Federal enclave USA map

Federal Enclave Jurisdiction – Strategies for Removal to Federal Court when a Tort Occurs on Federal Land

There are different strategies defendants use in order to get cases removed to federal court. Today, we are going to discuss a strategy defendant should use when the tort is on federally-owned land. It is called the “Federal Enclave”. Although there isn’t much case law, at least three circuit courts as well as many district courts have ruled that the original jurisdiction of district courts over these matters is valid. It may also be possible for a defendant to use a federal enclave argument alone or in conjunction with other arguments.

The Basics Of Federal Enclave Jurisdiction

Federal question statute grants a district court the original jurisdiction to all actions that arise under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. Federal enclave jurisdiction is derived from the Constitution, specifically Article I Section 8, Clause 17 The “enclave” clause gives Congress the power to adopt laws governing land that the federal government has bought from the states.

The Congress shall have the power…to exercise the same authority over all places purchased by the Consents of the Legislature in the State where the same shall be, for erecting Forts, Magazines and Arsenals or other necessary Buildings.

Why did the Framers explicitly grant Congress this power? The Constitution needed an enclave clause in order to clarify that Congress would have legislative control over any land it bought from a state for use for national military purposes. Because the enclave clause in the Constitution is a provision, the federal question statute activates it to give federal district courts jurisdiction over any matters that arise on federal enclaves.

What does the “enclave” clause mean for today’s tort defendants? A federal enclave is where an injury can occur. The defendant can remove a case that was filed in state court and transfer it to the federal district court. SS 1441(a), because the original jurisdiction would have been held by the district court. Significantly, the applicable state law is still in force, just as it applies when cases are transferred to federal court for diversity reasons.

As usual, defendants must also comply with the notice and timing requirements for removal under 28 U.S.C. SS 1446.

When Defendants Need to Identify Cases For Potential Federal Enclave Removal

Identify cases for potential federal enclave removal

Federal enclave jurisdiction is typically recognized by courts in cases against manufacturers and distributors of asbestos products and other chemicals. This applies to plaintiffs who were allegedly exposed to the products at a military base. However, courts have also applied the doctrine in factual situations such as a construction accident involving subcontractors on military bases or a helicopter crash within a national park.

There are many U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals that don’t often address federal enclave jurisdiction when addressing removal contexts because remand motions granted by a district judge are usually not reviewable. However, the Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits all have original jurisdiction in cases where an injured party was located on federal territory. A circuit has not ruled against federal enclave jurisdiction.

Sometimes, federal enclaves have been expanded by courts beyond what is explicitly stated in the Constitution. The Constitution states that federal property must be bought with the consent of the legislature in the state. (emphasis added). The plain language of an enclave clause — land that the federal government purchased from a state — is not always followed by courts. The Tenth Circuit noted, for example, that the federal government does not need to purchase land from a state. However, the Federal Government may also create these Enclaves by reserving its jurisdiction when a state enters the Union.  In some states, however, the federal government might have military installations on land that it had retained ownership of when the states became states.

This concept has also been applied to states and federal land purchased from territories like Puerto Rico. In one instance, a court merged the two concepts by determining that a federal colony existed on land that was retained by the federal government when Puerto Rico became a territory instead of a state. The federal government was granted land in Puerto Rico by the Kingdom of Spain following the Spanish-American War.

Courts Have Declined to Exercise Federal Enclave Jurisdiction

Many district courts declined to recognize U.S. military installations abroad as federal enclaves. The Northern District of California made a number of such decisions. It noted that federal enclave cases in the past typically dealt with land that was sold to the federal government with the explicit consent of a foreign state. However, its remand determination eventually turned on a different issue. The District of Maine also declined to rule that there was a federal enclave in an Afghan military base. This, according to the defendant, would have invalidated the plaintiff’s state-law claims.

Can a defendant claim federal enclave jurisdiction if a tort is committed on a non-military property? This is a question that remains open. Some courts have referred to federal enclaves on land not specifically mentioned in the Enclave Clause, such as national parks and grazing land. Some courts are hesitant to expand federal enclave jurisdiction beyond military properties, especially when cases involve routine automobile accidents in recreational areas that have no strong federal interest.

The relative lack of circuit court decisions regarding federal enclave jurisdiction means that the boundaries of federal Enclaves are still open to question. This analysis will be fact-specific. However, the federal enclaves should be considered by the creative litigator as a means of bringing a case to federal courts with their heightened federal pleading standards and robust expert discovery, efficiency through uniform procedural rules and evidentiary rules, and sometimes more diverse jury pools.