Review of Remand Orders: One Man’s Obsession

And I mean obsession in a good way. I never thought I’d get out-geeked on the subject of jurisdiction, and especially not on the subject of appellate jurisdiction, but I think Jones Day partner Mark Herrmann pulled it off today at his Drug & Device Law blog. In a long joint post there regarding when an appellate court may review an order remanding a case back to the state court from which it was removed, Herrmann and his blog partner Jim Beck of Dechert LLP not only chronicle the history of Supreme Court jurisprudence in this area and propose sensible reform, they start their discussion by citing Herrmann’s 22-year-old law review article on the subject as evidence that he was “obsessessed with this question [of when review is allowed].” I’ve described myself as a jurisdictional “geek” plenty of times, but never as “obsessed”!

Substantively, the post is remarkably thorough and fun to read. (Herrman’s obsession isn’t the only humorous point.) It concludes with interesting detail on the most recent Supreme Court decision and a discussion of practical consequences.

(For Ninth Circuit practitioners, it may be interesting to note that the trigger for Herrmann’s and Beck’s post was last month’s Supreme Court decision in Carlsbad Technology, Inc. v. HIF Bio, Inc., 556 U.S. __ (2009). Carlsbad came from the Federal Circuit, which had split from several others, including the Ninth, to hold that 28 USC § 1447(d) precludes appellate review of a remand order based on the district court’s discretionary decision under 28 USC § 1367(c) not to assert supplemental jurisdiction over state claims. The Supreme Court’s reversal vindicates the Ninth Circuit’s wisdom (not to mention adherence to stare decisis) when it declined the invitation to reconsider its position in last year’s California Dept. of Water v. Powerex ___ F.3d ___ (9th Cir. 2008). [I’ll update that cite for you later when I have access to the reporters.] By the time of the California Dept. of Water case, the rule was well-established in the Ninth Circuit that review was available by petition for writ of mandate. However, the Ninth was forced by intervening Supreme Court authority to find that review is available by appeal. My coverage of Powerex is here.)

Appealing a Remand Order, and Intra-Circuit Stare Decisis

When I was in BigLaw, removing a case to federal court seemed a virtually automatic response to any suit that we believed implicated federal jurisdiction. If the federal district court refuses to exercise supplemental jurisdiction and remands the case back to the state court, how do you contest that ruling?

That was the question facing the court in California Dept. of Water v. Powerex, case no. 06-15285 (9th Cir. July 22, 2008), and the answer required it to answer two jurisdictional questions. First, does 28 USC §1447(d) preclude the court from exercising jurisdiction to review the remand order in any fashion? If not, then what is the method by which the order may be reviewed: appeal or writ of mandamus?

Powerex removed to federal court, claiming that the case arose under federal law. The district court denied DWR’s motion to remand and dismissed, finding that the case was within the sole jurisdiction of the Federal Enerergy Regulatory Commission. DWR amended its complaint to request only declaratory relief in order to take the case outside FERC’s jurisdiction and renewed its motion to remand. The district court held that the amended complaint raised only state law contract issues, declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction, and remanded the case to state court. Powerex appealed, asserting that the complaint still had claims that arise under federal law.

Section 1447(d) appears to deny review of any remand order unless removed under 28 USC §1443 [applicable to certain civil rights cases]. The court notes, however, that section 1447 has been held to prohibit review only of remand orders based on grounds specified in section 1447(c); remands based on other grounds may be reviewed.

That obstacle cleared, the court turned to the question of whether review is by writ or appeal. Here, the court departs from its prior line of rulings, which held that review was by way of writ, because the intervening SCOTUS case of Quackenbush v. Allstate Insurance Co. (1996) 517 U.S. 706, undercut the rationale of the Ninth Circuit’s prior cases. Remand orders resulting from a refusal to exercise supplemental jurisdiction are reviewable by appeal.

Besides a pretty good discussion about the scope of section 1447(d), DWR v. Powerex is worth reading for its explanation of intra-circuit stare decisis; that is, when can a panel depart from circuit precedent that has not been overruled by an en banc decision in the circuit?

Appeal after Remand to State Court: Was Removal Reasonable?

The Ninth Circuit reminds us in Gardner v. MEGA Life & Health Ins. Co., case no. 06-55045 (9th Cir. Nov. 19, 2007), that even though no appeal lies from an order remanding a removed action to state court, the removing defendant may appeal an order to pay costs and fees imposed in connection with the remand under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). Here, it pays off.

MEGA was ordered to pay costs and fees when the action was remanded. It claimed the only non-diverse defendant, an individual, had been fraudulently joined for the purpose of defeating diversity jurisdiction because the statute of limitations had run as to that defendant.

Applying the rule that fees and costs should ordinarily not be awarded where the removing defendant had an objectively reasonable basis for removing, the Ninth Circuit reverses the award of fees and costs. Interestingly, it finds that MEGA had a reasonable basis for removal purely on its own analysis of whether the claim against the non-diverse defendant was barred under California law and without considering one of the reasons MEGA cited for the reasonableness of removal — that on remand, the California court sustained MEGA’s demurrer.

That makes sense, in a way, since reasonableness should be measured as of the time of removal. On the other hand, it seems like the state court dismissal is pretty solid evidence of the objective reasonableness of MEGA’s fraudulent joinder contention.