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Providence City v. Thompson

United States District Court, D. Utah

October 7, 2019

PROVIDENCE CITY, a municipal corporation, Plaintiff,
v.
MARK THOMPSON, an individual; et al., Defendants.

          Evelyn J. Furse Magistrate Judge.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          ROBERTJ. SHELBY United States Chief District Judge.

         Plaintiff Providence City initiated this eminent domain action against Defendant Mark Thompson in the First Judicial District Court for Cache County, Utah.[1] Thompson removed the action to this court on the grounds that Providence City is taking his property without just compensation.[2] Before the court is Providence City's Motion to Remand.[3] For the reasons stated below, the Motion is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         Thompson is a resident of Providence City, Utah, where he claims to own land central to this dispute (the Subject Property).[4] In 2006, the Providence City Council considered building a road through the Subject Property.[5] Two years later, Thompson conveyed a quitclaim deed of the Subject Property to Providence City, but the deed included a restriction prohibiting Providence City from using the Subject Property for road access.[6] Providence City offered to purchase Thompson's claimed interest in the Subject Property's deed restriction, but the parties were unable to reach an agreement.[7]

         To obtain the right to build a road through the Subject Property, Providence City initiated this eminent domain action in the First Judicial District Court for Cache County, Utah.[8]Providence City brought two claims against Thompson: Condemnation, and Quiet Title.[9]Through the Condemnation claim, Providence City aims to “pay the just compensation due” in exchange for “all claimed interests in the Subject Property and removal of the road-access deed restriction.”[10] Through the Quiet Title claim, Providence City asks the court to determine the actual owner of the Subject Property.[11]

         On June 21, 2019, Providence City served Thompson with a copy of the Original Complaint.[12] On July 15, 2019, Thompson's attorney accepted service of Providence City's Amended Complaint.[13] Thompson did not file a timely Answer to Providence City's Amended Complaint.[14] Instead, Thompson filed a Notice of Removal on August 8, 2019.[15]

         Providence City now moves to remand on the grounds that Thompson's removal was untimely, and this court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction.[16] The court begins its analysis with Providence City's jurisdictional challenge.[17] Because the court determines it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court does not reach Providence City's argument that Thompson's removal was untimely.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “The party invoking federal jurisdiction has the burden to establish that it is proper, and there is a presumption against its existence.”[18] Under 28 U.S.C. 1441(a), a defendant may invoke federal jurisdiction by removing “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction . . . to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.”[19] District courts have original jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”[20] A district court's original jurisdiction is determined by the well-pleaded complaint rule.[21]

         Under the well-pleaded complaint rule, “federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.”[22] “The rule makes the plaintiff the master of the claim; he or she may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law.”[23] Accordingly, “[j]urisdiction may not be sustained on a theory that the plaintiff has not advanced;”[24] district courts do not have jurisdiction over defendants' federal defenses, [25] and they do not have jurisdiction over counterclaims.[26] Under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), this court “must remand a removed action back to state court if at any time before final judgment it appears that the [] court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.”[27]

         ANALYSIS

         In his Notice of Removal, Thompson relies on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania, 139 S.Ct. 2162 (2019).[28] In essence, Thompson argues that by removing the state-exhaustion requirement for takings claims, the Knick decision permits him to convert Providence City's eminent domain action into his own Fifth Amendment takings claim, and remove that claim to this court.[29] The court disagrees.

         The Knick decision addresses the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause.[30] “The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment states that ‘private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.'”[31] “[A] government violates the Takings Clause when it takes property without compensation.”[32] Before the Knick decision, takings plaintiffs were required to “pursue state procedures for obtaining compensation before bringing a federal [takings] suit.”[33]The Knick decision removed the state-exhaustion requirement for takings claims.[34] In Knick, the Supreme Court concluded “a government violates the Takings Clause when it takes property without compensation, and that a property owner may bring a Fifth Amendment claim under § 1983 at that time.”[35] Accordingly, “[a] property owner has an actionable Fifth Amendment takings claim when the government takes his property without paying for it.”[36]

         The Supreme Court explained that Knick “will not expose governments to new liability; it will simply allow into federal court takings claims that otherwise would have been brought as inverse condemnation suits in state court.”[37] Knick involved an inverse condemnation claim “against a governmental defendant to recover the value of property which has been taken in fact by the governmental defendant.”[38] Knick did not involve a direct condemnation claim, “in which the government initiates proceedings to acquire title under its eminent domain authority.”[39]

         Thompson misinterprets the Knick decision in a number of ways. First, the Knick decision overruled the state-exhaustion requirement, [40] but it did not convert state eminent domain actions into federal claims.[41] Knick opens federal courts to “takings claims that otherwise would have been brought as inverse condemnation suits in state court, ” but Knick does not open federal courts to direct condemnation actions initiated by governments.[42]

         Second, Knick did not grant defendants in state eminent domain actions the power to remove to federal court.[43] Instead, the Knick decision permits “takings plaintiffs” to bring claims in federal court “when the government takes [their] property without just compensation.”[44] This conclusion makes it easier for takings plaintiffs to bring their claims in federal court, but it does not alter the rule that “a cause of action arises under federal law only when the plaintiff's well-pleaded complaint raises issues of federal law.”[45] Nor does it alter the rule that “a counterclaim . . . cannot serve as the basis for arising under jurisdiction.”[46] Here, there is no takings plaintiff; this eminent domain action is a direct condemnation action initiated by Providence City.[47]

         This court's jurisdiction is determined by the well-pleaded complaint rule.[48] Under the well-pleaded complaint rule, this court must look to Providence City's Amended Complaint to determine whether there is subject-matter jurisdiction.[49] Providence City's Amended Complaint includes two Utah state-law claims and no federal claims.[50] Thompson does not argue that Providence City's state-law claims “turn on substantial questions of federal law, ”[51] nor does Thompson argue that they are “completely pre-empted” by federal law.[52] Unlike Knick, there is no takings plaintiff in this action. This court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction because Providence City's Amended Complaint does not advance any federal claims.[53]

         CONCLUSION

         The court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over this action. The case is REMANDED to the First Judicial District Court for Cache County, Utah. The Clerk of Court is directed to CLOSE the case.

         SO ORDERED.

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