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District Court Denies Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand despite Dismissal of Defendant that Formed the Basis of Federal Jurisdiction

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

As previously reported on Asbestos Case Tracker, this matter involves Plaintiff Frank P. Ragusa, who filed an action against various defendants in state court alleging occupational asbestos exposure at the Avondale Shipyards, among other facilities, where he worked as a crane operator from 1973 through 2017. On October 26, 2021, this case was removed to district court pursuant to the federal officer removal statute. The plaintiff has now reinstated a motion to remand to state court. Trial is scheduled to begin on May 8.

The prior motion by the plaintiff to remand was unsuccessful since the court found that the construction of two federal vessels at Avondale during the time of the plaintiff’s alleged exposure met the requirements to remove under the federal officer removal statute.

Thereafter, this court granted summary judgment to Avondale. Based on the dismissal of Avondale, the plaintiff filed the instant motion to remand, arguing that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because the plaintiff’s claims against Avondale formed the sole basis for federal jurisdiction.

In making its decision, the court cited recent fifth circuit precedent that a district court does not lose jurisdiction if the plaintiff “cease[s] to assert a claim that was subject to the federal contractor defense” nor “if the facts later indicate the federal [contractor] defense fails.” Williams v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 990 F.3d 852, 862-83 (5th Cir. 2021) (quotations, footnotes, and alteration omitted); see also IMFC Pro. Servs. of Fla., Inc. v. Latin Am. Home Health, Inc., 676 F.2d 152, 159 (5th Cir. 1982) (“elimination of the federal officer from a removed case does not oust the district court of jurisdiction (except where there was no personal jurisdiction over the officer)”). Because a plaintiff’s “claim must be evaluated, and the propriety of remand decided, on the basis of the record as it stands at the time the petition for removal is filed,” if subject-matter jurisdiction exists based on the federal contractor defense at the time of removal, “an amendment eliminating the original basis for federal jurisdiction generally does not defeat jurisdiction.” Williams, 990 F.3d at 862 n. 40 (citing Rockwell Int’l Corp. v. United States, 549 U.S. 457, 474 n.6 (2007)).

Here, the court found previously that it had subject-matter jurisdiction at the time of removal, and subsequent elimination of the original basis for federal officer removal jurisdiction does not necessitate remand. Thus, Avondale’s dismissal and the subsequent dismissal of claims that gave rise to the federal officer removal does not oust the court of jurisdiction. Additionally, this case has been pending in federal court for several years and trial is a few weeks away. To remand now would not serve the plaintiff’s best interests.

Accordingly, the plaintiff’s motion to remand was denied and the court retained jurisdiction.

Read the full decision here.