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On October 1, 2021, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of MG+M client The Boeing Company (“Boeing”) in an appeal of an order that remanded the case to state court. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s remand order and adopted Boeing’s argument that the thirty day removal clock is not triggered until “an amended pleading, motion, order, or other paper” makes the grounds for removal “unequivocally clear and certain.”[1]

The federal officer removal statute is codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1442 and permits removal if: (1) the removing party is a “person”; (2) a causal nexus exists between the plaintiff’s claims and defendant’s actions taken at the direction of a federal officer; and (3) the removing party has a colorable federal defense.[2] 28 U.S.C. § 1446 governs the corresponding procedure for such removal and allows two pathways for perfecting removal:  (1)  if the basis for removal is clear from the initial pleading, the case must be removed within thirty days from receipt of that pleading; or (2)  if the case stated by the initial pleading is not removable, the case must be removed within thirty days of receipt of “an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable.”[3]

In the underlying case, Plaintiff sued Boeing and other defendants in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that she developed mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos. Plaintiff’s Complaint failed to state any basis for removal, but Plaintiff later alleged that she was exposed to asbestos through the work her husband allegedly performed on Boeing aircraft while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, thus triggering federal officer jurisdiction.  Boeing removed the case, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3), within thirty days of ascertaining that the case was removable.[4]  Nevertheless, the district court, relying on its interpretation of Durham v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 445 F.3d 1247, 1253 (9th Cir. 2006), rejected the “unequivocally clear and certain” standard for triggering removal argued by Boeing, and concluded that Boeing’s removal was untimely because it was in possession of “sufficient facts” to justify removal prior to receiving Plaintiff’s amended discovery responses.  Accordingly, the district court granted Plaintiff’s motion to remand and awarded attorneys’ fees to Plaintiff, finding that Boeing’s removal was objectively unreasonable. Boeing appealed.

The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court, finding that Boeing removed the case within thirty days of ascertaining that the case was removable.  Dietrich v. The Boeing Company, et al., No. 19-56409 (Ninth Circuit 2021) at 14.  The Court explained that the district court’s reliance on Durham’s statement that the removal clock begins to run when “sufficient facts” are disclosed was misplaced because it “does not tell us when the facts disclosed” are sufficient.  Id. at 13 (emphasis in original).  Its reliance equated “facts sufficient to allow removal with facts sufficient to require removal.” Id.  (emphasis in original).  To avoid such confusion
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