Contending that federal question jurisdiction justified yanking into federal court the state law complaint Leslie Dippel filed in St. Clair County after she was injured in a motor vehicle crash that was allegedly caused by the negligence of Joshua Cranford and his employer, BestDrive LLC, the company relied on (1) her allegation that its truck violated Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and (2) the four-part test the U.S. Supreme Court provided in Grable & Sons Metal Products v. Darue Engineering, 545 U.S. 308 (2005), for deciding when a state law claim should be considered as “arising under” federal law.
Dippel’s request for a remand pointed out that Section 18b–105(b) of the Illinois Vehicle Code provides that the portions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations she alleged were violated by BestDrive — Parts 390–397 of the FMCSR — “are hereby adopted by reference as though they were set out in full” in the Illinois statute.
Shipping the lawsuit back to state court, Chief U.S. District Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel explained the alleged federal issue “is insufficient to create federal jurisdiction,” and “this case simply does not belong to the rare, special, and small category of state law claims for which federal jurisdiction exists.” Dippel v. BestDrive, 19-CV-01135 (Feb. 19, 2020).
Here are highlights of Rosenstengel’s opinion (with light editing and omissions not noted):
This case arises out of a vehicle crash involving Dippel and defendant Joshua Cranford. According to the complaint, Cranford was employed by defendant BestDrive LLC at the time of the incident.
BestDrive removed the case to this court asserting that removal is proper because the court has jurisdiction over the case. BestDrive asserts that Dippel’s claims implicate substantial federal issues that sensibly belong in a federal court. Particularly, BestDrive refers to Dippel’s negligence claims which allege BestDrive failed to comply with “various safety regulations included within Parts 390-397” of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
When a plaintiff files suit in state court but could have invoked the original jurisdiction of the federal courts, the defendant may remove the action to federal court. Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Centers, 577 F.3d 752 (7th Cir. 2009); 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1441(a). Federal district courts may not exercise jurisdiction absent a statutory basis. Schumacher v. Sterigenics, 394 F. Supp. 3d 837 (N.D. Ill. 2019).
Congress grants federal courts subject matter jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising under the [c]onstitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” See 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1331. Under Section 1331, better known as the federal question jurisdiction statute, federal courts may exercise jurisdiction if “a well-pleaded complaint establishes either that federal law creates the cause of action or that the plaintiff’s right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law.” Empire Healthchoice v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677 (2006).
Defendants, as the removing parties, bear the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction. Betzner v. Boeing, 910 F.3d 1010 (7th Cir. 2018). Federal courts should interpret the removal statute narrowly, resolving any doubt in favor of the plaintiff’s choice of forum in state court. Schur, 577 F.3d at 758.
Federal question jurisdiction
BestDrive argues that this court has federal question jurisdiction because of the alleged violations of the FMCSR which form the basis of Dippel’s negligence claims.
In contrast, Dippel asserts that although her complaint alleges that BestDrive violated multiple provisions of the FMCSR, federal question jurisdiction does not exist because the FMCSR are incorporated into Illinois state law. Furthermore, there is no private right of action for personal injuries under FMCSR, and Dippel’s state law claims do not raise any substantial disputed federal issues.
BestDrive’s argument is chiefly based on the Grable test from the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Grable & Sons Metal Products v. Darue Engineering & Manufacturing, 545 U.S. 308 (2005). The test provides a court will have federal question jurisdiction over a state law claim “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.” Id.
The federal issue in this case only meets one requirement of the Grable test, therefore, the court does not have subject matter jurisdiction.
Dippel’s state law claims do not necessarily raise a federal issue. A federal issue is necessarily raised under Section 1331 when it is essential to resolving a state law claim. Burrell v. Bayer, 918 F.3d 372 (4th Cir. 2019).
BestDrive cites to Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251 (2013), to support its argument that Dippel’s claims raise a federal issue because they will necessarily require the application of federal law to the facts of this case.
BestDrive is correct in its argument that Dippel’s complaint failed to cite to 625 ILCS 5/11-601(a) [the section of the Illinois Vehicle Code that provides “general speed restrictions”], all the while citing to the FMCSR multiple times. Nevertheless, each of the relevant sections of the FMCSR has been adopted by reference as a part of the Illinois Vehicle Code. Coffman v. Dutch Farms, 2017 U.S. Dist. Lexis 26827 (N.D. Ind. Feb. 24, 2017).
