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Swindell-Filiaggi v. CSX Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 8, 2013

SWINDELL-FILIAGGI, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CSX CORPORATION & Conrail, Defendants.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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David M. Cedar, Cedar Law Firm, Cherry Hill, NJ, Mark R. Cuker, Joseph A. Venti, Williams Cuker Berezofsky, Philadelphia, PA, for Plaintiffs.

Daniel B. Donahoe, David A. Damico, Burns, White & Hickton, Pittsburgh, PA, Paul F.X. Gallagher, Gallagher Rowan PC, Philadelphia, PA, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM RE: PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO REMAND

BAYLSON, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This diversity case raises an issue that has divided courts in this District. Plaintiffs have moved to remand this action to state court on the basis of the " forum defendant rule," 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2). The forum defendant rule provides that an action cannot be removed on the basis of diversity jurisdiction " 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." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2) (emphasis added). Defendants argue that this rule does not bar removal here because when CSX Corporation (the out-of-state defendant) filed for removal, Conrail [1] (the in-state defendant) had not yet been " properly joined and served." Although Defendants' argument finds some support in the literal meaning of the statute, a statute should not be read literally when doing so produces, as here, an absurd result at odds with congressional intent. For the reasons that follow, therefore, the Court will grant Plaintiffs' motion to remand.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The parties do not dispute that complete diversity exists in this case. Plaintiffs are citizens of New Jersey; Defendant Conrail maintains its principal place of business in Pennsylvania, and Defendant CSX Corporation (" CSX" ) is incorporated in Virginia with a principal place of business in Florida.

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On November 30, 2012, Plaintiffs suffered alleged injuries when CSX's bridge in Paulsboro, New Jersey collapsed under the weight of one of Conrail's cargo-bearing trains, causing a large leak of vinyl chloride monomer (a known human carcinogen). On December 12, 2012, Plaintiffs filed their complaint in Philadelphia County's Court of Common Pleas and emailed a courtesy copy of the complaint to Conrail's counsel. The following day, CSX filed a notice of removal. At the time CSX filed for removal, Plaintiffs had not yet served either Defendant. Several hours after CSX filed for removal, Conrail waived service.

III. LEGAL BACKGROUND

A. Basis for Remand

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), a plaintiff may remand an action to state court if removal was " procedurally defective." Snider v. Sterling Airways, Inc., No. 12-3054, 2013 WL 159813, at *1 (E.D.Pa. Jan. 15, 2013) (Joyner, C.J.). A removal is procedurally defective if, inter alia, it violates the " forum defendant rule." Under the forum defendant rule, a civil action that is " otherwise removable solely on the basis of [diversity 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." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b).

B. Relevant Tenets of Statutory Interpretation

Two well-established tenets of statutory interpretation are material to this dispute. First, " removal statutes are to be strictly construed against removal and all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand." Steel Valley Auth. v. Union Switch & Signal Div., 809 F.2d 1006, 1010 (3d Cir.1987). This doctrine is based on two principles: courts should err in favor of removal when their subject matter jurisdiction is in doubt, id.; and federal courts should have " [d]ue regard for the rightful independence of state governments" to " provide for the determination of controversies in their courts." Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108-09, 61 S.Ct. 868, 85 L.Ed. 1214 (1941); Feld v. Allstate Ins. Corp., No. 03-4024, 2003 WL 22271674, at *2 (E.D.Pa. Aug. 4, 2003). Although the first principle is not applicable to this dispute [2], the second principle about due regard for the independence of state courts is applicable. Accordingly, the Court will construe the removal statute narrowly.

The second relevant tenet of statutory interpretation is that the plain meaning of a statute is generally, but not always, dispositive. Courts are entrusted " to construe [statutory] language so as to give effect to the intent of Congress." United States v. Am. Trucking Ass'ns, 310 U.S. 534, 542, 60 S.Ct. 1059, 84 L.Ed. 1345 (1940). As a general rule, " there is ... no more persuasive evidence of the purpose of a statute than the words by which the legislature undertook to give expression to its wishes." Id. However, when the plain meaning is " absurd," courts should look " beyond the words to the purpose of the act." Id.; accord Griffin v. Oceanic Contractors, Inc., 458 U.S. 564, 575, 102 S.Ct. 3245, 73 L.Ed.2d 973 (1982) (" It is true that interpretations of a statute which would produce absurd results are to be

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avoided if alternative interpretations consistent with the legislative purpose are available." ); In re Kaiser Aluminum Corp., 456 F.3d 328, 338 (3d Cir.2006) (" A basic tenet of statutory construction is that courts should interpret a law to avoid absurd or bizarre results." ).

C. Congressional Intent

1. Removal Statute

One of Congress's key intentions in revising the removal statute was to limit the ability of defendants to remove cases to federal court. See American Fire & Cas. Co. v. Finn, 341 U.S. 6, 10, 71 S.Ct. 534, 95 L.Ed. 702 (1951) (" The Congress, in the revision, carried out its purpose to abridge the right of removal. " (emphasis added)). Judicial interpretation of the " meaning and effect" of ...


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