FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
MASSACHUSETTS [Hon. Denise J. Casper, U.S. District Judge]
G. Young, with whom Timothy P. Van Dyck and Bowditch &
Dewey, LLP were on brief, for appellant.
W. Rice, with whom Glynn, Landry & Rice, LLP was on
brief, for appellee.
Torruella, Selya and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.
inception, this appeal seemed to present a single question -
albeit a novel one - about how to interpret the Massachusetts
Wage Act (the Wage Act). See Mass. Gen. Laws ch.
149, §§ 148, 150. But appearances can be deceiving,
cf. Aesop, The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
(circa 550 B.C.), and at oral argument, a threshold question
emerged as to the existence vel non of federal subject-matter
jurisdiction. After careful consideration, we hold that
federal subject-matter jurisdiction existed at the time of
removal because there was then a colorable claim of complete
preemption under the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA),
29 U.S.C. § 185(a). Even after it became evident that
LMRA preemption was not in the cards, the district court
retained authority to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over
the case. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c). With our
jurisdictional concerns assuaged, we reach the merits,
grapple with the disputed Wage Act question, and affirm the
facts are, for all practical purposes, undisputed.
Defendant-appellant Steward Health Care System, LLC owns and
operates several medical facilities in Massachusetts,
including Carney Hospital (Carney). Plaintiff-appellee
Margaret Lawless worked as a nurse at Carney for many years.
At the times relevant hereto, she was a member of the
Massachusetts Nurses Association, a union that had a
collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the defendant. The
CBA contained various provisions addressing members'
March 5, 2016, the defendant terminated the plaintiff's
employment. On March 7, the plaintiff sued the defendant in a
Massachusetts state court, alleging failure to pay accrued
wages by the date of her termination. Specifically, the
plaintiff alleged that the defendant had failed to pay $20,
154.30 in paid time off (PTO) and $21, 191.11 in extended
sick leave (ESL). These payment shortfalls, she alleged, were
in breach of her employment contract and in violation of the
Wage Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, §§ 148, 150.
That same day, the plaintiff filed an administrative
complaint with the Attorney General of Massachusetts,
requesting leave to proceed with her suit. See id.
March 10, the defendant made a direct deposit into the
plaintiff's bank account in the amount of $12, 754.33 - a
sum that was intended to compensate her for all of the PTO
owed. Six days later, the plaintiff received a check from the
defendant in the amount of $2, 440.80 - a sum that was
intended to compensate her for all of the accrued ESL. On
March 22, the Attorney General assented to the
plaintiff's maintenance of her suit.
23, the plaintiff amended her complaint and withdrew her
claim for breach of contract. The amended complaint also
revised the amounts that the plaintiff claimed were overdue:
it alleged that, at the time of her discharge, she was owed
$20, 354.44 in PTO and $2, 440.80 in ESL. The defendant
removed the case to the federal district court the next day,
pegging federal subject-matter jurisdiction on the basis of
LMRA preemption. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331,
1441(a), 1446; see also 29 U.S.C. § 185(a). The
plaintiff did not move to remand. The case proceeded in the
district court and, in due course, the parties cross-moved
for summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The
district court granted summary judgment in favor of the
plaintiff, awarding her treble damages in an amount equal to
three times the cumulative total of her accrued PTO and ESL
as of the date of her discharge, together with reasonable
attorneys' fees and costs. See Mass. Gen. Laws
ch. 149, § 150. This timely appeal ensued.
the filing of briefs, the case came on for oral argument in
this court on May 10, 2018. Although neither party had
broached the existence of federal subject-matter
jurisdiction, we raised doubts about jurisdiction at oral
argument and ordered supplemental briefing. Those briefs
having been submitted, the appeal is now ripe for resolution.
without jurisdiction is like a king without a kingdom: both
are powerless to act. Since the existence of federal
subject-matter jurisdiction implicates our power to hear and
determine a case, we must address that issue before
proceeding further. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a
Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94-95 (1998); Bonano
v. E. Carib. Airline Corp., 365 F.3d 81, 83 (1st Cir.
2004). The fact that neither party has challenged the
existence of federal subject-matter jurisdiction is of no
moment: federal subject-matter jurisdiction can never be
presumed, nor can it be conferred by acquiescence or consent.
See Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514
(2006); Cusumano v. Microsoft Corp., 162 F.3d 708,
712 (1st Cir. 1998). When circumstances exist that call
federal subject-matter jurisdiction into legitimate question,
"an appellate court has an unflagging obligation to
inquire sua sponte into its own jurisdiction."
Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc. of N.Y. v.
Colombani, 712 F.3d 6, 10 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting
Charlesbank Equity Fund II v. Blinds to Go, Inc.,
370 F.3d 151, 155-56 (1st Cir. 2004)).
case, though originally filed in a Massachusetts state court,
was removed to the federal district court. It is settled
beyond peradventure that a state-court action is removable
only if it "originally could have been filed in federal
court." Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S.
386, 392 (1987). We review a district court's retention
of subject-matter jurisdiction over a removed case de novo.
See BIW Deceived v. Local S6, Indus. Union of Marine
& Shipbldg. Workers of Am., 132 F.3d 824, 830 (1st
parties see no jurisdictional problem. They jointly posit
that this case was appropriately removed on the basis of
federal-question jurisdiction, that is, they envision that
this case arises "under the Constitution, laws, or
treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
But "[t]he gates of federal question jurisdiction are
customarily patrolled by a steely-eyed sentry - the
'well-pleaded complaint rule.'" BIW,
132 F.3d at 831. Consequently, the propriety of
federal-question jurisdiction must be assayed based on
"what necessarily appears in the plaintiff's
statement of [her] own claim" in her complaint,
"unaided by anything alleged in anticipation of
avoidance of defenses which it is thought that a defendant
may interpose." Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr.
Laborers Vacation Tr., 463 U.S. 1, 10 (1983) (quoting
Taylor v. Anderson, 234 U.S. 74, 75-76 (1914)). In
the context of removal, "we consider the claims in the
state court [complaint] as they existed at the time of
removal." Manguno v. Prudential Prop. & Cas.
Ins. Co., 276 F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002); see
Gentek Bldg. Prods., Inc. v. Sherwin-Williams Co., 491
F.3d 320, 330 (6th Cir. 2007).
first blush, the parties' shared claim of jurisdiction
appears to run headlong into the well-pleaded complaint rule.
The operative pleading (the amended complaint) contains a
single cause of action claiming violations of the Wage Act
and does not refer at all to federal law. But there may be
more here than meets the eye: the parties argue that the
amended complaint raises a colorable claim under the complete
preemption doctrine (sometimes referred to as the artful
pleading doctrine). See López-Muñoz v.
Triple-S Salud, Inc., 754 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2014)
(explaining complete preemption doctrine). On reflection, we
start with the doctrine of complete preemption:
"Congress may so completely preempt a particular area
that any civil complaint raising this select group of claims
is necessarily federal in character." Metro. Life
Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 63-64 (1987). Section
301 of the LMRA operates in this fashion. See 29
U.S.C. § 185(a); Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck,
471 U.S. 202, 209-13 (1985). It is by now black-letter law
that "the preemptive force of [section] 301 is so
powerful as to displace entirely any state cause of action
for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor
organization." BIW, 132 F.3d at 831 (quoting
Franchise Tax Bd., 463 U.S. at 23). Any claim
falling under the carapace of section 301 is therefore
treated as "purely a creature of federal law,
notwithstanding the fact that state law would provide a cause
of action in the absence of [section] 301." Id.
(quoting Franchise Tax Bd., 463 U.S. at 23).
Although state courts may exercise concurrent jurisdiction
over claims completely preempted under section 301, they must
look to federal common law for the substantive rules of
decision. See United Steelworkers of Am. v. Rawson,
495 U.S. 362, 368 (1990).
the doctrine of complete preemption is "misleadingly
named." Rueli v. Baystate Health, Inc., 835
F.3d 53, 57 (1st Cir. 2016) (quoting Hughes v. United Air
Lines, Inc., 634 F.3d 391, 393 (7th Cir. 2011)).
Although preemption is typically a defense to liability under
state law, complete preemption serves a different function:
with respect to the application of the well-pleaded complaint
doctrine, it transmogrifies a claim purportedly ...