United States: Back To The Well With Pre-Service Removal

Last Updated: August 24 2018
Article by James Beck

It's been a while since we've discussed pre-service removal, other than to mention a recent case. Our last major post was What's up with Removal Before Service," back in May 2011.

Since then, we pointed out an important statutory development – that when Congress rewrote other parts of the removal statute (28 U.S.C. §1441(b)) in 2011, it left intact the language that, read according to its terms (often referred to as "plain meaning" in the cases), allows pre-service removal. That's important, because the major argument against pre-service removal is that it's "gamesmanship" (as if joining 99 disparate plaintiffs in a single complaint isn't) that leads to "absurd" results that Congress could not have intended. "However, one person's 'gamesmanship' is strategy to another." Francis v. Great West Casualty Co., 2018 WL 999679, at *2 (M.D. Ga. Feb. 21, 2018).

[F]rom a policy perspective, §1441(b) protects non-forum defendants from plaintiffs' procedural maneuvering to deprive these defendants of their statutory right to litigate in a federal forum. . . . This protection . . . is particularly important because the forum defendant rule creates an opportunity for procedural gamesmanship on the part of plaintiffs attempting to keep an action in state court, and thus blocking removal, by either improperly joining a forum defendant, or not serving the forum defendant that they have no intention of pursuing.

In Re Plavix Products Liability & Marketing Litigation, 2014 WL 4954654, at *6 (D.N.J. Oct. 1, 2014) (citations omitted).

That Congress, knowing full well that pre-service removal was being routinely practiced, elected to leave intact the statutory language enabling pre-service removal, makes the "absurdity" argument a much harder sell. After all, if the statute's language permits too much "gamesmanship," the proper response is for Congress to amend the statute, as it did back in 1948 when the "properly joined and served" language was first added. See Goodwin v. Reynolds, 757 F.3d 1216, 1220-21 (11th Cir. 2014) (discussing 1948 amendment). It is not the courts' role to usurp Congress by making ad hoc modifications of statutory language, whenever judges feel like it, particularly when Congress had the opportunity to amend the statute again in 2011, but declined to do so.

[U]nder the plain meaning of §1441(b) an out-of-state defendant, by monitoring state court dockets electronically or otherwise, can dash to the federal courthouse almost immediately with a notice of removal before the complaint is served on it and on an in-state defendant. As a consequence of advances in technology, there may well be fewer diversity actions precluded from removal under §1441(b) than heretofore. If this result is deemed to be bad public policy, the remedy lies with Congress which, subject to constitutional limitations, controls the scope of this court's subject matter jurisdiction and any right of removal.

Valido-Shade v. Wyeth, LLC, 875 F. Supp.2d 474, 478 (E.D. Pa. 2012), summarily aff'd, No. 14-4608 (3d Cir. April 29, 2015).

Enough ranting (for now). In any event, since our "What's up" post, we've also written several individual posts about:

Christison v. Biogen Idec, Inc., 2011 WL 13153242 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 14, 2011)

Poznanovich v. AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP, 2011 WL 6180026 (D.N.J. Dec. 12, 2011)

Boyer v. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 2012 WL 1449246 (E.D. Pa. April 26, 2011)

Davis v. Hoffmann-La Roche, 2014 WL 12647769 (Mag. N.D. Cal. Jan. 14, 2014), adopted, 2014 WL 12647768 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 31, 2014)

Young v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 2017 WL 2774735 (D. Del. June 27, 2017)

Cheung v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 282 F. Supp.3d 638 (S.D.N.Y. 2017)

So, that's six additional pre-service removal cases from five states since our last comprehensive post in 2011. Let's see how many more there are out there that we've missed.

The first thing we note is that some appellate authority now exists. Since remand is unappealable (28 U.S.C. §1447(d)), appellate review is rare in remand situations. Most recently, in Bank of New York Mellon v. Mazza, ___ F. Appx. ___, 2018 WL 3524899 (3d Cir. July 23, 2018), the court observed (albeit refraining from deciding the issue) "that every Court of Appeals to have addressed the issue has concluded that defendants in state-court actions may indeed remove them before being served with process." Id. at *2. Mazza cited Novak v. Bank of N.Y. Mellon Trust Co., 783 F.3d 910, 914 (1st Cir. 2015); La Russo v. St. George's University School, 747 F.3d 90, 97 (2d Cir. 2014), and Delgado v. Shell Oil Co., 231 F.3d 165, 177 (5th Cir. 2000).

