of state or local authority." United States v. Zadeh, 820 F.3d 746, 751 (5th Cir. 2016) (citing Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine, 537 U.S. 51, 64 (2002)). The Supreme Court has held that Congress intends that only "the federal government should regulate the radiological safety aspects involved in the construction and operation of a nuclear plant." Pac. Gas & Elec. Co. v. State Energy Res. Conservation & Dev. Comm'n, 461 U.S. 190, 205 (1983). But a state-law claim concerning the construction and operation of a nuclear plant is preempted only if: (1) nuclear-safety concerns drove the enactment of the state law at issue; or (2) the state law has some "direct and substantial effect on the decisions

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made by those who build or operate nuclear facilities concerning radiological safety levels." English v. General Electric Co., 496 U.S. 72, 84-85 (1990).

Only the second category is at issue here; it is clear the Texas discrimination and retaliation laws under...

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