CATERPILLAR INC. v. LEWIS(1996)
A district court's error in failing to remand a case improperly removed is not fatal to the ensuing adjudication if federal jurisdictional requirements are met at the time judgment is entered. Pp. 5-16.
(a) The general-diversity statute, Section(s) 1332(a), authorizes federal court jurisdiction over cases in which the citizenship of each plaintiff is diverse from the citizenship of each defendant. See Carden v. Arkoma Associates, 494 U.S. 185, 187 . When a plaintiff files a state-court civil action over which the federal district courts would have original jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship, the defendant or defendants may remove the action to federal court, Section(s) 1441(a), provided that no defendant "is a citizen of the State in which such action is brought," Section(s) 1441(b). In a case not originally removable from state court, a defendant who receives a pleading or other paper indicating the post-commencement satisfaction of federal jurisdictional requirements-e.g., by reason of a nondiverse party's dismissal-may remove the case to federal court within 30 days. Section(s) 1446(b). No case, however, may be removed based on diversity "more than 1 year after commencement of the action." Ibid. Once a defendant has filed a notice of removal in the federal court, a plaintiff objecting to removal "on the basis of any defect in removal procedure" may, within 30 days, file a motion to remand the case to state court. Section(s) 1447(c). This 30-day limit does not apply, however, to jurisdictional defects: "If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded." Ibid. Pp. 5-7.
(b) American Fire & Casualty Co. v. Finn, 341 U.S. 6 , and Grubbs v. General Elec. Credit Corp., 405 U.S. 699 , are key cases in point and tend in Caterpillar's favor. Each suggests that the existence of subject-matter jurisdiction at time of judgment may shield a judgment against later jurisdictional attack despite an improper removal. Finn, 341 U.S., at 16 ; Grubbs, 405 U.S., at 700 . However, neither decision resolves dispositively a controversy of the kind here at issue, for neither involved a plaintiff who moved promptly, but unsuccessfully, to remand a case improperly removed from state court to federal court, and then challenged on appeal a judgment entered by the federal court. Pp. 8-11.
this case when Whayne Supply was formally dismissed as a party. Nevertheless, Caterpillar moves too quickly in claiming that elimination of the jurisdictional defect before trial also cured a statutory flaw-Caterpillar's failure to meet the Section(s) 1441(a) requirement that the case be fit for federal adjudication at the time the removal petition was filed. By timely moving for remand, Lewis did all that was necessary to preserve his objection to removal. An order denying a motion to remand, ``standing alone,'' is ``obviously . . . not final and [immediately] appealable'' as of right, Chicago, R. I. & P. R. Co. v. Stude, 346 U.S. 574, 578 , and a plaintiff is not required to take an interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U. S. C. Section(s) 1292(b) in order to avoid waiving whatever ultimate appeal right he may have. Having preserved his objection, Lewis urges that ultimate satisfaction of the subject-matter jurisdiction requirement ought not swallow up antecedent statutory violations. Lewis' arguments in support of this position are hardly meritless, but they run up against an overriding consideration. Once a diversity case has been tried in federal court, with rules of decision supplied by state law under the regime of Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 , considerations of finality, efficiency, and economy become overwhelming. Cf., e.g., Newman-Green, Inc. v. Alfonzo-Larrain, 490 U.S. 826, 836 . This view is in harmony with a main theme of the removal scheme devised by Congress, which calls for expeditious superintendence by district courts. In this case, no jurisdictional defect lingered through judgment in the District Court. To wipe out the adjudication post-judgment, and return to state court a case now satisfying all federal jurisdictional requirements, would impose an exorbitant cost on our dual court system, a cost incompatible with the fair and unprotracted administration of justice. Pp. 11-15.
