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Weese v. Union Carbide Corp.

October 3, 2007

JAMES WEESE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNION CARBIDE CORPORATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Murphy, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

This is an asbestosis lawsuit brought by Plaintiff James Weese against some one hundred and nineteen Defendants. Weese's claims, which are derived solely from state law, arise out of asbestos-related personal injuries he allegedly has suffered. Weese originally filed his claims in Illinois state court. However, after an amended complaint joining as a party Defendant Union Carbide Corporation ("Union Carbide") was filed in state court, within thirty days after service of the complaint Union Carbide removed the entire action to this forum pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1), and requested a stay of these proceedings pending transfer of this action to a multidistrict litigation ("MDL") proceeding in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Doc. 3, 5). Weese in turn filed a motion for remand of this case to state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction (Doc. 34). For the reasons stated below, Union Carbide's request for a stay of these proceedings is DENIED and Weese's request for remand of this case to state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is GRANTED.

The following facts are germane to this Order. Weese worked as a professional pipefitter, laborer, and welder from the early 1940s to the early 1990s. During his career, he worked at United States government facilities in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, that were managed, operated, and maintained by Union Carbide pursuant to contracts with the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Energy. Weese maintains that during his employment at the Oak Ridge facilities, he was exposed to asbestos particles emitted into the air. He alleges that he inhaled these particles and that, as a consequence, he contracted mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining linked to asbestos exposure. Union Carbide does not challenge Weese's assertion that he was exposed to asbestos while working at the Oak Ridge facilities. However, Union Carbide contends that, in its management of the Oak Ridge facilities, it acted under the direction of federal officers, and that the actions that it took were in accordance with precise specifications and detailed regulations promulgated by those agencies.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Stay of Proceedings

As noted, Union Carbide has requested that the Court stay this litigation, including the motion to remand, pending transfer of this case to the MDL asbestos docket in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The Court concludes that the requested stay should be denied. The issue presented by the motion to remand, i.e., whether Union Carbide properly removed this action under 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1) does not raise issues exclusively within the area of expertise of the MDL court. This Court is as qualified to evaluate the factors establishing federal jurisdiction as any other federal court. Where, as here, the motion to remand does not "implicate[ ] issues that are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the MDL Court . . . the motion[ ] to remand can be resolved without encroaching on the exclusive territory of the MDL Court." In re Massachusetts Diet Drug Litig., 338 F. Supp. 2d 198, 201 (D. Mass. 2004). Under such circumstances, a stay is not warranted. See id. See also Greene v. Wyeth, 344 F. Supp. 2d 674, 678-79 (D. Nev. 2004) (noting that the purpose of the statute governing transfer to MDL proceedings, 28 U.S.C. § 1407, is not furthered by referring to a transferee court issues of law that the transferor court is equally competent to decide); Conroy v. Fresh Del Monte Produce, Inc., 325 F. Supp. 2d 1049, 1054 (N.D. Cal. 2004) (holding that a stay pending transfer of a case to an MDL proceeding would be "judicially inefficient" where "[t]his Court is readily familiar with federal law, Ninth Circuit law, and California law, the laws applicable to Plaintiff's motion [for remand] and Complaint."); Meyers v. Bayer AG, 143 F. Supp. 2d 1044, 1048-49 (E.D. Wis. 2001) (holding that a stay of proceedings pending transfer to an MDL court generally should be denied where a transferor court's "preliminary assessment" of a notice of removal suggests that a case was improperly removed).

Moreover, the resolution of the motion to remand requires an analysis of the unique facts of this case as presented to this Court. The issue is whether Union Carbide met its burden of proving the elements necessary for removal under 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1). "The same degree of judicial resources must be expended here or in the District of [Pennsylvania] to make an assessment of which party should prevail." Pennsylvania v. Tap Pharm. Prods., Inc., 415 F. Supp. 2d 516, 521 (E.D. Pa. 2005). Since only one federal court needs to "make an individualized assessment of the jurisdictional issues in this case" there is no reason to transfer the jurisdictional issue to the MDL court. Id. See also Minnesota v. Pharmacia Corp., No. 05-1394 (PAM/JSM), 2005 WL 2739297, at *2 (D. Minn. Oct. 24, 2005) ("[G]ranting a stay solely based on the existence of a factually-related MDL proceeding, without undertaking an individualized analysis of subject matter jurisdiction, would run counter to established case law,congressional intent, and . . . Rule 1.5 [of the Rules of Procedure of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation], all of which contemplate a district court will act to resolve threshold jurisdictional concerns[.]"). Cf. Dean v. Eli Lilly & Co., Civil Action No. 06-1375 (EGS), 2007 WL 1589496, at *4 n.2 (D.D.C. June 1, 2007) (in the context of a motion for transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404, holding that it was a factor weighing against transfer that the same legal question regarding the statute of limitations would have to be decided regardless of whether the case was transferred or not). Finally, the Court sees no reason to require Weese to suffer the undeniable delays inherent in all MDL asbestos cases unless there is federal jurisdiction. To undergo such a lengthy process to find out that there is no federal jurisdiction would be frankly unjust, in view of Weese's serious medical condition. For all these reasons, the Court concludes that Union Carbide's request for a stay should be denied.

