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California v. Johnson - No. 2:18-cv-01056-KJM-CKD, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151301 (E.D. Cal. Sep. 5, 2018)

Rule:

When a plaintiff brings in state court a case over which the federal district courts have original jurisdiction, a defendant may remove it to federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The Ninth Circuit strictly construes the removal statute against removal jurisdiction. Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). The "strong presumption" against removal jurisdiction means that the defendant always has the burden to establish removal is proper. A court must reject federal jurisdiction if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance.

Facts:

From September 2011 to March 2018, several defendants connected with a marina in San Joaquin County, California engaged in numerous acts allegedly in violation of state law and county ordinances. The County of San Joaquin (County) sued in state court, contending defendants' acts were a nuisance. In 2016, defendants removed the cases to federal court, contending this court had federal admiralty jurisdiction because the marina was located on "navigable federal waters." The County disagreed with defendants and moved to remand. This court agreed with the County and remanded the case to San Joaquin County Superior Court.  After remand, the County amended its complaint in a consolidated case with the People of the State of California, adding Defendant Chris Willson and alleging facts about his involvement at the marina. Proceeding pro se, Willson has removed the case to federal court for nearly identical reasons as those stated in the 2016 removal attempt. The County moved to remand the case again to state court. Willson also moved the court to approve an alleged settlement agreement between the parties, which the County opposed. This court submitted these motions without a hearing.

Issue:

Should the County's motion for remand to the state court be granted?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

Willson's assertion of federal question jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act is unavailing where the "County does not seek remedies under the Clean Water Act" and "instead seeks remedies under state law."  As master of its complaint, the County may elect between state and federal remedies, and where the County plaintiff has only pleaded state law claims, the federal court lacks federal question jurisdiction under § 1331.

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