(d) Lewis' prediction that rejection of his petition will provide state-court defendants with an enormous incentive to attempt unlawful removals rests on an assumption this Court does not indulge-that federal district courts generally will not comprehend, or will balk at applying, the removal rules Congress has prescribed. The prediction furthermore assumes defendants' readiness to gamble that any jurisdictional defect, for example, the absence of complete diversity, will first escape detection, then disappear prior to judgment. This Court is satisfied that the well-advised defendant will foresee the likely outcome of an unwarranted removal-a swift, and nonreviewable remand order, see whose authority has been improperly invoked. Pp. 15-16.
Reversed and remanded.
Ginsburg, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D.C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
[End of Syllabus]
The question presented is whether the absence of complete diversity at the time of removal is fatal to federal court adjudication. We hold that a district court's error in failing to remand a case improperly removed is not fatal to the ensuing adjudication if federal jurisdictional requirements are met at the time judgment is entered.
Several months later, Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, the insurance carrier for Lewis' employer, intervened in the lawsuit as a plaintiff. A Massachusetts corporation with its principal place of business in that State, Liberty Mutual asserted subrogation claims against both Caterpillar and Whayne Supply for workers' compensation benefits Liberty Mutual had paid to Lewis on behalf of his employer.
Lewis entered into a settlement agreement with defendant Whayne Supply less than a year after filing his complaint. Shortly after learning of this agreement, Caterpillar filed a notice of removal, on June 21, 1990, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. Grounding federal jurisdiction on diversity of citizenship, see 28 U. S. C. Section(s) 1332, Caterpillar satisfied with only a day to spare the statutory requirement that a diversity-based removal take place within one year of a lawsuit's commencement, see 28 U. S. C. Section(s) 1446(b). Caterpillar's notice of removal explained that the case was nonremovable at the lawsuit's start: Complete diversity was absent then because plaintiff Lewis and defendant Whayne Supply shared Kentucky citizenship. App. 31. Proceeding on the understanding that the settlement agreement between these two Kentucky parties would result in the dismissal of Whayne Supply from the lawsuit, Caterpillar stated that the settlement rendered the case removable. Id., at 31-32.
Lewis objected to the removal and moved to remand the case to state court. Lewis acknowledged that he had settled his own claims against Whayne Supply. But Liberty Mutual had not yet settled its subrogation claim against Whayne Supply, Lewis asserted. Whayne Supply's presence as a defendant in the lawsuit, Lewis urged, defeated diversity of citizenship. Id., at 36. Without addressing this argument, the District Court denied Lewis' motion to remand on September 24, 1990, treating as dispositive Lewis' admission that he had settled his own claims against Whayne Supply. Id., at 55.
Discovery, begun in state court, continued in the now federal lawsuit, and the parties filed pretrial conference papers beginning in July 1991. In June 1993, plaintiff Liberty Mutual and defendant Whayne Supply entered into a settlement of Liberty Mutual's subrogation claim, and the District Court dismissed Whayne Supply from the lawsuit. With Caterpillar as the sole defendant adverse to Lewis, 1 the case proceeded to a 6-day jury trial in November 1993, ending in a unanimous verdict for Caterpillar. The District Court entered judgment for Caterpillar on November 23, 1993, and denied Lewis' motion for a new trial on February 1, 1994.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit accepted Lewis' argument that, at the time of removal, Whayne Supply remained a defendant in the case due to Liberty Mutual's subrogation claim against it. App. to Pet. for Cert. 8a. Because the party lineup, on removal, included Kentucky plaintiff Lewis and Kentucky defendant Whayne Supply, the Court of Appeals observed that diversity was not complete when Caterpillar took the case from state court to federal court. Id., at 8a-9a. Consequently, the Court of Appeals concluded, the District Court "erred in denying [Lewis'] motion to remand this case to the state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction." Id., at 9a. That error, according to the Court of Appeals, made it necessary to vacate the District Court's judgment. Ibid. 2
Caterpillar petitioned for this Court's review. Caterpillar stressed that the nondiverse defendant, Whayne Supply, had been dismissed from the lawsuit prior to trial. It was therefore improper, Caterpillar urged, for the Court of Appeals to vacate the District Court's judgment-entered after several years of litigation and a 6-day trial-on account of a jurisdictional defect cured, all agreed, by the time of trial and judgment. Pet. for Cert. 8. We granted certiorari, 517 U. S. ___ (1996), and now reverse.