Furthermore, while Dippel never referred to this section of the Illinois Vehicle Code in her complaint, she did state multiple times that a violation of the FMSCRs was evidence of negligence. Therefore, the court will construe her statements “as an assertion that the defendant’s alleged violation of 625 ILCS 5/18b-105(b), which incorporates the relevant provisions of the FMCSR, is prima facie evidence of common law negligence under Illinois law.” Camp v. TNT Logistics, 553 F.3d 502 (7th Cir. 2009). Based on the fact that the Illinois Vehicle Code incorporates all of Dippel’s cited provisions of the FMCSR, the application of federal law is not necessary to this case.
While the court agrees with BestDrive that the federal issue is actually disputed in this case, it is insufficient to create federal jurisdiction. A federal issue is actually disputed when it is the central point of dispute. Gunn, 568 U.S. at 259.
BestDrive refutes Dippel’s allegations that they were subject (or in violation) of the FMCSR at the time of the incident. Yet, “Grable does not alter the rule that a potential federal defense is not enough to create federal jurisdiction under Section 1331.” Schumacher, 394 F. Supp. 3d at 844. BestDrive’s potential defenses are also insufficient to create federal jurisdiction.
The federal issue, in this case, is not substantial. In determining whether a federal issue is substantial, courts consider the “importance of the issue to the federal system as a whole.” Gunn, 568 U.S. at 260. Reliance on the FMCSR to establish negligence does not demonstrate that there is a substantial federal issue to resolve.” Coffman, Lexis 26827 at *6.
Understandably, BestDrive argues that the court’s expertise is needed to determine whether the truck was a commercial motor vehicle as it was not being “used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property” under 49 C.F.R Sec. 390.5.
BestDrive is essentially arguing for uniformity, an argument the U.S. Supreme Court has expressly rejected. “Even a strong interest in uniformity of results is not enough to make a federal question ‘substantial’ so that it may be heard in federal court.” Burrell, 918 F.3d at 386 (citing Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804 (1986)).
To the extent federal issues may emerge in the course of litigating state law claims, the Supreme Court has observed that “state courts are fully capable of resolving federal issues that arise in connection with the state claims before them.” Burrell, 918 F.3d at 386 (citing Gunn, 568 U.S. at 263)).
The “possibility that a state court will incorrectly resolve a state claim is not, by itself, enough to trigger the federal courts’ jurisdiction, even if the potential error finds its root in a misunderstanding of federal law.” Id.
Finally, the court finds that conferring federal jurisdiction will disrupt the federal-state balance. One of the factors the court considers in its analysis is if there is a federal private right of action.
“The absence of a private right of action is not dispositive, but its absence is significant, particularly where recognizing the availability of federal-question jurisdiction would shift a significant number of cases into federal court.” Giles v. Chicago Drum, Inc., 631 F.Supp.2d 981 (N.D. Ill. 2009). Still, “it is persuasive evidence that Congress did not intend to set out a ‘welcome mat’ inviting state claims with embedded federal issues like this one into federal court.” Fochtman v. Rhino Energy, 2013 U.S. Dist. Lexis 150279, at *7 (E.D. Ky. Oct. 17, 2013) (citing Grable, 545 U.S. at 317-18)).
There is widespread consensus among federal district courts that there is no federal private right of action allowing personal injury or wrongful death plaintiffs to hold defendants liable for violations of the FMCSR. Leon v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. Lexis 30281 (D.N.M. Feb. 16, 2016).
The court agrees that this lack of a federal private right of action evinces a congressional intention to permit state law claims implicating the FMCSR to be adjudicated by the state courts.
Given the absence of a substantial federal interest and Illinois’ strong interest in developing its personal injury doctrine without interference by federal courts, permitting an Illinois state court to interpret the FMCSR will not disrupt the accommodation between federal and state interests endorsed by congress.
Contrary to BestDrive’s arguments, this case simply does not belong to the rare, special and small category of state law claims for which federal jurisdiction exists.