Delgado, of course, is from the antediluvian period before modern, technologically-aided pre-service removal, but the Fifth Circuit did state unequivocally that "service of process is not an absolute prerequisite to removal." 231 F.3d at 177. Rather, the language of §1441(b) "consciously reflect[s] a desire on the part of Congress to require than an action be commenced against a defendant before removal, but not that the defendant have been served." Id. See also McCall v. Scott, 239 F.3d 808, 813 n.2 (6th Cir. 2001) ("Where there is complete diversity of citizenship . . . inclusion of an unserved resident defendant in the action does not defeat removal under 28 U.S.C. §1441(b).").

Delgado was also cited in La Russo, where the Second Circuit held:

The argument lacks merit. Nothing in sections 1441 or 1446 requires a removing defendant to have appeared in the state court proceeding prior to removal. Nor is there merit in [plaintiff's] claim that removal was improper because [a defendant] was not served. Service of process upon a removing defendant is not a prerequisite to removal.

747 F.3d at 97 (citing not only Delgado, but also City of Ann Arbor Employees' Retirement System v. Gecht, 2007 WL 760568, at *9 (N.D. Cal. March 9, 2007) – a modern pre-service removal case rejecting the "absurd results" argument).

Delgado was also cited in Novak, which is an even more powerful embrace of pre-service removal. First, the First Circuit stated:

[W]e think it is clear that a defendant generally need not wait until formal receipt of service to remove. There is no indication that . . . Congress intended to prohibit a defendant from filing a notice of removal before having been formally served

7893 F.3d at 912. A few pages later, Novak held:

[We find] no indication that a defendant was also prohibited from filing a notice of removal before service. We read the statute to contemplate otherwise. Our interpretation thus aligns with the decisions of other federal courts that have considered this question. . . . As far as we can tell, every one has concluded that formal service is not generally required before a defendant may file a notice of removal. And, because Congress is presumed to be aware of an administrative or judicial interpretation of a statute and to adopt that interpretation when it re-enacts a statute without change, we find it informative that Congress made no effort to cast aside this clear consensus among federal courts when it amended §1446 in 2011 without making any substantive change to subsection (b)(1)

Id. at 914 (citations and quotation marks omitted). In addition to Delgado and LaRusso, Novak added Whitehurst v. Wal-Mart, 306 F. Appx. 446, 448 (11th Cir. 2008) ("nothing in the removal statute, or any other legal provision, requires that a defendant be served with the complaint before filing a notice of removal"), and Sutler v. Redland Insurance Co., 2012 WL 5240124, at *2 (D. Mass. Oct. 24, 2012), another district court case recognizing pre-service removal. With Court of Appeals decisions now breaking in our favor, we can start trying to change the minds of district courts that have previously gone the other way.

Also, since our 2011 post − although not in a pre-service removal situation − the Seventh Circuit in Morris v. Nuzzo, 718 F.3d 660 (7th Cir. 2013), helpfully noted that the "properly joined and served" language in §1446(b) creates "a service-based exception to the forum defendant rule, meaning that a properly served out-of-state defendant will not be prevented from removing a case when the plaintiff has named but not yet served a resident defendant." Id. at 670 n. 3.

As far as the district courts go, here is what we now have – in addition to what we found back in our 2011 post (we did miss some back then, which we're backfilling now). As always, we do not do the other side's research for them, so what follows are all cases allowing pre-service removal – except for those cases we listed back in 2011:

Alabama

Seong Ho Hwang v. Gladden, 2016 WL 9334726, at *5-7 (M.D. Ala. Dec. 21, 2016); Sasser v. Florida Pond Trucking, L.L.C., 2016 WL 3774125, at *4-5 (Mag. M.D. Ala. June 24, 2016), adopted, 2016 WL 3769754 (M.D. Ala. July 14, 2016); Pathmanathan v. Jackson National Life Insurance Co., 2015 WL 4605757, at *3-5 (M.D. Ala. July 30, 2015); Goodwin v. Reynolds, 2012 WL 4732215, at *3-6 (N.D. Ala. Sept. 28, 2012), aff'd on other grounds, 757 F.3d 1216 (11th Cir. 2014); Lemley v. Midwest Automation, Inc., 2009 WL 1211382, at *1 & n.2 (S.D. Ala. May 1, 2009).

