On December 3, 2012, the Eighth Circuit reversed a district court’s decision that a Missouri state law claim was completely preempted by the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act (PMPA).
A Missouri plaintiff filed a class action against gasoline station operators, including MFA Petroleum, Casey’s General Stores, and QuikTrip, regarding the grade of motor fuel dispensed with single hose dispensers. The case was filed in state court alleging a claim under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA). Casey’s General Stores removed to federal court on two grounds: (1) the claim was preempted by the PMPA and (2) there was diversity jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act. The district court in the Western District of Missouri, relying on a similar Ninth Circuit case, denied the plaintiff’s motion to remand concluding that the state law claim was completely preempted by the PMPA.
On appeal, the Eighth Circuit addressed the issue of whether the PMPA, specifically Section II pertaining to octane disclosure, completely preempted the plaintiff’s Missouri state law claim. The Court pointed out that Section II of the PMPA, unlike Section I regarding termination and nonrenewal, does not provide a private right of action, but is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. Discussing the United States Supreme Court’s decisions on preemption and its own precedent, the court emphasized that complete preemption only exists where the federal statute “completely displaces” state law by creating the exclusive cause of action. Quoting Beneficial Nat’l Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 8, 11 (2003), the court noted that “complete preemption exists only where federal preemption is so strong that ‘there is . . . no such thing as a state-law claim,’” which is different than the issue of whether there is a federal remedy. The court reasoned that since Section II of the PMPA does not even create a federal cause of action that could substitute for the plaintiff’s Missouri state law claim, it certainly is not exclusive and, thus, not completely preempted.
The decision leaves little question that, in the Eighth Circuit, an available federal cause of action is a prerequisite for complete preemption. The court did not resolve whether the case could be removed on the alternative grounds for removal under the Class Action Fairness Act, and that question was remanded for the district court’s consideration.
The case is Johnson v. MFA Petroleum Co., et al. (8th Cir. December 3, 2012).