White v. Scotty's Contracting & Stone, LLC

Decision Date29 September 2022
Docket NumberCivil Action 1:21-CV-00161-GNS
PartiesBENNY G. WHITE, Individually and as Administrator of the Estate of Alexis Paige Coker PLAINTIFF v. SCOTTY'S CONTRACTING & STONE, LLC, et al. DEFENDANTS
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Kentucky

Greg N. Stivers, Chief Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Motion to Dismiss by ACF Global Logistics, LLC (“ACF Global”) (DN 5) Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (DN 10), and Motion for Leave to Amend by ACF Global (DN 14). The motions are ripe for adjudication. For the reasons stated below, the motion to remand is GRANTED, and the other motions are DENIED AS MOOT.


On April 5, 2021, Alexis Paige Coker (“Coker”) was killed an automobile accident on Interstate 65 in Bowling Green, Kentucky. (Compl. ¶¶ 6, 24-30, DN 1-1). At the time of the accident, it is alleged that Defendant Scotty's Contracting & Stone, LLC (Scotty's Contracting) was performing overnight asphalt pavement and roadway rehab work on Interstate 65, which included lane closures. (Compl ¶¶ 7-10). Scotty's Contracting allegedly failed to place barrels to mark the lane closure, provide warning signage in advance of the construction zone, and have a law enforcement presence to warn motorists. (Compl. ¶ 11). A semi-tractor trailer operated by a driver employed by Defendant JoshBell Trucking and Logistics, LLC (“JoshBell Trucking”), which was transporting a load dispatched through ACF Global, collided with the vehicle in which Coker was a passenger. (Compl. ¶¶ 15, 23-27).

Following his appointment as the administrator of Coker's estate, Plaintiff Benny G. White (White) filed a lawsuit in Warren Circuit Court (Kentucky), asserting state law claims against Defendants for negligence, negligence per se, vicarious liability, and conspiracy. (Compl. ¶¶ 36-97). ACF Global unilaterally removed the matter to this Court on the bases that this case presented a substantial federal question and that White's claims against it were preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (“FAAAA”), 49 U.S.C. § 14501. (Notice Removal 3-7, DN 1).

ACF Global then moved to dismiss White's claims as being completely preempted by the FAAAA. (Def.'s Mot. Dismiss, DN 5). White moved to remand this matter to state court. (Pl.'s Mot. Remand, DN 10). ACF Global later moved for leave to amend the Notice of Removal to address its unilateral removal to this Court. (Def.'s Mot. Leave Amend, DN 14). The motions are ripe for decision.

A. Plaintiff's Motion to Remand

White contends this matter was improperly removed from state court and moves to remand. (Pl.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Remand 4-10, DN 10-1). As the removing party, ACF Global bears the burden of establishing this Court's subject matter jurisdiction over this dispute. See Long v. Bando Mfg. of Am., Inc., 201 F.3d 754, 757 (6th Cir. 2000) (citing Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of Ont. v. City of Detroit, 874 F.2d 332, 339 (6th Cir. 1989)); Smith v. Nationwide Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 505 F.3d 401, 404 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992)). Federal courts strictly construe removal jurisdiction and any resolve any doubt of jurisdiction in favor of remand. See Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 104, 108-09 (1941); City of Detroit, 874 F.2d at 339.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441, a defendant may remove a civil action from state court to federal court “for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending” if the action could have originally been filed in federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Thus, for an action to be eligible for removal, it must meet the requirements for either federal question jurisdiction or diversity of citizenship jurisdiction. See Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 513 (2006) (discussing jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331-1332).

The well-pleaded complaint rule generally applies in determining jurisdictional issues. See Lee v. Kirkpatrick, No. 1:16-CV-00123-GNS, 2016 WL 7197478, at *2 (W.D. Ky. Dec. 9, 2016) (“Familiar to this analysis is the well-pleaded complaint rule, which directs courts to examine the [w]ell pleaded allegations of the complaint and ignore potential defenses' in determining whether a claim arises under federal law.” (alteration in original) (citing Beneficial Nat'l Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 6 (2003)). This rule is based on the premise that “the plaintiff [is] the master of the complaint.” Milby v. Liberty Life Assurance Co. of Bos., 102 F.Supp.3d 922, 927 (W.D. Ky. 2015) (citing Alexander v. Elec. Data Sys. Corp., 13 F.3d 940, 943 (6th Cir. 1994)). [T]he existence of a federal defense normally does not create' federal-question jurisdiction, and ‘a defendant may not [generally] remove a case to federal court unless the plaintiff's complaint establishes that the case “arises under” federal law.' Minton v. Paducah & Louisville Rys., Inc., 423 F.Supp.3d 375, 379 (W.D. Ky. 2019) (second alteration in original) (internal citation omitted) (quoting Aetna Health, Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 207 (2004)).