When a plaintiff files in state court a civil action over which the federal district courts would have original jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship, the defendant or defendants may remove the action to federal court, 28 U. S. C. Section(s) 1441(a), provided that no defendant "is a citizen of the State in which such action is brought," Section(s) 1441(b). 4 In a case not originally removable, a defendant who receives a pleading or other paper indicating the post-commencement satisfaction of federal jurisdictional requirements-for example, by reason of the dismissal of a nondiverse party-may remove the case to federal court within 30 days of receiving such information. Section(s) 1446(b). No case, however, may be removed from state to federal court based on diversity of citizenship "more than 1 year after commencement of the action." Ibid. 5
Once a defendant has filed a notice of removal in the federal district court, a plaintiff objecting to removal "on the basis of any defect in removal procedure" may, within 30 days, file a motion asking the district court to remand the case to state court. Section(s) defects: "If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded." Ibid. 6
In Finn, two defendants removed a case to federal court on the basis of diversity of citizenship. 341 U.S., at 7 -8. Eventually, final judgment was entered for the plaintiff against one of the removing defendants. Id., at 8. The losing defendant urged on appeal, and before this Court, that the judgment could not stand because the requisite diversity jurisdiction, it turned out, existed neither at the time of removal nor at the time of judgment. Agreeing with the defendant, we held that the absence of federal jurisdiction at the time of judgment required the Court of Appeals to vacate the District Court's judgment. Id., at 17-18. 8
Finn's holding does not speak to the situation here, where the requirement of complete diversity was satisfied at the time of judgment. But Caterpillar points to well-known dicta in Finn more helpful to its cause. "There are cases," the Court observed, "which uphold judgments in the district courts even though there was no right to removal." Id., at 16. 9 "In those cases," the Finn Court explained, "the federal trial court would have had original jurisdiction of the controversy had it been brought in the federal court in the posture it had at the time of the actual trial of the cause or of the entry of the judgment." Ibid.
The discussion in Finn concentrated on cases in which courts held removing defendants estopped from challenging final judgments on the basis of removal errors. See id., at 17. The Finn Court did not address the situation of a plaintiff such as Lewis, who chose a state court as the forum for his lawsuit, timely objected to removal before the District Court, and then challenged the removal on appeal from an adverse judgment.
In Grubbs, a civil action filed in state court was removed to federal court on the petition of the United States, which had been named as a party defendant in a "cross-action" filed by the original defendant. 405 U.S., at 700 -701; see 28 U. S. C. Section(s) 1444 (authorizing removal of actions brought against the United States, pursuant to 28 U. S. C. Section(s) 2410, with respect to property on which the United States has or claims a lien). No party objected to the removal before trial or judgment. See Grubbs, 405 U.S., at 701 . The Court of Appeals nonetheless held, on its own motion, that the "interpleader" of the United States was spurious, and that removal had therefore been improper under 28 U. S. C. Section(s) 1444. See Grubbs, 405 U.S., at 702 . On this basis, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court's judgment should be vacated and the case remanded to state court. See ibid.
This Court reversed. Id., at 700. We explained:
Beyond question, as Lewis acknowledges, there was in this case complete diversity, and therefore federal subject-matter jurisdiction, at the time of trial and judgment. See Brief for Respondent 18-19 (diversity became complete "when Liberty Mutual settled its subrogation claim with Whayne Supply and the latter was formally dismissed from the case"). The case had by then become, essentially, a two-party lawsuit: Lewis, a citizen of Kentucky, was the sole plaintiff; Caterpillar, incorporated in Delaware with its principal place of business in Illinois, was the sole defendant Lewis confronted. Caterpillar maintains that this change cured the threshold statutory misstep, i.e., the removal of a case when diversity was incomplete. Brief for Petitioner 7, 13.
