"Removal" is the process by which a defendant in a state court case "removes" the case to federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b) makes it sound so simple:

Any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction founded on a claim or right arising under the Constitution, treaties or laws of the United States shall be removable without regard to the citizenship or residence of the parties. Any other such action shall be removable only if none of the parties in interest properly joined and served as defendants is a citizen of the State in which such action is brought.

There are two ideas behind removal, each expressed in their own sentence above. (If you’re in the mood for some light reading of 18th century constitutional debates, here’s primary source material on federal court jurisdiction.)

The first idea (in the first sentence) is that defendants have the right to have claims made against them under federal law heard by a federal court. For example, if plaintiff brings a claim under the RICO Act, a claim for violation of federal constitutional rights, or a claim under the Lanham Act, then the defendant has the right to remove the case to federal court so that a federal court will preside over the federal claims.

The second idea (in the second sentence) dates to the beginning of our Republic: federal courts, where the judges were appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, were (and still are) perceived as being less likely to be biased in favor of local litigants than state courts, where the judges were either elected by the public or appointed by state officials. The "other such actions" described by 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b) refer to cases brought under "diversity" jurisdiction, which allows plaintiffs in one state to sue defendants in another state in federal court, regardless of the claims brought. Thus, out-of-state defendants concerned about bias in a plaintiff’s home state can remove cases if the case could have been filed in federal court in the first place under "diversity" jurisdiction.

Diversity jurisdiction, however, is disfavored by the federal courts. Personally, I think the most simple reason for the federal courts’ dislike for diversity jurisdiction is because, much like how we prefer federal courts preside over cases bringing federal claims (as reflected by the first part of 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)), we prefer state courts preside over cases bringing state claims. Much like how a defendant has an interest in having federal law claims against them heard in federal court, a plaintiff has an interest in having their state law claims heard in state court.

The United States Constitution provides for a limited federal government, including a limited federal judiciary. Thus, the requirements for removal have been strictly construed, since loosely construing them would violate basic principles of federalism:

Because lack of jurisdiction would make any decree in the case void and the continuation of the litigation in federal court futile, the removal statute should be strictly construed and all doubts resolved in favor of remand." Abels v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 770 F.2d 26, 29 (3d Cir. 1985) (citations omitted). If there is any doubt as to the propriety of removal, that case should not be removed to federal court. See Boyer v. Snap-On Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 1085, 111 S. Ct. 959, 112 L. Ed. 2d 1046 (1991).

Brown v. Francis, 75 F.3d 860, 864–865 (3d Cir. 1996). 

The latest "fad" among defense lawyers — more on the source of the word "fad" in a moment — is to hire companies to monitor state court dockets for suits against big corporations, particularly class actions alleging product liability. The moment a plaintiff files a lawsuit that includes any out-of-state defendants, the big corporations collude to have the out-of-state defendant file for removal, on the grounds that the in-state defendants haven’t been "properly joined and served" yet.

It doesn’t matter if the case involves 99 in-state defendants and 1 out-of-state defendant. It doesn’t matter, if, quite obviously, the case could not have been filed in the first instance as a diversity case, since it involves in-state defendants, too. The big corporations found themselves a dubious loophole and decided to run with it.

And run with it they have: the defense gurus at Drug & Device Law have tallied a few dozen of these cases across the country. The defense argument is always the same: under the "plain meaning" of the statute, we can remove any case we want if the in-state defendants haven’t been served yet.

It’s a silly argument: the plain meaning rule does not permit a court to find a "plain" meaning “demonstrably at odds with the intentions of the drafters.” United States v. Ron Pair Enters., Inc., 489 U.S. 235, 242 (1989). There is, of course, no indication that Congress intended to let defendants avoid the strict, centuries-old federal policies against diversity jurisdiction and against removal by setting up a computer program that downloads the state court dockets every 10 minutes.

The more compelling "plain meaning" of 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b) is that Congress wanted to ensure the in-state defendants were "proper" defendants, and thus prevent plaintiffs from adding bogus in-state defendants to a lawsuit.

The defendants’ game worked for a while, but the tide is turning.

Via Gregory P. Joseph’s Complex Litigation Blog, we see the Northern District of Ohio rejecting the "properly joined and served" silliness:

Comerica’s interpretation of §1441(b) suggests that the language "properly joined and served" creates an exception to the forum defendant rule. This argument is not novel; in fact, it has been the topic of much jurisprudential debate with varying success across the country. I, however, have no need to survey such case law because the Northern District of Ohio recently rejected Comerica’s argument in a case of first impression. In Ethington v. Gen. Elec. Co., 575 F. Supp. 2d 855, 861 (N.D. Ohio), my colleague, District Judge Dan Aaron Polster, engaged in a thorough review of available case law.

And what does Ethington say?

