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CORWIN JEEP SALES & SERV., INC. v. AMERICAN MOTORS

May 12, 1986

Corwin Jeep Sales & Service, Inc., Plaintiff
v.
American Motors Sales Corporation, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RAMBO

 SYLVIA H. RAMBO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 This case involves a dispute over the termination of an automobile franchise agreement. The plaintiff, Corwin Jeep Sales & Service, Inc. (Corwin) initially filed the complaint herein with the Pennsylvania State Board of Vehicle Manufacturers, Dealers and Salespersons (the Board). Subsequently, the defendant, American Motors Sales Corporation (AMSC), removed the case to this court pursuant to our diversity jurisdiction. Corwin now petitions for remand of the matter to state court, and AMSC opposes the motion. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be denied.

 In deciding whether to grant a petition for remand, the first inquiry is whether the case originally filed in the state forum was properly removed to the federal court. Chandler v. Riverview Leasing, Inc., 602 F. Supp. 157 (E.D.Pa. 1984); Brunwasser v. Mulvihill, 490 F. Supp. 965, 966 (W.D.Pa. 1980). 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) provides that "any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant" to the district court. 28 U.S.C.S. § 1441(a) (Law. Coop. 1977). This removal jurisdiction is to be strictly construed, with doubt as to its propriety resolved in favor of remand. In re Auerbacher, 616 F. Supp. 532, 533-34 (E.D.Pa. 1985); Lancaster General Hospital v. Emergency Health Services Federation, 534 F. Supp. 1106, 1107 (E.D.Pa. 1982). Furthermore, courts have often stressed the statutory dictate that removal is proper only in an action over which the district court would have had original jurisdiction. See, e.g., Snow v. Ford Motor Co., 561 F.2d 787, 789 (9th Cir. 1977).

 Plaintiff contends that this matter must be remanded for two reasons. First, Corwin claims that the case was not properly removed to federal court because the state forum in which the complaint was originally filed was not a "court" within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) but was rather an administrative agency. Second, Corwin argues that the district court would not have had original jurisdiction of this case because the complaint fails to satisfy the $ 10,000 amount in controversy requirement of diversity jurisdiction. These issues will be addressed separately.

 1. Whether the Board is a "court" for purposes of removal jurisdiction.

 That Corwin so argues suggests that it agrees with the defendant on the proper test to be applied in determining whether a state body should be characterized as a court for purposes of removal jurisdiction. *fn1" That test is a functional one first enunciated in Tool and Die Makers Lodge No. 78 v. General Electric Co., 170 F. Supp. 945 (E.D.Wisc. 1959). Citing to the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Upshur County v. Rich, 135 U.S. 467, 34 L. Ed. 196, 10 S. Ct. 651 (1890), the Tool and Die Makers court held that a case before the Wisconsin Employment Relations Board was properly construed as an action in state court for purposes of diversity jurisdiction. The Court reasoned as follows:

 
In the construction of federal statutes dealing with proceedings in State court, it is clear that the Supreme Court . . . has adopted a functional rather than a literal test. Thus the question of whether a proceeding may be regarded as an action in a State court within the meaning of the statute is determined by reference to the procedures and functions of the State tribunal rather than the name by which the tribunal is designated.

 Tool and Die Makers, 170 F. Supp. at 950. The proceeding before the Wisconsin Employment Relations Board met this functional test, and was therefore an "action in state court," because although the matter had been cast in terms of an unfair labor practice, it was in fact a simple breach of contract case. Therefore, "under Wisconsin law an identical action could have been brought in the trial courts" of the state, and "had the complainants elected so to do, there would be no question of the right of respondent to remove the case to Federal court." Id. Furthermore, the procedures employed by the Board "reveal[ed] its judicial character." Id. These included, inter alia, the filing of a complaint and answer, the setting of the matter for hearing, the issuance of subpoenas, the taking of depositions, the use of contempt proceedings to punish non-attendance, the making of a record, and the making of findings and entry of an order setting forth the appropriate remedy. Id. Finally, the court noted that a state could not, by establishing certain procedures and forum for the resolution of particular disputes, validly "defeat the right of a litigant otherwise entitled to have his case heard in federal court." Thus,

 
"the peculiarity under Wisconsin procedures whereby the judicial inquiry is divided between a Board which investigates and declares and a court which enforces liabilities . . . present no obstacle to removal since the actions have the same essentials as original suits permissible in Federal district court or in State trial courts."

 Id. at 950, 951.

 Although this court has been informed of no case in which the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has squarely adopted the Tool and Die Makers reasoning, at least one dissenting opinion has relied on it. Edelson v. Soricelli, 610 F.2d 131, 141-143 (3d Cir. 1979) (Rosenn, J., dissenting) (Pennsylvania Arbitration Panels for Health Care should be considered state courts for purposes of removal; majority did not address this question but instead reasoned that arbitration remedy was substantive condition precedent to suit and therefore Erie doctrine required that federal court adhere to this condition under substantive state law). Furthermore, this district has adopted the functional approach to analysis of a removal jurisdiction question. United States v. Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board, 377 F. Supp. 545, 553 (M.D.Pa. 1974) (Sheridan, C.J.). Finally, several other Circuits have expressly relied on Tool and Die Makers. In Floeter v. C.W. Transport, Inc., 597 F.2d 1100 (7th Cir. 1979), the court held that the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission should be considered a state court for purposes of removal, because "the title given a state tribunal is not determinative; it is necessary to evaluate the functions, powers, and procedures of the state tribunal and consider those factors along with the respective state and federal interests in the subject matter and in the provision of a forum." Floeter, 592 F.2d at 1102. However, the court cautioned that it based its decision only on the facts of the case before it, and that "other actions brought before the agency may involve different state and federal interests, or a different agency role, and a weighing of the competing interests in those cases might well result in a determination that those cases (could) not be properly removed." Id. See also Volkswagen de Puerto Rico, Inc. v. Puerto Rico Labor Relations Board, 454 F.2d 38 (1st Cir. 1972), which held that an action before the Puerto Rico Labor Relations Board was properly removed to federal court, because the functional analysis was "far more satisfactory than to be content with a Steinian rendition of 'a board is a board is a board.'" 454 F.2d at 46.

 In support of its argument that the Board should not be considered a "state court," plaintiff relies on one of the few cases which expressly rejects the Tool and Die Makers analysis. In California Packing Corp. v. International Longshoremen's & Warehousemen's Union Local 142, 253 F. Supp. 597 (D. Hawaii 1966), the court granted a petition for remand of a complaint alleging unfair labor practices against a trade union. The court reasoned that the case was not removable because the federal district court was without original jurisdiction under the Norris-LaGuardia Act to grant the requested relief. This result has been overruled and this reasoning criticized in Volkswagen de Puerto Rico, 454 F.2d at 43 ("What remains" of the court's reasoning "is an unquestioning reliance on the state's characterization of its chosen instrument as a board or a court, ...


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