Federal court approves “snap removal” by carrier forum defendant

Serafini v. Southwest Airlines Co. (N.D. Tex. Sept. 8, 2020).  The passenger/plaintiff commenced her personal injury lawsuit against Southwest in a Texas state court.  The next day, and before service had been effected, Southwest, a Texas citizen and the sole defendant, “snap removed” the case to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction.  In other words, the court noted, “Southwest wanted to get away.”

The plaintiff filed a motion to remand.  The motion was not based on jurisdictional grounds, as the parties’ citizenships were diverse and the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000, but instead on procedural grounds.  The plaintiff contended that the snap removal was improper because Southwest was the sole defendant and a forum defendant, thus violating the limitation on removal set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2).  That statute provides that “[a] civil action otherwise removable solely on the basis of the jurisdiction under section 1332(a) of this title may not be removed if any of the parties in interest properly joined and served as defendants is a citizen of the State in which such action is brought.”

The plaintiff argued that allowing Southwest’s snap removal “would violate the removal statute’s congressional purpose and lead to an absurd result.”  The court disagreed, ruling that, “[t]o constitute absurdity, a result must be not merely odd but preposterous” and that “the result here is none of those things.”  For the court, the deciding factor was the simplest:  the plain text of the statute.  The court ruled that the ordinary meaning of the statute’s unambiguous text does not prevent a sole defendant that happens to be a forum defendant from removing a case before being served.

The court noted that “[p]erhaps Congress did not intend for this result” but that it “is not in the business of reading Congress’s 535 minds, editing its legislation, or lobbying for preferred policy outcomes in contravention of what a duly enacted statute allows or requires.”  With that, the court concluded its ruling with a “Welcome aboard” to Southwest.

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