Alaska

Seeds v. ERA Alaska, 2013 WL 11311389, at *3 (D. Alaska Nov. 4, 2013).

California

Saratoga Advantage Trust Technology & Communications Portfolio v. Marvell Technology Group, Ltd., 2015 WL 9269166, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 21, 2015); Sherman v. Haynes & Boone, 2014 WL 4211118, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 22, 2014); Wilder v. Bank of America, N.A., 2014 WL 12591934, at *4 (C.D. Cal. June 30, 2014); Davis v. Hoffmann-La Roche, 2014 WL 12647769, at *2 (Mag. N.D. Cal. Jan. 14, 2014), adopted, 2014 WL 12647768 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 31, 2014); Fontalvo v. Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., 2013 WL 3197071, at *9-10 (S.D. Cal. June 20, 2013); Regal Stone Ltd. v. Longs Drug Stores California, L.L.C., 881 F. Supp.2d 1123, 1127-29 (N.D. Cal. 2012); May v. Haas, 2012 WL 4961235, at *2-2 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 16, 2012); Christison v. Biogen Idec, Inc., 2011 WL 13153242, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 14, 2011); Cucci v. Edwards, 510 F. Supp.2d 479, 482-84 (C.D. Cal. 2007); Waldon v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., 2007 WL 1747128, at *2-3 (N.D. Cal. June 18, 2007); City of Ann Arbor Employee's Retirement System v. Gecht, 2007 WL 760568, at *8-9 (N.D. Cal. March 9, 2007).

Delaware

Young v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 2017 WL 2774735, at *2 (D. Del. June 27, 2017); Munchel v. Wyeth LLC, 2012 WL 4050072, at *3-4 (D. Del. Sept. 11, 2012); Hutchins v. Bayer Corp., 2009 WL 192468, at *10-11 (Mag. D. Del. Jan. 23, 2009).

District of Columbia

Middlebrooks v. Godwin Corp., 279 F.R.D. 8, 11-12 (D.D.C. 2011).

Florida

Bergmann v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 2016 WL 9414108, at *2 (N.D. Fla. Dec. 28, 2016); ViSalus, Inc. v. Then, 2013 WL 3682239, at *3 (M.D. Fla. July 12, 2013); Visalus, Inc. v. Knox, 2013 WL 3462176, at *1-2 (M.D. Fla. July 9, 2013); North v. Precision Airmotive Corp., 600 F. Supp.2d 1263, 1268-70 (M.D. Fla. 2009); Valerio v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 2008 WL 3286976, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Aug. 7, 2008); Bolin v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 2008 WL 3286973, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Aug. 7, 2008); Masterson v. Apotex, Corp., 2008 WL 2047979, at *2 (S.D. Fla. May 13, 2008).

Georgia

Francis v. Great West Casualty Co., 2018 WL 999679, at *2 (M.D. Ga. Feb. 21, 2018); McClain v. Bank of America Corp., 2013 WL 1399309, at *3 (S.D. Ga. April 5, 2013).

Illinois

Graff v. Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Inc., 299 F. Supp.3d 928, 934-37 (N.D. Ill. 2017); Selective Insurance Co. v. Target Corp., 2013 WL 12205696, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 13, 2013); In re Pradaxa (Dabigatran Etexilate) Products Liability Litigation, 2013 WL 656822, at *3-4 (S.D. Ill. Feb. 22, 2013); Massey v. Cassens & Sons, Inc., 2006 WL 381943, at *2-3 (S.D. Ill. Feb. 16, 2006).

Indiana

In re Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 184 F. Supp.2d 826, 828 (S.D. Ind. 2002).

Kentucky

United Steel Supply, LLC v. Buller, 2013 WL 3790913, at 1-2 (W.D. Ky. July 19, 2013); Darsie v. Cone, 2010 WL 2923285, at *5 (E.D. Ky. July 22, 2010); Stanley v. Insights Training Group, LLC, 2009 WL 3514590, at *1-2 (W.D. Ky. Oct. 29, 2009).

