Home Depot U.S. A., Inc. v. Jackson, 052819 FEDSC, 17-1471

Docket Nº:17-1471
Opinion Judge:THOMAS JUSTICE
Party Name:HOME DEPOT U.S. A., INC., PETITIONER v. GEORGE W. JACKSON
Judge Panel:Justice Alito, with whom The Chief Justice, Justice Gorsuch, and Justice Kavanaugh join, dissenting.
Case Date:May 28, 2019
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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587 U.S. ____ (2019)

HOME DEPOT U.S. A., INC., PETITIONER

v.

GEORGE W. JACKSON

No. 17-1471

United States Supreme Court

May 28, 2019

Argued January 15, 2019

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

Citibank, N. A., filed a debt-collection action in state court, alleging that respondent Jackson was liable for charges incurred on a Home Depot credit card. As relevant here, Jackson responded by filing third-party classaction claims against petitioner Home Deport U.S. A., Inc., and Carolina Water Systems, Inc., alleging that they had engaged in unlawful referral sales and deceptive and unfair trade practices under state law. Home Depot filed a notice to remove the case from state to federal court, but Jackson moved to remand, arguing that controlling precedent barred removal by a third-party counterclaim defendant. The District Court granted Jackson's motion, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that neither the general removal provision, 28 U.S.C. §1441(a), nor the removal provision in the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, §1453(b), allowed Home Depot to remove the classaction claims filed against it.

Held:

1. Section 1441(a) does not permit removal by a third-party counterclaim defendant. Home Depot emphasizes that it is a "defendant" to a "claim," but §1441(a) refers to "civil action[s]," not "claims." And because the action as defined by the plaintiff's complaint is the "civil action . . . of which the district cour[t]" must have "original jurisdiction," "the defendant" to that action is the defendant to the complaint, not a party named in a counterclaim. This conclusion is bolstered by the use of the term "defendant" in related contexts. For one, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure differentiate between third-party defendants, counterclaim defendants, and defendants. See, e.g., Rules 14, 12(a)(1)(A)-(B). And in other removal provisions, Congress has clearly extended removal authority to parties other than the original defendant, see, e.g., §§1452(a), 1454(a), (b), but has not done so here. Finally, if, as this Court has held, a counterclaim defendant who was the original plaintiff is not one of "the defendants," see Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 106-109, there is no textual reason to reach a different conclusion for a counterclaim defendant who was not part of the initial lawsuit. This reading, Home Depot asserts, runs counter to the history and purposes of removal by preventing a party involuntarily brought into state-court proceedings from removing the claim against it to federal court. But the limits Congress has imposed on removal show that it did not intend to allow all defendants an unqualified right to remove, see, e.g., §1441(b)(2), and Home Depot's interpretation makes little sense in the context of other removal provisions, see, e.g., §1446(b)(2)(A). Pp. 5-9.

2. Section 1453(b) does not permit removal by a third-party counterclaim defendant. Home Depot contends that even if §1441(a) does not permit removal here, §1453(b) does because it permits removal by "any defendant" to a "class action." But the two clauses in §1453(b) that employ the term "any defendant" simply clarify that certain limitations on removal that might otherwise apply do not limit removal under that provision. And neither clause-nor anything else in the statute-alters §1441(a)'s limitation on who can remove, suggesting that Congress intended to leave that limit in place. In addition, §§1453(b) and 1441(a) both rely on the procedures for removal in §1446, which also employs the term "defendant." Interpreting that term to have different meanings in different sections would render the removal provisions incoherent. Pp. 9-11.

880 F.3d 165, affirmed.

OPINION

THOMAS JUSTICE

The general removal statute, 28 U.S.C. §1441(a), provides that "any civil action" over which a federal court would have original jurisdiction may be removed to federal court by "the defendant or the defendants." The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA) provides that "[a] class action" may be removed to federal court by "any defendant without the consent of all defendants." 28 U.S.C. §1453(b). In this case, we address whether either provision allows a third-party counterclaim defendant- that is, a party brought into a lawsuit through a counterclaim filed by the original defendant-to remove the counterclaim filed against it. Because in the context of these removal provisions the term "defendant" refers only to the party sued by the original plaintiff, we conclude that neither provision allows such a third party to remove.

I

A

We have often explained that "[f]ederal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Article III, §2, of the Constitution delineates "[t]he character of the controversies over which federal judicial authority may extend." Insurance Corp. of Ireland v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 701 (1982). And lower federal-court jurisdiction "is further limited to those subjects encompassed within a statutory grant of jurisdiction." Ibid. Accordingly, "the district courts may not exercise jurisdiction absent a statutory basis." Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Services, Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 552 (2005).

In 28 U.S.C. §§1331 and 1332(a), Congress granted federal courts jurisdiction over two general types of cases: cases that "aris[e] under" federal law, §1331, and cases in which the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 and there is diversity of citizenship among the parties, §1332(a). These jurisdictional grants are known as "federal-question jurisdiction" and "diversity jurisdiction," respectively. Each serves a distinct purpose: Federal-question jurisdiction affords parties a federal forum in which "to vindicate federal rights," whereas diversity jurisdiction provides "a neutral forum" for parties from different States. Exxon Mobil Corp., supra, at 552.

Congress has modified these general grants of jurisdiction to provide federal courts with jurisdiction in certain other types of cases. As relevant here, CAFA provides district courts with jurisdiction over "class action[s]" in which the matter in controversy exceeds $5, 000, 000 and at least one class member is a citizen of a State different from the defendant. §1332(d)(2)(A). A "class action" is "any civil action filed under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or similar State statute or rule of judicial procedure." §1332(d)(1)(B).

In addition to granting federal courts jurisdiction over certain types of cases, Congress has enacted provisions that permit parties to remove cases originally filed in state court to federal court. Section 1441(a), the general removal statute, permits "the defendant or the defendants" in a state-court action over which the federal courts would have original jurisdiction to remove that action to federal court. To remove under this provision, a party must meet the requirements for removal detailed in other provisions. For one, a defendant cannot remove unilaterally. Instead, "all defendants who have been properly joined and served must join in or consent to the removal of the action." §1446(b)(2)(A). Moreover, when federal jurisdiction is based on diversity jurisdiction, the case generally must be removed within "1 year after commencement of the action," §1446(c)(1), and the case may not be removed if any defendant is "a citizen of the State in which such action is brought," §1441(b)(2).

CAFA also includes a removal provision specific to class actions. That provision permits the removal of a "class action" from state court to federal court "by any defendant without the consent of all defendants" and "without regard to whether any defendant is a citizen of the State in which the action is brought." §1453(b).

At issue here is whether the term "defendant" in either §1441(a) or §1453(b) encompasses a party brought into a lawsuit to defend against a counterclaim filed by the original defendant or whether the provisions limit removal authority to the original defendant.

B

In June 2016, Citibank, N. A., filed a debt-collection action against respondent George Jackson in North Carolina state court. Citibank alleged that Jackson was liable for charges he incurred on a Home Depot credit card. In August 2016, Jackson answered and filed his own claims: an individual counterclaim against Citibank and third-party class-action claims against Home Depot U.S. A., Inc., and Carolina Water Systems, Inc.

Jackson's claims arose out of an alleged scheme between Home Depot and Carolina Water Systems to induce homeowners to buy water treatment systems at inflated prices. The crux of the claims was that Home Depot and Carolina Water Systems...

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