Franchise Tax Board of the State of California v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust For Southern California, No. 82-695

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBRENNAN
PartiesFRANCHISE TAX BOARD OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, Appellant, v. CONSTRUCTION LABORERS VACATION TRUST FOR SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA et al
Docket NumberNo. 82-695
Decision Date24 June 1983

463 U.S. 1
103 S.Ct. 2841
77 L.Ed.2d 420
FRANCHISE TAX BOARD OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, Appellant,

v.

CONSTRUCTION LABORERS VACATION TRUST FOR SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA et al.

No. 82-695.
Argued April 19, 1983.
Decided June 24, 1983.
Syllabus

Appellee Construction Laborers Vacation Trust for Southern California (CLVT) was established by an agreement between construction industry employer associations and a labor union to provide a mechanism for administering the provisions of a collective-bargaining agreement granting construction workers a yearly paid vacation. The trust qualifies as a "welfare benefit plan" within the meaning of § 3 of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), and hence is subject to regulation under ERISA. Appellant California Franchise Tax Board filed a complaint in California state court against CLVT and its trustees, alleging two causes of action: (1) that CLVT had failed to comply with certain tax levies issued under a California statute, thereby becoming liable for damages for such failure, and (2) that, in view of the defendants' contention that ERISA pre-empted state law and that the trustees lacked power to honor the levies, a judgment be issued declaring the parties' respective rights. CLVT removed the case to Federal District Court, which, after denying appellant's motion for remand to the state court, held that ERISA did not pre-empt the State's power to levy on the funds held in trust by CLVT. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: The case is not within the removal jurisdiction conferred by 28 U.S.C. § 1441. Pp. 7-28.

Page 2

(a) Where there is no diversity of citizenship between the parties, as in this case, the propriety of removal turns on whether the case falls within the original "federal question" jurisdiction of United States district courts under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (1976 ed., Supp. V). Under the "well-pleaded complaint" rule, a defendant may not remove such a case to federal court unless the plaintiff's complaint establishes that the case "arises under" federal law within the meaning of § 1331, and it may not be removed on the basis of a federal defense, including the defense of pre-emption, even if the defense is anticipated in the complaint and both parties admit that the defense is the only question truly at issue. Pp. 7-12.

(b) For appellant's first cause of action, a straightforward application of the well-pleaded complaint rule precludes original federal-court jurisdiction, and thus the cause of action was not removable. California law establishes a set of conditions, without reference to federal law, under which a tax levy may be enforced; federal law becomes relevant only by way of a defense to an obligation created entirely by state law, and then only if appellant has made out a valid claim for relief under state law. Pp. 13-14.

(c) Nor is appellant's second cause of action removable to federal court. Under the federal jurisdictional statutes, feder l courts do not have original jurisdiction, nor do they acquire jurisdiction on removal, when a federal question is presented by a complaint for a state declaratory judgment, and where, if the plaintiff had sought a federal declaratory judgment, federal jurisdiction would be barred by Skelly Oil Co. v. Phillips Petroleum Co., 339 U.S. 667, 70 S.Ct. 876, 94 L.Ed. 1194, under which federal jurisdiction is lacking if, but for the availability of the federal declaratory judgment procedure, a federal claim would arise only as a defense to a state-created action. The situation presented by a State's suit for a declaration of the validity of state law is sufficiently removed from the spirit of necessity and careful limitation of federal district court jurisdiction that informed this Court's statutory interpretation in Skelly Oil and Gully v. First National Bank in Meridian, 299 U.S. 109, 57 S.Ct. 96, 81 L.Ed. 70 to convince the Court that, until Congress informs it otherwise, such a suit is not within the district courts' original jurisdiction. Accordingly, the same suit brought originally in state court is not removable. Pp. 14-22.

(d) A suit by state tax authorities under a statute like the California tax levy statute involved here does not "arise" under ERISA. The State's right to enforce its tax levies is not of central concern to the federal statute. Avco Corp. v. Machinists, 390 U.S. 557, 88 S.Ct. 1235, 20 L.Ed.2d 126, distinguished. Even though ERISA may preclude enforcement of the State's levy in the circumstances of this case, an action to enforce the levy is not itself preempted by ERISA. On the face of a well-pleaded complaint there are

Page 3

many reasons completely unrelated to ERISA's provisions and purposes why the State may or may not be entitled to the relief it seeks. Moreover, ERISA does not provide an alternative cause of action in the State's favor to enforce its rights. Nor does appellant's second cause of action arise under ERISA. ERISA enumerates the parties entitled to seek a declaratory judgment under § 502 of that Act; it does not provide anyone other than participants, beneficiaries, or fiduciaries of an ERISA-covered plan with an express cause of action for a declaratory judgment on the issues of this case. A suit for similar relief by some other party does not "arise under" that provision. Pp. 22-27.

679 F.2d 1307 (9th Cir., 1982), vacated and remanded.

Patti S. Kitching, Los Angeles, Cal., for appellant.

James P. Watson, Los Angeles, Cal., for appellees.

Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The principal question in dispute between the parties is whether the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 88 Stat. 829, codified at 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq., permits state tax authorities

Page 4

to collect unpaid state income taxes by levying on funds held in trust for the taxpayers under an ERISA-covered vacation benefit plan. The issue is an important one, which affects thousands of federally regulated trusts and all non-federal tax collection systems, and it must eventually receive a definitive, uniform resolution. Nevertheless, for reasons involving perhaps more history than logic, we hold that the lower federal courts had no jurisdiction to decide the question in the case before us, and we vacate the judgment and remand the case with instructions to remand it to the state court from which it was removed.