Louisiana

Lewis-Wallace v. Johnson, 2018 WL 1531921, at *2 (E.D. La. March 29, 2018); Leech v. 3M Co., 278 F. Supp.3d 933, 941-43 (E.D. La. 2017); Sexton v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 2017 WL 6803443, at *2 (Mag. M.D. La. Sept. 15, 2017), adopted, 2018 WL 283259 (M.D. La. Jan. 3, 2018); Mendoza v. JLG Industries, Inc., 2016 WL 6872107, at *2 (E.D. La. Nov. 22, 2016); Gorman v. Schiele, 2016 WL 3583645, at *2-3 (Mag. M.D. La. June 8, 2016), adopted, 2016 WL 3580669 (M.D. La. June 28, 2016); Gorman v. Schiele, 2016 WL 3583640, at *5-6 (Mag. M.D. La. May 20, 2016), adopted, 2016 WL 3580669 (M.D. La. June 28, 2016); Colletti v. Bendix, 2016 WL 770646, at *2 (E.D. La. Feb. 29, 2016); Williams v. Boyd Racing LLC, 2016 WL 236993, at *3 (W.D. La. Jan. 19, 2016); Groves v. Farthing, 2015 WL 3646724, at *4-5 (E.D. La. June 10, 2015); Harvey v. Shelter Insurance Co., 2013 WL 1768658, at *2 (E.D. La. April 24, 2013).

Maryland

Al-Ameri v. Johns Hopkins Hospital, 2015 WL 13738588, at *1-2 (D. Md. June 24, 2015); Moore v. Svehlak, 2013 WL 3683838, at *15 (D. Md. July 11, 2013); Clawson v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc., 451 F. Supp.2d 731, 736 (D. Md. 2006).

Massachusetts

Sutler v. Redland Insurance Co., 2012 WL 5240124, at *2 (D. Mass. Oct. 24, 2012).

Michigan

Gordon v. Home Loan Center, LLC, 2011 WL 1261179, at *7 (E.D. Mich. March 31, 2011); Revere v. MERS, 2010 WL 1541506, at *2 (E.D. Mich. April 19, 2010).

Mississippi

Holmes v. Lafayette, , 2013 WL 654449, at *1 (N.D. Miss. Feb. 21, 2013); Ott v. Consolidated Freightways Corp., 213 F. Supp.2d 662, 665-66 (S.D. Miss. 2002).

Missouri

Gray v. Monsanto Co., 2018 WL 488935, at *2 (E.D. Mo. Jan. 19, 2018); Travers v. Five Below, Inc., 2017 WL 2813320, at *2-3 (E.D. Mo. June 29, 2017); Johnson v. Emerson Electric Co., 2013 WL 5442752, at *4 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 30, 2013); Taylor v. Cottrell, Inc., 2009 WL 1657427, at *2 (E.D. Mo. June 10, 2009); Brake v. Reser's Fine Foods, Inc., 2009 WL 213013, at *2-3 (E.D. Mo. Jan. 28, 2009); Johnson v. Precision Airmotive, LLC, 2007 WL 4289656 at *6 (E.D. Mo. Dec. 4, 2007).

Montana

Mahana v. Enerplus Resources U.S.A. Corp., 2012 WL 1947101, at *2-3 (Mag. D. Mont. May 30, 2012), adopted, 2012 WL 4748178, at *1 (D. Mont. Oct. 4, 2012).

New Jersey

In Re Plavix Products Liability & Marketing Litigation, 2014 WL 4954654, at *4-6 (D.N.J. Oct. 1, 2014); Westfield Insurance Co. v. Interline Brands, Inc., 2013 WL 1288194, at *2-4 (D.N.J. March 25, 2013) Poznanovich v. AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP, 2011 WL 6180026, at *3-5 (D.N.J. Dec. 12, 2011); Jaeger v. Schering Corp., 2007 WL 3170125, at *2 (D.N.J. Oct. 25, 2007); Yocham v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., 2007 WL 2318493 at *3 (D.N.J. Aug. 13, 2007); Frick v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., 2006 WL 454360, at *3 (D.N.J. Feb. 23, 2006).

New York

Cheung v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 282 F. Supp.3d 638, 643-44 (S.D.N.Y. 2017); Petit v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 2012 WL 11893525, at *1-2 (S.D.N.Y. March 23, 2012); Stop & Shop Supermarket Company LLC v. Goldsmith, 2011 WL 1236121, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. March 31, 2011); Deveer v. Gov't Employees Insurance Co., 2008 WL 4443260, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 26, 2008); In re Fosamax Products Liability Litigation, 2008 WL 2940560, at *2, 5 (S.D.N.Y. July 29, 2008).

