Wooden judge gavel, close-up view.

Case Remanded to California State Court; Plaintiff Awarded Motion Costs and Fees

Court: United States District Court for the Northern District of California

In this asbestos action, plaintiff Gary Haeck sued several defendants for causes of action in strict products liability, negligence, fraud, and loss of consortium, including five entities that are California citizens.

Haeck moved for an expedited trial, which the court granted for December 2022. Defendant 3M moved to quash, or sever, the trial date as to them. The court severed two defendants, including 3M, from the December 2022 trial date and set a trial date for March.

During the pendency of the case, Haeck settled with four of the California defendants. California defendant Allied Fluid obtained summary judgment after facing opposition from Haeck. Thereafter, 3M removed this matter to federal court, arguing that complete diversity existed and the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000. Notably, “[t]he defendant has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the requirements for removal jurisdiction have been met.”

Ultimately, the court remanded the case to state court. Haeck argued that remand was warranted here as 3M violated the forum defendant rule. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2), “[a] civil action otherwise removable solely on the basis of the jurisdiction . . . may not be removed if any of the parties in interest properly joined and served as defendants is a citizen of the State in which such action is brought.” However, 3M cited 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3), noting that “if the case stated by the initial pleading is not removable, a notice of removal may be filed within thirty days after receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable.”

The court focused on whether the grant of summary judgment to Allied Fluid was voluntary or involuntary. As per the voluntary/involuntary rule, the court cited Self v. Gen. Motors Corp. for the proposition that “a case that is nonremovable based on the pleadings only becomes removable if a plaintiff takes a voluntary action that eliminates the jurisdictional or statutory barriers to removability.” As such, since Haeck opposed Allied Fluid’s dismissal through summary judgment, Haeck argues that this dismissal was involuntary and their presence should prevent removal. The court rejected 3M’s argument that the voluntary/involuntary rule is an atextual limitation on the plain language of 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3) as the Ninth Circuit expressly rejected that argument in Self. Thus, the court held that “Allied Fluid’s California citizenship blocks removal under the forum defendant rule.”

In addition, the court granted Haeck’s motion for fees and costs as there was Ninth Circuit authority expressly on point on this issue and “no substantial basis for expecting a reversal of the voluntary/involuntary rule given the unanimity of the decisions from the appellate courts.” As such, the court awarded fees and costs in the amount of $5,000, reduced from the amount of $21,000 requested by Haeck. 

Read the full decision here.