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District Court Remands Claim to State Court, Finding No Federal Question Existed

Daniels v. Potomac Elec. Power Co.
Civil Action No: 10-cv-01554, (D. D.C. 2011)

by Lindsey N. Lanzendorfer, Summer Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

The United States District Court for the District of Columbia recently addressed whether a claim filed in State Court should be removed to Federal Court. Plaintiff Randy Daniels originally filed his claim in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, alleging that his employer, Defendant Potomac Electric Power Company (“PEPCO”), violated the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, engaged in intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligently failed to provide Daniels with a safe work environment. PEPCO filed a Notice of Removal to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia based on federal question jurisdiction and Daniels filed a Motion to Remand.

The U.S. District Court first explained that 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b) governs removal of cases to Federal Court. On a Motion to Remand a case to State Court, the party opposing a Motion to Remand bears the burden of showing that subject matter jurisdiction exists in Federal Court. Federal Courts have subject matter jurisdiction over claims containing federal questions. A federal question is present when the face of the plaintiff’s complaint reveals that the claim arises under federal law or when federal law completely pre-empts a claim.

Here, the District Court found that Daniels’ claim did not arise under federal law because the claim was for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Although Daniels claimed PEPCO violated the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”), OSHA does not provide a private right of action so any violation of the act is mere evidence of Daniels’ state law tort claims.

In addition, the Court found none of Daniels’ claims were preempted by federal law. PEPCO cited Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), an Act that confers federal jurisdiction over controversies involving collective bargaining agreements. PEPCO then argued that because Daniels’ employment terms and conditions are governed by the LMRA, that law pre-empts any state law causes of actions involving his employment terms and conditions.

Contrary to PEPCO’s contentions, the Court found Daniels’ claims were not pre-empted by LMRA. First, Daniels’ claims under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”) may implicate the collective bargaining agreement between Daniels and PEPCO, but the claimed rights arise from DCHRA, not the collective bargaining agreement. As such, the State Court will not be interpreting or enforcing the collective bargaining agreement. Second, Daniels’ claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress is not pre-empted by LMRA because the claim arises out of alleged discriminatory conduct. Specifically, whether PEPCO breached the collective bargaining agreement is not necessary to determine whether PEPCO engaged in discriminatory conduct. Indeed, the alleged conduct—severe, continued, and pervasive harassment— can be said to be clearly outside of the employer’s rights without referencing the collective bargaining agreement. Finding the claims alleged neither arose under federal law nor were pre-empted by federal law, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia granted Daniels’ Motion to Remand the case to State Court.


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