UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
October 15, 2012
JEREMIAH LEE MAY, AN INDIVIDUAL; SCOTT LAWRENCE MAY, AN INDIVIDUAL; GAVIN ROYD MAY, AN INDIVIDUAL; AND RUSSELL LANE, AN INDIVIDUAL, PLAINTIFFS,
RONALD LEE HAAS, AN INDIVIDUAL; SCHNEIDER NATIONAL CARRIERS, INC., AN UNKNOWN CORPORATION; AND DOES 1 THROUGH 40, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Plaintiffs, Jeremiah Lee May, Scott Lawrence May, Gavin Royd May and Russell Lane (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), originally brought this action in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Sacramento, against Defendants Ronald Lee Haas ("Haas"), an individual, and Schneider National Carriers, Inc. ("Schneider National"), a Nevada corporation with its principal place of business in Wisconsin.
Defendant Schneider National timely removed the action to this Court pursuant to the Court's diversity jurisdiction, and Plaintiffs subsequently filed a Motion to Remand, which is presently before the Court. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand is DENIED.*fn1
On May 29, 2012, Plaintiffs filed this action against Defendants Haas and Schneider National in state court alleging causes of action for wrongful death and negligence. Plaintiffs allege that, on July 30, 2011, a truck owned by Defendant Schneider National and operated by Defendant Haas collided with a car driven by decedent George May ("Decedent"). According to Plaintiffs, Defendant Haas's negligence was the cause of the accident which led to Decedent's death.
As alleged, Plaintiffs are citizens of Colorado and Kansas; Defendant Haas is a citizen of California; and Defendant Schneider National is a Nevada Corporation with its principal place of business in Wisconsin. Schneider National was served with the summons and Complaint on June 18, 2012. On July 6, 2012, Schneider National removed the action to this Court, asserting diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
It is undisputed that, at the time of the removal, Defendant Haas had not been served.*fn3
A defendant may remove any civil action from state court to federal district court if the district court has "original jurisdiction" over the matter. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Generally, district courts have original jurisdiction over civil actions in two instances: (1) where there is complete diversity between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000; or
(2) where a federal question is presented in an action arising under the Constitution, federal law, or treaty. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1332. However, under the "forum defendant rule," a diversity action "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)(2) (emphasis added).
In seeking remand, Plaintiffs argue that the removal was improper under the forum defendant rule because Defendant Haas is a California citizen. (Pl's Mot. at 5.)
In response, Schneider National contends that the removal is proper because no California citizen had been "properly joined and served" at the time of removal. (Def.'s Opp. [ECF No. 12], filed Aug. 9, 2012, at 3.) Schneider National argues that § 1441(b) should be read in accordance with the plain language of the statute such that remand is only appropriate by the presence of an in-state defendant who had already been served at the time of removal. (Id.) Plaintiffs counter that a plain language reading of § 1441(b) would result in forum shopping and gamesmanship based on the speed of service, and thus would be contrary to the purpose underlying the statute which was to discourage such behavior and to protect out-of-state defendants from possible prejudices in state court.*fn4 (Pls' Reply [ECF No. 14], filed Aug. 16, 2012, at 2.)
A plain meaning interpretation is consistent with one of the fundamental principles of statutory interpretation "that the meaning of a statute must, in the first instance, be sought in the language in which the act is framed." Caminetti v. United States, 242 U.S. 470, 485 (1917). If the statutory language "is plain, and if the law is within the constitutional authority of the lawmaking body which passed it, the sole function fo the courts is to enforce it according to its terms."
Id.; see also Barnhart v. Sigmon Coal Co., Inc., 534 U.S. 438, 461-62 (2002) ("We have stated time and again that courts must presume that a legislature says in a statute what it means and means in a statute what it says there.") (citations omitted). This Court must enforce the existing statutory text according to its plain terms unless doing so "would lead to absurd results" or "would thwart the obvious purpose of the statute." Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Brown, 380 U.S. 563, 571 (1965) (citations omitted).
In Spencer v. U.S. Dist. Ct. for N. Dist. of Cal., the Ninth Circuit applied the plain meaning interpretation of § 1441(b) when it considered "whether the joinder of a local, but completely diverse defendant, after an action has been removed to federal court, requires remand." 393 F.3d 867, 870-71 (9th Cir. 2004). The court held that the post-removal joinder of a forum defendant does not require remand so long as removal was proper at the time of removal. Id. at 871. The court explained that "[c]hallenges to removal jurisdiction require an inquiry into the circumstances at the time the notice of removal is filed." Id. "Subsequent events, at least those that do not destroy original subject-matter jurisdiction, do not require remand." Id. Thus, Ninth Circuit precedent, although not directly on point, appears to support the plain meaning interpretation of section 1441(b).*fn5
Plaintiffs rely on a line of unpublished district courts' decisions rejecting the plain meaning interpretation of § 1441(b) in favor of the interpretation based on the statute's underlying policy and purpose.*fn6 (Pls' Mot. at 8 n.4.) However, in all of the cases cited by Plaintiffs, courts found it dispositive that none of the defendants had been served prior to removal or that plaintiffs had been deprived of a meaningful opportunity to provide service before defendants filed for removal. See, e.g., Khashan, 2010 WL 1444884, at *3 (finding that none of the defendants had been served at time of removal); Mohammed, 2009 WL 857517, at *3-4 (same); Hoskinson, 2010 WL 2652467, at *2 (finding that Plaintiffs were deprived of "a sufficient opportunity to serve the forum defendant" because the case was removed two days after the suit was filed); Morris, 2010 WL 2652473, at *2 (same).
Here, Schneider National filed its Notice of Removal on July 6, 2012, twenty-eight days after the Complaint was initially filed and eighteen days after Schneider National was served.
Thus, Plaintiffs had sufficient time to effectuate service on Defendant Haas before Schneider National filed its Notice of Removal.
Contrary to Plaintiffs' assertion, Schneider National did not "race" to the courthouse to remove this case to federal court. (See Pl's Mot. at 4.) Therefore, the concern of procedural gamesmanship by defendants is not present here. Accordingly, the Court finds no reasons to depart from the plain language of § 1441(b). Under the circumstances at issue, adopting an interpretation of § 1441(b) based on its underlying purpose and policy would undermine a fundamental principle of statutory interpretation that gives deference to the plain meaning of the statute. See Caminetti, 242 U.S. at 485.
It is undisputed that Defendant Haas had not been served at the time Schneider National removed the case to this Court. It is also undisputed that complete diversity continues to exist between the parties after Haas has been served. Because no local defendant was served at the time of removal, removal of this action was proper. Therefore, Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand is denied.
Based on the foregoing, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion to Remand.
IT IS SO ORDERED.