|July 2, 2014|
Previously published on June 25, 2014
A railroad employee working as a control operator and brakeman at a terminal created to load coal from rail cars onto ocean-bound vessels was injured and awarded benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (“LHWCA”) after tripping on coal dust and debris that had been allowed to accumulate by the railroad tracks. The employee later filed a negligence claim against the railroad in state court under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”), which provides railway employees the right to recover for injury caused by the negligence of a railroad’s officers, agents, or employees. The railroad filed a notice of removal to federal court, arguing that the employee had applied for and received benefits under the LHWCA, that the LHWCA in fact covered his injury, and that the LHWCA barred recovery under FELA. The employee moved to remand the matter to state court, alleging that the district court lacked jurisdiction to determine coverage under the LHWCA and that his FELA claim was not removable, as 28 U.S.C. § 1445(a) bars removal of FELA claims brought in state court. The railroad then filed a motion to dismiss arguing that the employee’s claim fell under the LHWCA rather than FELA.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia did not reach the merits, but granted the employee’s remand motion and denied as moot the railroad’s motion to dismiss. The railroad appealed and filed a petition for a writ of mandamus requesting vacation of the district court’s order and dismissal, or remand to have the district court address the merits of its LHWCA defense.
On Monday, the Fourth Circuit concluded it lacked jurisdiction to review the merits of the district court’s remand order. The court noted that § 1447(c) allows a district court to remand based on either a lack of subject matter jurisdiction or “any defect other than lack of subject matter jurisdiction” that was raised by a party within 30 days after the filing of the notice of removal. Although § 1445(a) does not deprive courts of subject matter jurisdiction, the Fourth Circuit concluded that non-removability based on § 1445(a) is a “defect other than lack of subject matter jurisdiction” within the meaning of § 1447(c). As such, the § 1447(d) bar applied, and the court lacked jurisdiction to review the order on appeal or to review the order via mandamus relief. The Fourth Circuit further held that the Waco severability exception, which can permit appellate review of issues collateral to a nonreviewable remand order, did not allow for a review of the motion to dismiss ruling because the district court did not reach the merits.