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Siebert v. Suncoke Energy, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 26, 2015



DAVID R. HERNDON, District Judge.


Plaintiffs, Illinois citizens, filed this class action in state court asserting claims for temporary nuisance, trespass, and negligence against defendants SunCoke Energy, Inc ("SunCoke"), Gateway Energy Coke Company, LLC ("GECC"), and United States Steel Corporation ("US Steel"). Plaintiffs' complaint is based on the defendants' alleged contamination of their property through operation of a GECC facility and Steel mill located in Granite City, Illinois. Plaintiffs claim that operation of the Granite City facility regularly releases substantial amounts of particles that leave a silty deposit on nearby residents' properties and enter into nearby homes.

There is no interstate component to the present action. Rather, the putative class representatives are Illinois citizens, asserting common law tort claims, against an alleged source of pollution located in Illinois.

Defendants SunCoke and GECC removed the case, asserting the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 ("CAFA") and federal question as the bases for jurisdiction (Doc. 2). As to federal question jurisdiction, defendants' removal papers note plaintiffs' complaint references a lawsuit initiated by the Environmental Protection Agency against two of the defendants. The lawsuit involved conduct that allegedly violated a permit issued to GECC under the federal Clean Air Act.

The plaintiffs have filed a motion to remand (Doc. 19). Plaintiffs do not dispute that defendants have satisfied CAFA's requirements of diversity of citizenship, a proposed class composed more than 100 members, and an amount in controversy in excess of $5, 000, 000, but argue that this case falls within CAFA's "local controversy exception." 18 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4)(A) (setting forth the local controversy exception). With regard to original jurisdiction, plaintiffs assert that they are only pursuing claims arising under state law.

SunCoke and GECC filed a response to plaintiffs' motion to remand (Doc. 23). SunCoke and GECC focus on the issues pertaining to CAFA.[1] U.S. Steel has also filed a response (Doc. 25). U.S. Steel's responsive brief addresses federal question jurisdiction. Plaintiffs have also filed a reply (Doc. 31).


A defendant may remove a case filed in state court if the federal court would have had original jurisdiction to hear the case when the plaintiff originally filed it. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Ctrs., Inc., 577 F.3d 752, 758 (7th Cir. 2009). "The party seeking removal has the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction, and 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 ( citing Doe v. Allied-Signal, Inc., 985 F.2d 908, 911 (7th Cir. 1993)).


A. The Parties' Arguments

In their notice of removal, SunCoke and GECC allege plaintiffs' claims arise under federal law because plaintiffs' complaint references a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Protection Agency related to emissions from the Granite City Facility. SunCoke and GECC allege this lawsuit implicates the Clean Air Act and a consent decree issued by the Southern District of Illinois (as a result of the referenced lawsuit). In their motion to remand, the plaintiffs acknowledge the complaint references the lawsuit and the resultant consent decree, but insist they are not pursuing any claims for violations of the Clean Air Act or any other federally based claims. Instead, the plaintiffs state they are only pursuing common law claims of nuisance, trespass and negligence under state law.

In its responsive brief, U.S. Steel insists federal question jurisdiction exists. Although the briefing is not entirely clear and the argument is not fully developed, U.S. Steel appears to be presenting three alternative arguments related to federal question jurisdiction: (1) the face of the complaint asserts federally based claims because plaintiffs' causes of action do not expressly reference state law; (2) nuisance claims involving ambient air necessarily arise under federal law; and/or (3) plaintiffs' claims are wholly displaced by the Clean Air Act.[2]

The Court addresses the above arguments in turn below.

B. Federal Claims are Not Asserted on the Face of the Complaint

Federal question jurisdiction lies over state law claims that implicate significant issues of federal law. Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 312, 125 S.Ct. 2363, 162 L.Ed.2d 257 (2005). Federal question jurisdiction does not merely exist when federal law applies; ...

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