United States District Court, D. Minnesota
E. Schlesinger and Laura A. Farley, Nichols Kaster, PLLP, for
plaintiff Nicole Martinson.
S. Jayasuriya, Ellen A. Brinkman, and David A. Schooler,
Briggs & Morgan, P.A., for defendant Mahube-Otwa
Community Action Partnership, Inc.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. Tostrud United States District Judge
Nicole Martinson (“Martinson”) asserts a single
claim alleging that Defendant Mahube-Otwa Community Action
Partnership, Inc. (“Mahube”) terminated her
employment in violation of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act,
Minn. Stat. § 181.931-.935. To summarize, Mahube
operates a Head Start program, among other services. Mahube
hired Martinson to manage enrollment for this program.
Martinson alleges that her supervisor instructed her to
enroll applicants in the program who Martinson believed were
ineligible under federal law. Martinson claims she then
reported “violations or perceived violations” of
a federal regulation governing the Head Start program to
Mahube and that Mahube terminated her employment in
retaliation for her reports. Martinson commenced this action
originally in Minnesota state district court. Martinson
asserts no claim created by federal law, and there is no
assertion that the parties are of diverse citizenship. Mahube
removed the case to federal court asserting that
Martinson's claim “turns on an embedded,
substantial question of federal law which [Defendant is]
entitled to litigate in a federal forum.” Following
removal, Martinson moved to remand for lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction, and Mahube moved to dismiss the suit for
failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
district courts “have original jurisdiction of all
civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or
treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
“[T]he vast bulk of suits that arise under federal
law” assert a claim (or claims) created by federal law.
Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 257 (2013) (citation
omitted). A category of cases asserting a state-created claim
nonetheless arise under federal law for purposes of §
1331 “if a federal issue is: (1) necessarily raised,
(2) actually disputed, (3) substantial, and (4) capable of
resolution in federal court without disrupting the
federal-state balance approved by Congress.”
Gunn, 568 U.S. at 258. This category is
“special and small.” Id. (quoting
Empire Healthchoice Assurance, Inc. v. McVeigh, 547
U.S. 677, 699 (2006)). Martinson's complaint does not
satisfy this test. Regardless of whether Martinson's
claim necessarily raises a federal issue that is actually
disputed, the federal issue is neither substantial in the
jurisdictional sense nor capable of resolution in federal
court without causing serious disruption to the federal-state
balance approved by Congress. Martinson's motion to
remand will be granted, and Mahube's motion to dismiss
will be denied as moot.
is a Minnesota nonprofit corporation providing services to
low income and elderly persons living in Mahnomen, Hubbard,
Becker, Otter Tail and Wadena counties in northwestern
Minnesota.” Notice of Removal ¶ 3 [ECF No. 1];
see also Am. Compl. ¶ 2 [ECF No. 14]. Among
other services, “Mahube offers a Head Start program.
Head Start is a federally-funded program which promotes the
school readiness of young children from low-income families
through agencies in their local communities.” Notice of
Removal ¶ 4. Mahube describes that its “Head Start
program assists enrollees with education and school
readiness, family support, health and nutrition, mental
health, self-sufficiency and self-esteem, and positive
discipline.” Id.; see also Am. Compl.
began working for Mahube in August 2016. Am. Compl. ¶ 6.
She was responsible for overseeing and managing enrollment
for Mahube's Head Start program. Id. ¶ 7.
Martinson alleges that her employment with Mahube was
“immediately successful.” Id. ¶ 10.
Martinson alleges, for example, that she received an
“overwhelmingly positive” first evaluation from
her supervisor, Margaret Aho (“Aho”), “[i]n
September 2016.” Id. Martinson also alleges
that she “was promoted out of [a] probationary
period” that “usually lasts for six months”
in only four months, or two months ahead of schedule.
Id. ¶ 11. Martinson alleges that she received a
second “positive performance review” from Aho in
“approximately December 2016.” Id.
to Martinson, her employment relationship with Mahube began
to deteriorate “around March 2017.” Id.
¶ 13. At that time, Martinson alleges, Aho instructed
her to enroll applicants in Head Start who “Martinson
believed were ineligible for reenrollment under federal
law.” Id. Martinson grounds her belief that
these applicants “were ineligible for
reenrollment” on a federal regulation governing Head
Start, and Martinson identifies and describes the regulation
in her complaint. Id.; see Id. ¶¶
first identifies 45 C.F.R. § 1302.12(c)(1), which she
alleges establishes four “needs-based criteria”
for Head Start eligibility. Id. ¶ 14. Per the
regulation (and not Martinson's summary of it in her
complaint), a “pregnant woman or a child is
eligible” for Head Start if:
(i) The family's income is equal to or below the poverty
(ii) The family is eligible for or, in the absence of child
care, would be potentially eligible for public assistance;
including TANF child-only payments; or,
(iii) The child is homeless, as defined in part 1305; or,
(iv) The child is in foster care.
45 C.F.R. § 1302.12(c)(1). Martinson alleges that any
family meeting any one criterion in paragraph (c)(1) is
“automatically eligible” for Head Start. Am.
Compl. ¶ 14.
next identifies 45 C.F.R. § 1302.12(c)(2) and (d).
Id. ¶ 15. These paragraphs of the regulation
address Head Start enrollment of participants who do not
satisfy any one criterion described in § 1302.12(c)(1).
Again, quoting from the regulation itself, §
1302.12(c)(2) provides: “If the family does not meet a
criterion under paragraph (c)(1) of this section, a program
may enroll a child who would benefit from services, provided
that these participants only make up to 10 percent of a