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League of Women Voters of New Hampshire v. New Hampshire Secretary of State

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

September 3, 2017

League of Women Voters of New Hampshire, et al.
v.
New Hampshire Secretary of State, et al. NH Democratic Party
v.
New Hampshire Secretary of State, et al.

          ORDER

          Joseph N. Leplante United States District Judge.

         The New Hampshire Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire, along with certain individual plaintiffs, brought separate actions in Hillsborough County Superior Court, challenging the constitutionality of the recently-enacted Senate Bill 3 ("SB 3"). Plaintiffs' original complaints, filed in that court, brought claims under both the New Hampshire and United States Constitutions. Defendants removed both actions, citing this court's subject-matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question). See 28 U.S.C. § 1441.

         Plaintiffs amended both complaints to disavow any claims under the United States Constitution, electing to challenge SB 3 only under the New Hampshire Constitution, [1] and now move to remand both actions. The court grants both motions.

         "[F]ederal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute . . . ." United States v. Coloian, 480 F.3d 47, 50 (1st Cir. 2007) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). "When federal claims are dismissed before trial, state claims are normally dismissed as well." Mclnnis-Misenor v. Maine Med. Ctr., 319 F.3d 63, 74 (1st Cir. 2003). It is true, as defendants argue, that "[a]n amendment to a complaint after removal designed to eliminate the federal claim will not defeat federal jurisdiction." Ching v. Mitre Corp., 921 F.2d 11, 13 (1st Cir. 1990). Because the court retains supplemental jurisdiction over the state claims, see 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), it remains "discretionary with the district court whether to remand the state claims, " Ching, 921 F.2d at 13.

         "The district courts may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over" such a state-law claim if:

(1) the claim raises a novel or complex issue of State law;
(2) the claim substantially predominates over the claim or claims over which the district court has original jurisdiction;
(3) the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction, or
(4) in exceptional circumstances, there are other compelling reasons for declining jurisdiction.

28 U.S.C. § 1367(c). Most, if not all, of these factors point toward declining supplemental jurisdiction here. In the case cited by the defendants as listing such factors, Camelio v. Am. Fed'n, 137 F.3d 666, 672 (1st Cir. 1998), Judge Barbadoro, sitting by designation on the Court of Appeals, wrote that "the balance of competing factors ordinarily will weigh strongly in favor of declining jurisdiction over state law claims where the foundational federal claims have been dismissed at an early stage in the litigation[, ]" as is certainly the case here.

         Most importantly, the plaintiffs have withdrawn the claims over which this court had original jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3); see also supra n. 1. Under such circumstances, "the balance of factors to be considered . . . will point toward declining to exercise jurisdiction over state-law claims." Rodriguez v. Doral Mortg. Corp., 57 F.3d 1168, 1177 (1st Cir. 1995). The remaining claims also raise novel issues of law under the New Hampshire Constitution, which this court, in its discretion, deems better resolved by the state courts. See 28 U.S.C. § 13 67(c)(1); Desjardins v. Willard, 777 F.3d 43, 46 (1st Cir. 2015) ("[N]eedless decisions of state law should be avoided both as a matter of comity and to promote justice between the parties, by procuring for them a surer-footed reading of applicable law. This is particularly true of interpretations of state constitutions." (citations and quotations omitted) (emphasis added)) .

         Significantly, the defendants never argue here that federal jurisdiction lies over the New Hampshire constitutional claims pleaded in the Amended Complaint, arguing only that "it is not clear that federal question jurisdiction no longer remains in this case." In support of that less-than-forceful contention, they point to what they characterize as a federal question: "whether the New Hampshire Supreme Court's decision to apply a bright-line intermediate scrutiny test in State v. Guare, 167 N.H. 658, 665 (2015), is preempted under the United States Supreme Court's decisions . . . requir[ing] courts to test the burden of restriction against the strength of the State's interest in the restriction in a nuanced, case-by-case basis."[2]They argue that this court may, on the basis of this question, retain jurisdiction over these actions under Grable & Sons Metal Prod., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 314 (2005).

         Leaving aside the dubious claim that federal law could ever "preempt" the standard under which a New Hampshire Court properly scrutinizes a New Hampshire statute under the New Hampshire Constitution, [3] Grable does not appear to require, or even suggest, retaining this case. In Grable, the plaintiff's state-law-based quiet-title action required interpretation of federal tax statutes to resolve an element of his claim. See Id. at 315. Thus, the Supreme Court answered in the affirmative the relevant question: whether "a state-law claim necessarily raise[s] a stated federal issue, actually disputed and substantial, which a federal forum may entertain without disturbing any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities." Id. at 314.

         The answer to that question is necessarily different here, where the elements of the plaintiffs' claims implicate only New Hampshire law. Even if a defense raised a federal law question, that question would not independently confer subject-matter jurisdiction on this court. See Beneficial Nat. Bank v. Anderson,539 U.S. 1, 6 (2003) ("As a general rule, absent diversity jurisdiction, a case will not be removable if the complaint does not affirmatively allege a federal claim, " even if a defense relies on federal law). Nor does it appear to this court that the "congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities, " Grable, 545 U.S. at 314, would favor this ...


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