I

None of the relevant facts is in dispute. Appellee Construction Laborers Vacation Trust for Southern California (CLVT) 1 is a trust established by an agreement between four associations of employers active in the construction industry in Southern California and the Southern California District Council of Laborers, an arm of the District Council and affiliated locals of the Laborers' International Union of North America. The purpose of the agreement and trust was to establish a mechanism for administer ng the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement that grants construction workers a yearly paid vacation.2 The trust agreement expressly proscribes any assignment, pledge, or encumbrance of

Page 5

funds held in trust by CLVT.3 The plan that CLVT administers is unquestionably an "employee welfare benefit plan" within the meaning of § 3 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1002(1), and CLVT and its individual trustees are thereby subject to extensive regulation under titles I and III of ERISA.

Appellant Franchise Tax Board is a California agency charged with enforcement of that State's personal income tax law. California law authorizes appellant to require any person in possession of "credits or other personal property belonging to a taxpayer" "to withhold . . . the amount of any tax, interest, or penalties due from the taxpayer . . . and to transmit the amount withheld to the Franchise Tax Board." Cal.Rev. & Tax Code Ann. § 18817 (West Supp.1982). Any person who, upon notice by the Franchise Tax Board, fails to comply with its request to withhold and to transmit funds becomes personally liable for the amounts identified in the notice. § 18818.

In June 1980, the Franchise Tax Board filed a complaint in state court against CLVT and its trustees. Under the heading "First Cause of Action," appellant alleged that CLVT had failed to comply with three levies issued under § 18817,4 con-

Page 6

cluding with the allegation that it had been "damaged in a sum . . . not to exceed $380.56 plus interest from June 1, 1980." App. 3-8. Under the heading "Second Cause of Action," appellant incorporated its previous allegations and added:

"There was at the time of the levies alleged above and continues to be an actual controversy between the parties concerning their respective legal rights and duties. The Board [appellant] contends that defendants [CLVT] are obligated and required by law to pay over to the Board all amounts held . . . in favor of the Board's delinquent taxpayers. On the other hand, defendants contend that section 514 of ERISA preempts state law and that the trustees lack the power to honor the levies made upon them by the State of California.

Page 7

". . . [D]efendants will continue to refuse to
honor the Board's levies in this regard. Accordingly, a declaration by this court of the parties' respective rights is required to fully and finally resolve this controversy." Id., at 8-9.

In a prayer for relief, appellant requested damages for defendants' failure to honor the levies and a declaration that defendants are "legally obligated to honor all future levies by the Board." Id., at 9.5

CLVT removed the case to the United States District Court for the Central District of California, and the court denied the Franchise Tax Board's motion for remand to the state court. On the merits, the District Court ruled that ERISA did not preempt the State's power to levy on funds held in trust by CLVT. CLVT appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed. 679 F.2d 1307 (CA9 1982). On petition for rehearing, the Franchise...

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  • Lynchburg Range & Training v. Northam, Case No. 6:20-cv-00020
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
    • April 22, 2020
    ...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 ......
  • Retail Prop. Trust v. United Bhd. of Carpenters & Joiners of Am., No. 12–56427.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • September 23, 2014
    ...California appellate courts and, ultimately, by the U.S. Supreme Court. Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 12 n. 12, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 77 L.Ed.2d 420 (1983). The Supreme Court has recognized, however, an “independent corollary to the well-pleaded com......
  • Jaramillo v. Frewing, No. CIV 17-0673 JB/SCY
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • August 28, 2018
    ...F.Supp.3d 841 Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. at 393, 107 S.Ct. 2425 (citing Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 12, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 77 L.Ed.2d 420 (1983) ). See Nicodemus v. Union Pac. Corp. , 318 F.3d 1231, 1236 (10th Cir. 2003) ("It is well settled t......
  • Powers v. South Central United Food & Commercial Workers Unions and Employers Health & Welfare Trust, No. 82-2319
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • October 31, 1983
    ...judicial system." Franchise Tax Board of California v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust for Southern California, --- U.S. ----, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 2846, 77 L.Ed.2d 420 (1983). While the precise boundaries to which federal jurisdiction extends are not matters upon which all agree, 2 certain......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8954 cases
  • Lynchburg Range & Training v. Northam, Case No. 6:20-cv-00020
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
    • April 22, 2020
    ...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 ......
  • Retail Prop. Trust v. United Bhd. of Carpenters & Joiners of Am., No. 12–56427.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • September 23, 2014
    ...California appellate courts and, ultimately, by the U.S. Supreme Court. Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 12 n. 12, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 77 L.Ed.2d 420 (1983). The Supreme Court has recognized, however, an “independent corollary to the well-pleaded com......
  • Jaramillo v. Frewing, No. CIV 17-0673 JB/SCY
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • August 28, 2018
    ...F.Supp.3d 841 Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. at 393, 107 S.Ct. 2425 (citing Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 12, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 77 L.Ed.2d 420 (1983) ). See Nicodemus v. Union Pac. Corp. , 318 F.3d 1231, 1236 (10th Cir. 2003) ("It is well settled t......
  • Powers v. South Central United Food & Commercial Workers Unions and Employers Health & Welfare Trust, No. 82-2319
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • October 31, 1983
    ...judicial system." Franchise Tax Board of California v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust for Southern California, --- U.S. ----, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 2846, 77 L.Ed.2d 420 (1983). While the precise boundaries to which federal jurisdiction extends are not matters upon which all agree, 2 certain......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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