On December 15, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision that made it much more difficult for out-of-state defendants to remove their lawsuits from state court to federal court. The ruling was a major victory for WLF, whose brief in the case argued that the district court’s decision relied on an extra-statutory presumption against removal that needed to be corrected. The Court agreed that the district court’s decision to remand the case to state court was based in part on its erroneous application of that presumption—a rule (heretofore endorsed by 10 federal appeals courts) that courts must “narrowly construe” removal statutes and resolve all doubts in favor of remand. The Court agreed with WLF that no such presumption exists when, as here, removal is sought pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). The victory was especially gratifying to WLF because the Court relied on the presumption argument—not emphasized by the parties—on which WLF’s brief focused.

The Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) today urged the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court decision that make it much more difficult for out-of-state defendants to move their lawsuits from state court to federal court.  In a brief filed in a dispute over whether an oil company took the necessary steps to move a lawsuit filed against it into federal court, WLF argued that the company should not have been required to include in its notice of removal anything more than the statutorily mandated “short and plain statement of the grounds for removal.”

WLF devoted most of its brief to urging the Supreme Court to disavow the “presumption against removability” that has been adopted by virtually all federal appeals courts.  WLF noted that the district court in this case stated explicitly that her decision to remand the case to state court was “guided by the strong presumption against removal.”  WLF argued that the supposed presumption against removability has no foundation in Supreme Court decisions and is contrary to normal rules of statutory construction.

In particular, WLF argued that permitting lawsuits to be removed to federal court does not show a lack of respect for state courts.  WLF noted that the Framers of the Constitution endorsed federal-court removal jurisdiction as a key component of federalism that would ensure out-of-state defendants a judicial forum free from a bias favoring in-state litigants.

WLF stated that Congress has repeatedly expressed its support for expansive federal court removal jurisdiction, most recently when it adopted the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) in 2005.  CAFA authorizes federal court removal of virtually all large class actions.  It includes explicit findings that some state courts have “demonstrate[d] bias against out-of-State defendants” and that broadened removal jurisdiction should ensure a federal forum for all interstate class actions of “national importance.”  WLF argued that CAFA’s strong support of removal rights is inconsistent with a claim that Congress intends courts to strictly construe their removal jurisdiction.

After filing its brief, WLF issued the following statement by Chief Counsel Richard Samp:

“The plaintiffs’ bar should not be permitted to frustrate the will of Congress that large class actions be removable to federal court as a means of ensuring that out-of-state defendants can have their cases heard in an impartial forum.  Courts err when they adopt a ‘presumption’ against removability; Congress has never endorsed such a presumption, and removal jurisdiction is an important part of federalism.  But 10 of the 11 regional federal circuits have adopted the presumption; it is time for the Supreme Court to call a halt to this trend.” 

WLF is a public interest law firm and policy center with supporters nationwide.  WLF devotes a substantial portion of its resources to legal reform and reining in excessive litigation.