E-Alert Case Updates
Asbestos Plaintiffs’ Motion to Remand Is Denied
Jones v. John Crane-Houdaille, Inc
Pending before the United States District Court for the District of Maryland was Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand this product liability action to Maryland state court. After Michael R. Jones (“Mr. Jones”) was diagnosed with mesothelioma, he and his wife, Paulette P. Jones, brought an asbestos product liability suit in Maryland state court against nearly two dozen manufacturers and other companies. The Defendants removed the case to federal court, contending that Mr. Jones’ alleged exposure occurred on a federal enclave; and therefore, the Court had federal jurisdiction, jurisdiction pursuant to 16 U.S.C. § 457, or both. The Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Remand, challenging the sufficiency of the Defendants’ Notice of Removal.
Mr. Jones and his wife filed a short form asbestos liability Complaint in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City on June 14, 2011. Defendants discovered that the only jobsite on which Mr. Jones was alleged to have been exposed to asbestos was Edgewood Arsenal at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Edgewood, Maryland. In their Notice of Removal, Defendants claimed Edgewood Arsenal “is a Federal enclave, and thus, controlled under Federal enclave jurisdiction.” A Federal enclave is an area over which the federal government has assumed exclusive legislative jurisdiction through the application of Art. I, § 8 of the U.S. Constitution.
The Notice of Removal articulated two (2) theories under which Edgewood Arsenal’s alleged federal enclave status could result in federal court jurisdiction. First, the Defendants asserted that the federal question jurisdiction existed under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 as a direct result of the Arsenal’s enclave status. A suit based on events occurring in a federal enclave, where state law has been federalized, must necessarily arise under Federal law and implicates federal question jurisdiction under § 1331.
As a second theory, Defendants referenced 16 U.S.C. § 457, a 1928 Federal statute that prescribes the appropriate application of state law in actions for death or personal injury “within a national park or other place subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States.” Fourth Circuit precedent squarely supports the exercise of federal jurisdiction under § 457, though there is some lack of clarity about whether § 457 simply gives rise to § 1331 federal question jurisdiction or whether § 457 creates a separate grant of federal jurisdiction independent of § 1331.
In moving to remand, the Plaintiffs did not contest the Defendants’ legal theories. Rather they argued that the Notice of Removal was facially defective because it contained an insufficient showing that Edgewood Arsenal was in fact a federal enclave. Plaintiffs relied upon the fact that the Defendants’ Notice of Removal did not contain any reference to consent by the State of Maryland to exclusive federal legislative jurisdiction over the property. As a result, the Plaintiffs argued, the Notice of Removal failed to set out the jurisdictional facts that would support federal jurisdiction.
The Court did not agree with Plaintiffs’ theory. The federal removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1446(a), provides the content requirements for a notice of removal. Thus, a court cannot hold a removing party’s notice of removal to “a higher pleading standard . . . .”
The Court found that the Notice of Removal was not defective for failing to allege Maryland’s consent to exclusive federal legislative jurisdiction. A United States District Court for the District of Maryland judge has previously explained, in detail, why the federal government has exclusive legislative jurisdiction over portions of, at least, the Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Essentially, the Maryland “general consent statute” in effect at the establishment of the Aberdeen Proving Ground provided the State’s consent to exclusive legislative jurisdiction by the United States for any land the federal government acquired for arsenals, among other purposes. Other judges in this Court have also noted that parts of Aberdeen Proving Ground are federal enclaves. To meet their standard, Defendants did not need to provide enough facts to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Mr. Jones worked on a federal enclave. Rather, Defendants needed only to provide enough factual allegations “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”
Given the existence of the 1906 general consent statute, and the repeated references by judges in this court to the federal enclave status of portions or all of Aberdeen Proving Ground, the Court found that it was certainly plausible that Mr. Jones’s workplace on Edgewood Arsenal was in a federal enclave where the federal government had exclusive legislative jurisdiction. The Court, however, gave Plaintiff hope by confirming that if discovery later revealed that Mr. Jones’s workplace was not a federal enclave, then it would be appropriate to remand the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Until then, however, the Court ruled that Defendants’ alleged facts and provided legal theories sufficient to meet the threshold the Fourth Circuit has set for a notice of removal. Thus, Plaintiffs’ Motion to Remand was denied, but without prejudice pending further discovery.
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