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There are no Equitable Exceptions to Jurisdictional Rules
Hill Int’l, Inc. v. Suffolk Constr. Co., Inc.
In Hill Int’l, Inc. v. Suffolk Constr. Co., Inc., Judge Hollander of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland held that there were no equitable exceptions to the one (1)-year limit on removals. Judge Hollander held that that the removal statute was a grant of jurisdiction and therefore, equitable exceptions are inapplicable.
Hill arose out of a construction contract dispute over the Silo Point Condominiums built in Locus Point, Baltimore. Hill International, Inc. (“Hill”), a consultant on the construction project, sought $39,717.44 in unjust enrichment from Suffolk Construction Company, Inc. (“Suffolk”), the general contractor. Hill filed its claim in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City on May 10, 2010. On August 22, 2011, over a year later, Hill filed a Third Amended Complaint in which it increased its damages claim from $39,717.44 to over three (3) million dollars. Within thirty (30) days of the filing of the Third Amended Complaint, Suffolk removed the action to Federal Court on diversity grounds.
Hill contested the removal on the grounds that it was not timely. 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b) provides that, “a case may not be removed on the basis of jurisdiction conferred by section 1332 of this title more than 1 year after commencement of the action.” Hill maintained that Suffolk was barred from removing the case because Suffolk attempted to remove well beyond the one (1)-year deadline to do so.
Suffolk argued that equity permitted it to remove the action. Suffolk argued that Hill intentionally obscured the true amount of its damages until after the one (1)-year removal deadline had expired. Therefore, Suffolk argued that it was manifestly unfair to permit a plaintiff to deliberately avoid removal simply by amending its complaint after the deadline to remove has expired.
Judge Hollander analyzed whether Section 1446(b)’s one (1)-year limit constitutes an absolute bar to removal, or whether exceptions to the time limit can be made on equitable grounds. Judge Hollander noted that, while the Fourth Circuit has not expressly decided whether equitable exceptions to the one (1)-year limit are permissible, the Fourth Circuit has described Section 1446(b) as “erecting an absolute bar to removal of cases in which jurisdiction is premised on 28 U.S.C. § 1332 more than 1 year after commencement of the action.” Lovern v. Gen. Motors Corp., 121 F.3d 160, 163 (4th Cir. 1997). Additionally, Judge Hollander relied on Judge Richard D. Bennett’s opinion in Lexington Market v. Desman Assoc., wherein he stated, “the one-year limitation is jurisdictional, and that equitable considerations are consequently inapplicable.” Lexington Market v. Desman Assoc., 598 F. Supp. 2d 707, 713-14 (D. Md. 2009). Therefore, Judge Hollander likewise held that the one (1)-year limitation was an absolute bar, and she denied removal.
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