District Court Remands Case Back to New Jersey State Court After Federal Defendant is Dismissed United States District Court, District of New Jersey, August 17, 2018

NEW JERSEY — On October 30, 2015, The plaintiffs Thomas Grimes and Estelle Grimes Estelle Grimes initially filed suit in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Middlesex County against a number of defendants alleging that Mr. Grimes’s mesothelioma was caused by exposure to defendants’ asbestos or asbestos-containing products. Shortly thereafter, the case was removed to the United States District Court, District Court of New Jersey, following Defendant Crane’s Notice of Removal relating to the federal officer removal statute, 28 U.S.C. Section 1442(a)(1).

Pursuant to the case management order of the District Court, a number of defendants, including Crane, filed summary judgment motions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The plaintiffs did not file opposition to a number of defendants’ motions, including Crane. Accordingly, the court issued an rrder granting summary judgment as to those unopposed motions and entered judgement in favor of Crane and other defendants. The court noted that four motions for summary judgment, that the plaintiff did oppose, were left to be decided. However, before addressing the merits of these four motions, the Court chose to reconsider the issue of jurisdiction, given that Crane (the party who removed the case initially) was no longer a party to the case.

The court specifically stated: ” Because Section 1442(a)(1) authorizes removal of the entire action even if only one of the controversies it raises involves a federal officer or agency, the section creates a species of statutorily-mandated supplemental subject-matter jurisdiction. The district court can exercise its discretion to decline jurisdiction over the supplemental claims if the federal agency drops out of the case, or even if the federal defendant remains a litigant.”

Here, if a federal party is eliminated from the suit after removal, while the district court does not lose its jurisdiction over the state law claims against the remaining non-federal parties, the district court does retain the power to either adjudicate the underlying state law claims or to remand the case back to state court.  D.C. v. Merit Sys. Prot Bd., 762 F.2d 129, 132-33 (D.C. Cir. 1985).  As subject matter jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims could only be predicated by supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. Section 1367(c).  Here, a court may decline supplemental jurisdiction over a state-law claim where:  (1) the claim raises a novel or complex issue of State law, (2) the claim substantially predominates over the claim or claims over which the district court has original jurisdiction, (3) the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction, or (4) in exceptional circumstances, there are other compelling reasons for declining jurisdiction.  See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c).

The Hon. Kevin McNulty, United States District Judge, for the District of New Jersey, found that the discretionary factors under Section 1367(c) weigh in favor of remanding this case back to state court.  More specifically, Judge McNulty found that the first three factors applied in that this was an asbestos case implicating complex state law issues; New Jersey has centralized asbestos litigation in Middlesex County; all asbestos-related cases in New Jersey are handled by a single judge with the assistance of a special master; and more importantly, the usual presumption is that state courts are best equipped to handle state cases, particularly a state court that has developed a specialized expertise, which is the case in Middlesex County, New Jersey.

Thus, the case the court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over this case and remanded back to New Jersey. The court further stated that this result would serve the goals of judicial economy and comity by allowing the New Jersey courts to apply New Jersey law.

Read the full case decision here.

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