Caterpillar moves too quickly over the terrain we must cover. The jurisdictional defect was cured, i.e., complete diversity was established before the trial commenced. Therefore, the Sixth Circuit erred in resting its decision on the absence of subject-matter jurisdiction. But a statutory flaw-Caterpillar's failure to meet the Section(s) 1441(a) requirement that the case be fit for federal adjudication at the time the removal petition is filed-remained in the unerasable history of the case.
And Lewis, by timely moving for remand, did all that was required to preserve his objection to removal. An order denying a motion to remand, "standing alone," is "[o]bviously . . . not final and [immediately] appealable" as of right. Chicago, R. I. & P. R. Co. v. Stude, 346 U.S. 574, 578 (1954). Nor is a plaintiff required to seek permission to take an interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U. S. C. Section(s) 1292(b) 10 in order to avoid waiving whatever ultimate appeal right he may have. 11 Indeed, if a party had to invoke Section(s) 1292(b) in order to preserve an objection to an interlocutory ruling, litigants would be obliged to seek Section(s) 1292(b) certifications constantly. Routine resort to Section(s) 1292(b) requests would hardly comport with Congress' design to reserve interlocutory review for " `exceptional' " cases while generally retaining for the federal courts a firm final judgment rule. Coopers & Lybrand v. Livesay, 437 U.S. 463, 475 (1978) (quoting Fisons, Ltd. v. United States, 458 F. 2d 1241, 1248 (CA7), cert. denied, 405 U.S. 1041 (1972)).
Having preserved his objection to an improper removal, Lewis urges that an "all's well that ends well" approach is inappropriate here. He maintains that ultimate satisfaction of the subject-matter jurisdiction requirement ought not swallow up antecedent statutory violations. The course Caterpillar advocates, Lewis observes, would disfavor diligent plaintiffs who timely, but unsuccessfully, move to check improper removals in district court. Further, that course would allow improperly removing defendants to profit from their disregard of Congress' instructions, and their ability to lead district judges into error.
Concretely, in this very case, Lewis emphasizes, adherence to the rules Congress prescribed for removal would have kept the case in state court. Only by removing prematurely was Caterpillar able to get to federal court inside the 1-year limitation set in Section(s) 1446(b). 12 Had Caterpillar waited until the case was ripe for removal, i.e., until Whayne Supply was dismissed as a defendant, the 1-year limitation would have barred the way, 13 and plaintiff's choice of forum would have been preserved. 14
These arguments are hardly meritless, but they run up against an overriding consideration. Once a diversity case has been tried in federal court, with rules of decision supplied by state law under the regime of Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938), considerations of finality, efficiency, and economy become overwhelming.
Our decision in Newman-Green, Inc. v. Alfonzo-Larrain, 490 U.S. 826 (1989), is instructive in this regard. Newman-Green did not involve removal, but it did involve the federal courts' diversity jurisdiction and a party defendant whose presence, like Whayne Supply's in this case, blocked complete diversity. Newman-Green proceeded to summary judgment with the jurisdictional flaw-the absence of complete diversity-undetected. See id., at 828-829. The Court of Appeals noticed the flaw, invited the parties to address it, and, en banc, returned the case to the District Court "to determine whether it would be prudent to drop [the jurisdiction spoiler] from the litigation." Id., at 830. We held that the Court of Appeals itself had authority "to dismiss a dispensable nondiverse party," although we recognized that, ordinarily, district courts are better positioned to make such judgments. Id., at 837-838. "[R]equiring dismissal after years of litigation," the Court stressed in Newman-Green, "would impose unnecessary and wasteful burdens on the parties, judges, and other litigants waiting for judicial attention." Id., at 836. The same may be said of the remand to state court Lewis seeks here. Cf. Knop v. McMahan, 872 F. 2d 1132, 1139, n. 16 (CA3 1989) ("To permit a case in which there is complete diversity throughout trial to proceed to judgment and then cancel the effect of that judgment and relegate the parties to a new trial in a state court because of a brief lack of complete diversity at the beginning of the case would be a waste of judicial resources.").