The Court further notes that the growing trend among district courts wrestling with this latest litigation fad is to grant a timely motion to remand. While a review of the Frick, Thomson, and Ripley cases indeed shows that the judges in those cases abided by the plain meaning interpretation of the forum defendant rule, the GE Defendants’ assertion that the New Jersey federal district courts ‘ha[ve] rejected Plaintiffs’ argument’ is disingenuous at best; it fails to acknowledge that Frick (issued February 23, 2006), Thomson (May 22, 2007), and Ripley (Aug. 16, 2007) were each issued well in advance of the more recent case law from the District of New Jersey — starting with Judge Chesler’s opinion in DeAngelo-Shuayto — that in fact rejected the approach taken in those three earlier cases. See, e.g., DeAngelo-Shuayto, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92557, at 5, 2007 WL 4365311, at *3 (finding that ‘§ 1441(b) must bar removal by a forum defendant, whether it has been served or not’); Fields, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92555, at *12-13, 2007 WL 4365312, at *5 (rejecting the plain language approach because it would create an ‘untenable result’ that would ‘eviscerate the purpose of the forum defendant rule,’ and holding that ‘the ‘properly joined and served’ language of § 1441(b) does not encompass the situation in which the removing party is a forum defendant, and that in such situations removal to federal court is improper.’). See also, Brown, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55490, at *8, 2008 WL 2833294, at *5 (adopting magistrate judge’s report and recommendation with additional analysis, explicitly embracing the reasoning provided in the R&R, DeAngelo-Shuayto, and Fields, and stating ‘this Court agrees with [the conclusion] that § 1441(b) must be read to preclude removal by an in-state defendant whether it has been served or not.’); Brown v. Organon USA Inc. (hereafter ‘Brown R&R‘), 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50179, at *24-25, 2008 WL 2625355, at *8 (D.N.J. June 27, 2008) (M.J. Salas) (magistrate judge’s R&R concluding that ‘[t]he Court agrees with DeAngelo-Shuayto‘ and finding ‘that § 1441(b) bars a forum defendant from removing to federal court even if they have not been ‘properly joined and served.”); Optec Displays, Inc. v. Am. Maint., Inc., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47562, at *3, 2008 WL 2510633, at *2 (D.N.J. June 16, 2008) (J. Debevoise) (remanding removed case with forum defendant, and explaining that ‘even if [defendant] was not properly joined and served, it is still precluded, as a forum defendant, from removing the action to federal court.’) (citing DeAngelo-Shuayto, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92557, at *15, 2007 WL 4365311, at *3)).).

Notably, these more recent New Jersey federal district court cases are not alone in adopting Judge Chesler’s reasoning and analysis on the proper way to interpret § 1441(b). Other federal district courts as of late have likewise followed the reasoning articulated in DeAngelo-Shuayto. See, e.g., Allen, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42491, at *13-15, 17-18, 2008 WL 2247067, at *4-6; Vivas v. Boeing Co., 486 F. Supp. 2d 726 (N.D.Ill. 2007) (J. Lefkow). (See also, ECF No. 30-2, Pls.’ Rep. Mem., Ex. A to Aff. Dec. of Mitchell M. Breit, 1-6 (remand order in Evans v. GlaxoSmithKline PLC, Civ. A. No. 07-5046 (Jan. 10, 2008) (J. Brody); remand order in Hance v. GlaxoSmithKline PLC, Civ. A. No. 07-5047 (Jan. 10, 2008) (J. Brody); remand order in Malone v. GlaxoSmithKline PLC, Civ. A. No. 07-5048, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97461 (Dec. 4, 2007) (J. Savage) (citing Oxendine v. Merck & Co., Inc., 236 F. Supp. 2d 517, 524-25 (D. Md. 2002)); remand order in Scott v. GlaxoSmithKline PLC, No. 07-CV-5049, Order of March 11, 2008, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84490, n.1 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 11, 2008) (J. Joyner)).) But see Flores v. Merck & Co. (In re Fosamax Prods. Liab. Litig.), 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57473, at *37-38, 2008 WL 2940560, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. July 28, 2008) (a recent federal district court opinion invoking the plain language of § 1441(b) with little analysis to deny plaintiff’s motion to remand).

After considering Sixth Circuit precedent on statutory interpretation and carefully reviewing case law on both sides of a federal district court split, the Court finds that applying the plain language of § 1441(b) would produce a result demonstrably at odds with Congressional intent underpinning the forum defendant rule, and specifically with the ‘properly joined and served’ language. Accordingly, the Court hereby joins the DeAngelo-Shuayto line of cases, and in so doing, the Court incorporates and adopts the well-reasoned, thorough analysis and holdings of Judge Chesler in DeAngelo-Shuayto as the basis for the instant ruling.

Ethington v. GE, 575 F. Supp. 2d 855, 864 (N.D. Ohio 2008). A "fad" that is "demonstrably at odds with Congressional intent." 

Told you so.