The Complaint in the instant case asserts state law causes of action against Defendants relating to Coker's death, so there is no federal question upon which this Court has jurisdiction.

(Compl. ¶¶ 36-97). Likewise, there is no diversity of citizenship because both Plaintiff and Scotty's Contracting are citizens of Kentucky. (Compl. ¶¶ 1-2).

1. Substantial-Federal-Question Doctrine

White and ACF Global dispute whether the substantial-federal-question doctrine provides a basis for this Court's subject matter jurisdiction and the removal to federal court. (Pl.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Remand 8-9; Def.'s Resp. Pl.'s Mot. Remand 11-21). Under this doctrine, federal jurisdiction exists when “a state-law claim necessarily state[s] a federal issue, actually disputed and substantial, which a federal forum may entertain without disturbing a congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.” Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mf'g, 545 U.S. 308, 309 (2005). [T]he federal interest in providing a forum for an issue [must be] weighed against the risk that the federal courts will be unduly burdened by a rush of state law cases.” Mikulski, 501 F.3d at 565. As the Supreme Court has explained, this doctrine applies “where the vindication of a right under state law necessarily turn[s] on some construction of federal law ....” Franchise Tax Bd. of State of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Tr. for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 9 (1983).

The Supreme Court has cautioned that this doctrine applies to only a “special and small category” of cases. Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 258 (2013) (citation omitted). For the substantial-federal-question doctrine to confer jurisdiction, the following elements must be met: (1) [t]he state-law claim must necessarily raise a disputed federal issue; (2) the federal interest in the issue must be substantial; and (3) the exercise of jurisdiction must not disturb any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.” Mikulski, 501 F.3d at 568 (citing Grable & Sons Metal Prods., 545 U.S. at 313).

i. Disputed Federal Issue

The first element is whether there is a disputed federal issue. See id. As the Sixth Circuit has noted, “there is no federal question jurisdiction when the complaint on its face states alternate theories supporting a state-law claim, at least one of which does not involve a federal question.” Long v. Bando Mfg. of Am., Inc., 201 F.3d 754, 760 (6th Cir. 2000) (discussing Christian v. Colt Indus. Operating Corp., 486 U.S. 800 (1988)).

ACF Global relies upon the references to federal law in the Complaint in maintaining that a disputed federal issue is present in this case. (Def.'s Resp. Pl.'s Mot. Remand 12-15). It is more noteworthy that the Complaint asserts causes of action based upon state law theories against ACF Global. In particular, White claims that ACF Global is liable under Sections 411, 428, and 876 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts. (Compl. ¶¶ 89-91). He further alleges:

ACF GLOBAL [] violated state regulations, including but not limited to KRS § 189.224, which was promulgated to protect the safety of a class of people that includes ALEXIS COKER, deceased, and constitutes negligence per se pursuant to KRS § 446.070 and Kentucky case law, for which it is directly liable.

(Compl. ¶ 95).

Construed as a whole, the Complaint states alternate theories to support White's negligence claims, none of which are based on federal law. White's reliance upon federal law as one basis for an element of his negligence claims is insufficient to satisfy this first element. See Bennett v. Sw. Airlines Co., 484 F.3d 907, 912 (7th Cir. 2007) (“That some standards of care used in tort litigation come from federal law does not make the tort claim one ‘arising under' federal law.” (citations omitted)); Valdez ex rel. Miller Energy Res., Inc. v. Miller, No. 3:11-CV-462, 2012 WL 397814, at *10 (E.D. Tenn. Jan. 20, 2012) (“Even considering the allegations of failure to comply with SEC reporting requirements, the Court finds that, at most, federal laws are merely implicated in this case and their interpretation is not at issue or likely to be problematic. Accordingly, the Court finds that the Defendants have failed to demonstrate the first part of the substantial-federal-question doctrine, and therefore, the substantial-federal-question doctrine does not prevent remand in this case.”).

Accordingly this element does not support the exercise of federal jurisdiction, and it is apparent that White's “right to relief [does not] necessarily depend[] on resolution of a...

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