Our view is in harmony with a main theme of the removal scheme Congress devised. Congress ordered a procedure calling for expeditious superintendence by district courts. The lawmakers specified a short time, 30 days, for motions to remand for defects in removal procedure, 28 U. S. C. Section(s) 1447(c), and district court orders remanding cases to state courts generally are "not reviewable on appeal or otherwise," Section(s) 1447(d). Congress did not similarly exclude appellate review of refusals to remand. But an evident concern that may explain the lack of symmetry relates to the federal courts' subject-matter jurisdiction. Despite a federal trial court's threshold denial of a motion to remand, if, at the end of the day and case, a jurisdictional defect remains uncured, the judgment must be vacated. See Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 12(h)(3) ("Whenever it appears by suggestion of the parties or otherwise that the court lacks jurisdiction of the subject matter, the court shall dismiss the action."); Finn, 341 U.S., at 18 . In this case, however, no jurisdictional defect lingered through judgment in the District Court. To wipe out the adjudication post-judgment, and return to state court a case now satisfying all federal jurisdictional requirements, would impose an exorbitant cost on our dual court system, a cost incompatible with the fair and unprotracted administration of justice.
Lewis ultimately argues that, if the final judgment against him is allowed to stand, "all of the various procedural requirements for removal will become unenforceable"; therefore, "defendants will have an enormous incentive to attempt wrongful removals." Brief for Respondent 9. In particular, Lewis suggests that defendants will remove prematurely "in the hope that some subsequent developments, such as the eventual dismissal of nondiverse defendants, will permit th[e] case to be kept in federal court." Id., at 21. We do not anticipate the dire consequences Lewis forecasts.
The procedural requirements for removal remain enforceable by the federal trial court judges to whom those requirements are directly addressed. Lewis' prediction that rejection of his petition will "encourag[e] state court defendants to remove cases improperly," id., at 19, rests on an assumption we do not indulge-that district courts generally will not comprehend, or will balk at applying, the rules on removal Congress has prescribed. The prediction furthermore assumes defendants' readiness to gamble that any jurisdictional defect, for example, the absence of complete diversity, will first escape detection, then disappear prior to judgment. The well-advised defendant, we are satisfied, will foresee the likely outcome of an unwarranted removal-a swift, and nonreviewable remand order, see 28 U. S. C. Section(s) authority has been improperly invoked. The odds against any gain from a wrongful removal, in sum, render improbable Lewis' projection of increased resort to the maneuver.
* * *
For the reasons stated, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
[ Footnote 1 ] In accord with 28 U. S. C. Section(s) 1367 and Rule 14 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Caterpillar, after removing the case to federal court, impleaded Lewis' employer, Gene Wilson Enterprises, a Kentucky corporation, as a third-party defendant. See App. 2. Gene Wilson Enterprises, so far as the record shows, remained a named third-party defendant, adverse solely to third-party plaintiff Caterpillar, through judgment. See Brief for Respondent 5. No dispute ran between Lewis and his employer, and Caterpillar's third-party complaint against Gene Wilson Enterprises had no bearing on the authority of the federal court to adjudicate the diversity claims Lewis asserted against Caterpillar. See, e.g., Wichita Railroad & Light Co. v. Public Util. Comm'n of Kan., 260 U. S. 48, 54 (1922) (federal jurisdiction once acquired on the ground of complete diversity of citizenship is unaffected by the subsequent intervention "of a party whose presence is not essential to a decision of the controversy between the original parties"). As elaborated in 3 J. Moore, Moore's Federal Practice Para(s) 14.26, p. 14-116 (2d ed. 1996) (footnotes omitted): "Once federal subject matter jurisdiction is established over the underlying case between [plaintiff] and [defendant], the jurisdictional propriety of each additional claim is to be assessed individually. Thus, assuming that jurisdiction is based upon diversity of citizenship between [plaintiff] and [defendant], the question concerning impleader is whether there is a jurisdictional basis for the claim by [defendant] against [third-party defendant]. The fact that [plaintiff] and [third-party defendant] may be co-citizens is completely irrelevant. Unless [plaintiff] chooses to amend his complaint to assert a claim against [third-party defendant], [plaintiff] and [third-party defendant] are simply not adverse, and there need be no basis of jurisdiction between them."
[ Footnote 2 ] Because the Court of Appeals held the District Court lacked jurisdiction over the case, it did not reach several other issues Lewis raised on appeal. See App. to Pet. for Cert. 2a, 9a, n. 3.
[ Footnote 3 ] This "complete diversity" interpretation of the general-diversity provision is a matter of statutory construction. "Article III poses no obstacle to the legislative extension of federal jurisdiction, founded on diversity, so long as any two adverse parties are not co-citizens." State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Tashire, 386 U.S. 523, 531 (1967).
[ Footnote 4 ] In relevant part, 28 U. S. C. Section(s) 1441 provides:
[ Footnote 8 ] The Court left open in Finn the question whether, on remand to the District Court, "a new judgment [could] be entered on the old verdict without a new trial" if the nondiverse defendant were dismissed from the case. 341 U.S., at 18 , n. 18. In the litigation's second round, the District Court allowed the plaintiff to dismiss all claims against the nondiverse defendant. See Finn v. American Fire & Casualty Co., 207 F. 2d 113, 114 (CA5 1953), cert. denied, 347 U.S. 912 (1954). Thereafter, the District Court granted a new trial, on the assumption that the original judgment could not stand for lack of jurisdiction. See ibid. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit set aside the judgment entered after the second trial and ordered the original judgment reinstated. Id., at 117.
[ Footnote 9 ] The Court cited Baggs v. Martin, 179 U. S. 206 (1900), and three lower federal court cases. Finn, 341 U.S., at 16 , n. 14.
[ Footnote 10 ] Section 1292(b) provides for interlocutory appeals from otherwise not immediately appealable orders, if conditions specified in the section are met, the district court so certifies, and the court of appeals exercises its discretion to take up the request for review.
[ Footnote 11 ] On brief, Caterpillar argued that "Lewis effectively waived his objection to removal by failing to seek an immediate appeal of the district court's refusal to remand." Brief for Petitioner 13. We reject this waiver argument, though we recognize that it has attracted some support in Court of Appeals opinions. See, e.g., Able v. Upjohn Co., 829 F. 2d 1330, 1333-1334 (CA4 1987), cert. denied, 485 U.S. 963 (1988).
[ Footnote 12 ] Congress amended Section(s) 1446(b) in 1988 to include the 1-year limitation in order to "reduc[e] the opportunity for removal after substantial progress has been made in state court." H. R. Rep. No. 100-889, p. 72 (1988).
[ Footnote 13 ] On appeal, Lewis raised only the absence of diversity. He did not refer to the 1-year limitation prior to his brief on the merits in this Court. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 17, 30-31. Under this Court's Rule 15.2, a nonjurisdictional argument not raised in a respondent's brief in opposition to a petition for a writ of certiorari "may be deemed waived." Under the facts of this case, however, addressing the implications of Section(s) 1446(b)'s 1-year limitation is " `predicate to an intelligent resolution' of the question presented." Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U. S. ___, ___ (1996) (slip op., at 4) (quoting Vance v. Terrazas, 444 U.S. 252, 258 -259, n. 5 (1980)). We therefore regard the issue as one "fairly included" within the question presented. This Court's Rule 14.1. The parties addressed the issue in their briefs and at oral argument, and we exercise our discretion to decide it.
[ Footnote 14 ] Lewis preferred state court to federal court based on differences he perceived in, inter alia, the state and federal jury systems and rules of evidence. See Brief for Respondent 22-23.