Oklahoma

Howard v. Crossland Construction Co., 2018 WL 2463099, at *2 (N.D. Okla. June 1, 2018); Magallan v. Zurich American Insurance Co., 228 F. Supp.3d 1257, 1260-62 (N.D. Okla. 2017).

Pennsylvania

Rehmeyer v. Peake Plastics Corp., 2016 WL 7375027, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 20, 2016); Figured v. Davies, 2016 WL 3148392, at *3 (M.D. Pa. June 2, 2016); Parker Hannifin Corp. v. Federal Insurance Co., 23 F. Supp. 3d 588, 594 (W.D. Pa. 2014); Hutton v. KDM Transport, Inc., 2014 WL 3353237, at *4 (E.D. Pa. July 9, 2014); Valido-Shade v. Wyeth, LLC,, 875 F. Supp.2d 474, 477-78 (E.D. Pa. 2012), summarily aff'd, No. 14-4608 (3d Cir. April 29, 2015); Zokaites Properties, LP v. La Mesa Racing, LLC, 2012 WL 3144127, at *17 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 1, 2012); Banks v. Kmart Corp., 2012 WL 707025, at *2 (E.D. Pa. March 6, 2012); Boyer v. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 2012 WL 1449246, at *2 (E.D. Pa. April 26, 2011); Copley v. Wyeth, Inc., 2009 WL 1089663, at *3 (E.D. Pa. April 22, 2009); Vanderwerf v. Glaxosmithkline, PLC, 2005 WL 6151369, at *1 (E.D. Pa. May 5, 2005).

South Carolina

Fisher v. Pelstring, 2009 WL 10664813, at *2-4 (D.S.C. Sept. 29, 2009).

Tennessee

Linder v. Medtronic, Inc., 2013 WL 5486770, at *1-2 (W.D. Tenn. Sept. 30, 2013).

Texas

Cadena v. ASI Lloyds, 2018 WL 1904839, at *3 (Mag. W.D. Tex. Jan. 5, 2018), adopted, 2018 WL 1899750 (W.D. Tex. Feb. 13, 2018); Doe v. Geo Group, Inc., 2016 WL 3004675, at *3 (W.D. Tex. May 24, 2016); Reynolds v. Personal Representative of the Estate of Johnson, 139 F. Supp.3d 838, 841-43 (W.D. Tex. 2015); Breitweiser v. Chesapeake Energy Corp., 2015 WL 6322625, at *4-7 (N.D. Tex. Oct. 20, 2015); Rios v. Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., 2014 WL 12613385, at *3 (E.D. Tex. March 26, 2014); Carrs v. AVCO Corp., 2012 WL 1945629, at *1-3 (N.D. Tex. May 30, 2012).

West Virginia

Bloom v. Library Corp., 112 F. Supp.3d 498, 506 (N.D.W. Va. 2015); Konikowski v. Wheeling Island Gaming, Inc., 2012 WL 5378252, at *4 (N.D.W. Va. Oct. 31, 2012); Vitatoe v. Mylan Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 2008 WL 3540462, at *2-5 (N.D.W. Va. Aug. 13, 2008).

* * * *

Finally, while not doing the plaintiffs' research for them, we can safely state, after reading the "absurd result" cases, that the most dangerous form of pre-service removal is by a forum defendant alone, or equivalently, in a case where only forum defendants are sued. That's widely seen as a direct slap at the forum defendant rule. The next most dangerous removals are those taken by forum defendants in cases where there are also non-resident defendants. The most sympathetic pre-service removal scenario is when the removal is initiated by a non-resident defendant – the type of party that diversity jurisdiction was originally intended to protect. When defendants have a choice, therefore, it would be best to let the non-resident defendant carry the flag in pre-service removal cases.

One can also hope that current trends in personal jurisdiction might result in dismissal in cases where defendants previously sought to rely upon pre-service removal, since jurisdiction over one affiliated, but separate, "forum defendant" corporation no longer translates into jurisdiction over other corporate defendants. If, as occurs often in mass tort cases, the plaintiff is also a non-resident of the jurisdiction where suit is brought, then the plaintiff may well not be able to obtain jurisdiction over the non-resident corporate defendant.

This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.

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These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions