Removal – State to Federal Court

January 30th, 2018

Removal refers to the transfer of a civil action from state trial court to federal district court. Although the plaintiff is normally the master of the complaint and gets to choose what forum to file suit in, the defendant also gets a say in the matter. Removal allows a defendant to remove certain cases filed in state court by the plaintiff to federal court. So why would a defendant want to remove the case to federal court? Well, removing a case may alleviate certain concerns about prejudice or bias against an out-of-state defendant. Removal also allows the parties to use federal procedural rules instead of state rules. Federal rules may allow more leeway for the defendant. Additionally, removal provides a defendant the ability to combine mass litigation through the multi-district litigation procedures. Therefore, removal can be a strategic move for the defendant in defending his claim.

Current Case Law

In the most recent United States District Court case, Burns v. U-Haul of Providence, the Court held that “where a defendant has removed a personal injury action from state court, the plaintiff’s request for a remand should be granted despite the defendant’s preemption argument.” The plaintiff, Ms. Burns, received personal injuries from a motor vehicle accident. The vehicle that hit her was driven by defendant Jerry Gwyn, but was rented from defendant U-Haul of Providence. In her complaint, Ms. Burns alleges only state law claims. Subsequently, U-Haul moved to remove this case to federal court on the basis of ‘federal question jurisdiction’. Basically, U-Haul asserts that the federal court has subject matter jurisdiction because the federal, Graves Amendment to the Federal Transportation Equity Act, preempts Ms. Burns’ state law claims.

The Court reasoned that since U-Haul is only anticipating an assertion of a federal statute as a defense and hasn’t actually raised the defense, U-Haul cannot override a well-pleaded complaint alleging only violations of state law. Therefore, since Ms. Burns did not mention federal law or federal statutes in her complaint, U-Haul cannot remove the case to federal court on the basis of a federal defense. U-Haul might not even use the federal defense once in federal court, so there is no reason the court should grant them this removal.

Therefore, it is clear from this case that removal is granted only when federal question jurisdiction exists. The defendant must show that the complaint arises under the Constitution, laws, or treatises of the United States instead of simply under state law. However, if there is no federal question jurisdiction, the defendant can also claim removal on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. This is when the plaintiff and defendant are citizens of different states, and where the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. There was no diversity jurisdiction in Burns v. U-Haul of Providence.

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