B. Propriety of Removal

1. Legal Standard

A defendant seeking removal bears the burden of establishing federal subject matter jurisdiction. See Meridian Sec. Ins. Co. v.. Sadowski, 441 F.3d 536, 540 (7th Cir. 2006); Lyerla v. Amco Ins. Co., 461 F. Supp. 2d 834, 835 (S.D. Ill. 2006). Federal removal jurisdiction is statutory in nature and is to be strictly construed. See Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108-09 (1941); Doe v. Allied-Signal, Inc., 985 F.2d 908, 911 (7th Cir. 1993); Fuller v. BNSF Ry. Co., 472 F. Supp. 2d 1088, 1091 (S.D. Ill. 2007). Removal is proper if it is based on permissible statutory grounds and if it is timely. See Boyd v. Phoenix Funding Corp., 366 F.3d 524, 529 (7th Cir. 2004); Mills v. Martin & Bayley, Inc., Civil No. 05-888-GPM, 2007 WL 2789431, at *2 (S.D. Ill. Sept. 21, 2007). Any doubts about the propriety of removal must be resolved against removal and in favor of remand to state court. See Clevenger v. Eastman Chem. Co., No. 07-cv-148-DRH, 2007 WL 2458474, at *1 (S.D. Ill. Aug. 24, 2007); Littleton v. Shelter Ins. Co., No. 99-912-GPM, 2000 WL 356408, at *1 (S.D. Ill. Mar. 9, 2000).

2. Federal Officer Removal

At the outset, the Court notes that Union Carbide recently filed a notice purporting to withdraw its notice of removal, apparently conceding that federal subject matter jurisdiction does not exist in this case. This is a telling admission, of course, but it nevertheless is the rule that the existence or non-existence of subject matter jurisdiction in a given case does not hinge on the representations of parties to the case. See Insurance Corp. of Ireland v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 702 (1982) ("[N]o action of the parties can confer subject-matter jurisdiction upon a federal court. Thus, the consent of the parties is irrelevant, principles of estoppel do not apply, and a party does not waive the requirement by failing to challenge jurisdiction early in the proceedings. Similarly, a court, including an appellate court, will raise lack of subject-matter jurisdiction on its own motion.") (citations omitted); Sadat v. Mertes, 615 F.2d 1176, 1188 (7th Cir. 1980) ("A corollary of the principle of the limited jurisdiction of the federal courts is that jurisdiction otherwise lacking cannot be conferred by consent, collusion, laches, waiver, or estoppel."). Cf. Swift & Co. v. United States, 276 U.S. 311, 324 (1928) (even judgments entered by consent may be challenged on appeal for want of subject matter jurisdiction)); Fraenkl v. Cerecedo, 216 U.S. 295, 302-03 (1910) (same). Correspondingly, a federal court "has an independent duty to satisfy itself that it has subject-matter jurisdiction." Hammes v. AAMCO Transmissions, Inc., 33 F.3d 774, 778 (7th Cir. 1994). See also Kanzelberger v. Kanzelberger, 782 F.2d 774, 777 (7th Cir. 1986) ("[T]he federal courts are obliged to police the constitutional and statutory limitations on their jurisdiction. That is why, even at the appellate level, the court must satisfy itself that there is federal jurisdiction over the case."); Kurz v. Fidelity Mgmt. & Research Co., No. 07-cv-592-JPG, 2007 WL 2746612, at *1 (S.D. Ill. Sept. 18, 2007) ("The limited nature of federal subject matter jurisdiction imposes on federal courts a duty to examine their jurisdiction at every stage of a proceeding, sua sponte if need be."); Capital Fed. Sav. of Am. v. Geldermann & Co., No. 86 C 9232, 1987 WL 7270, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 24, 1987) ("[T]his Court has an independent duty to ascertain its subject matter jurisdiction . . . . Therefore, the Court must determine if . . . a federal question is presented by this action."). In an abundance of caution, the Court has undertaken a detailed inquiry into whether the record of this case discloses the existence of federal subject matter jurisdiction, and concludes that it does not.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1442, a defendant can remove "[a] civil action . . . commenced in a State court against . . . [t]he United States or any agency thereof or any officer (or any person acting under that officer) of the United States or of any agency thereof, sued in an official or individual capacity for any act under color of such office[.]" 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1). As the statute makes clear, the right of removal extends not only to federal officers but to persons acting under such officers. To effect removal as a person acting under a federal officer, Union Carbide must prove three elements: (1) it is a "person" within the meaning of the statute; (2) it acted under the direction of a federal officer, meaning that there is a nexus or causal connection between Weese's claims and the acts Union Carbide performed under the direction of a federal officer; and (3) Union Carbide has a colorable federal defense to state-law liability. See Jefferson County, Ala. v. Acker, 527 U.S. 423, 431 (1999); Mesa v. California, 489 U.S. 121, 129 (1989); Arizona v. Manypenny, 451 U.S. 232, 242 (1981). The basic purpose of Section 1442(a)(1) is to ensure a federal forum for defenses of official immunity by federal officers. See Willingham v. Morgan, 395 U.S. 402, 407 (1969); Wisconsin v. Schaffer, 565 F.2d 961, 964 (7th Cir. 1977). Because federal officer removal is rooted in "an anachronistic mistrust of state courts' ability to protect and enforce federal interests and immunities from suit," although such jurisdiction is read "expansively" in suits involving federal officials, it is read ...


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