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DHLNH, LLC v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

June 18, 2018

DHLNH, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS, LOCAL 251, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          JOHN J. MCCONNELL, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiff DHLNH, LLC's emergency motion to remand this matter to the Rhode Island Superior Court. ECF No. 4. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

         DHLNH alleges that the Defendants-International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 251 and numerous named and unnamed individuals-have engaged in unlawful picketing activities outside of DHLNH's Pawtucket, Rhode Island facility. On the morning of May 25, 2018, DHLNH filed a verified complaint and a motion for a temporary restraining order in Rhode Island Superior Court. The superior court scheduled a TRO hearing for 2:00 pm on that day. By noon, however, the Defendants had removed the matter to this Court. No. Defendant had been served by the time the action was removed.

         On the morning of the next business day, DHLNH filed an emergency motion to remand the case to state court. The Defendants responded and a hearing was held that morning, following which the Court ordered supplemental briefing on an expedited basis.

         28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) allows for “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction” to be “removed by the defendant or the defendants” to the appropriate United States district court. Whether this case can be removed, then, depends on whether this Court has original jurisdiction, either by diversity jurisdiction or federal question jurisdiction.

         A. Diversity Jurisdiction

         The Defendants assert that they removed this case on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. ECF No. 1 at 1. While it does appear that there is diversity of citizenship (see ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 1; ECF No. 10 at 3; ECF No. 11 at 6), removal in this case is barred by the forum defendant rule. That rule, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2), provides that “[a] civil action 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.” The Defendants argue that this rule cannot apply to them because none of them was “properly joined and served” prior to removal. The Court disagrees.

         As both parties note, federal courts are divided as to whether the forum defendant rule bars removal before service on the basis of diversity jurisdiction.[1] However, “the growing trend among district courts wrestling with this issue is to remand, finding that although ‘the plain meaning of [§] 1441(b)(2) permits pre-service removal by a resident defendant, . . . a literal application of this plain meaning is contrary to congressional intent and creates absurd results.'” Deutsche Bank Nat'l Tr. Co. v. Hagan, No. 15-00376 JMS-KSC, 2015 WL 7720465, at *4 (D. Haw. Nov. 27, 2015) (alterations in original) (quoting Phillips Constr., LLC v. Daniels Law Firm, PLLC, 93 F.Supp.3d 544, 550 (S.D. W.Va. 2015)).

         After all, “[o]ne of the principal purposes of diversity jurisdiction was to give a citizen of one state access to an unbiased court to protect him from parochialism if he was forced into litigation in another state in which he was a stranger and of which his opponent was a citizen.” Reimold v. Gokaslan, 110 F.Supp.3d 641, 642 (D. Md. 2015) (quoting Ziady v. Curley, 396 F.2d 873, 875 (4th Cir. 1968)). The removal power, then, allows a “non-forum defendant . . . to seek the protection of the federal court against any perceived local bias in the state court chosen by the plaintiff.” Gentile v. Biogen Idec, Inc., 934 F.Supp.2d 313, 319 (D. Mass. 2013). The prohibition on forum-defendant removal makes sense because, “when the defendant seeking removal is a citizen of the forum state, ” the “protection-from-bias rationale behind the removal power evaporates.” Id.

         Defendants' interpretation of § 1441(b)(2) would allow a loophole in which they, as forum defendants, could remove the case prior to service, even though they would be prohibited from doing so afterward. This is contrary to the purpose of § 1441(b)(2) and would lead to an absurd result. See Griffin v. Oceanic Contractors, Inc., 458 U.S. 564, 575 (1982) (“[I]nterpretations of a statute which would produce absurd results are to be avoided if alternative interpretations consistent with the legislative purpose are available.”); Wilcox v. Ives, 864 F.2d 915, 926 (1st Cir. 1988) (same).

         Accordingly, the Court finds that the forum defendant rule precludes removal on the basis of diversity jurisdiction.

         B. Federal Question Jurisdiction

         Removal would also be proper if the case “aris[es] under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The Defendants argue that the Complaint states claims based on union secondary activities, which are preempted by federal law. On this, too, the Court disagrees.

         Section 303 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 187, creates a private right of action for anyone “injured in his business or property by reason or any violation of” Section 8(b)(4) of the National Labor Relations Act ...


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