Defendants Lose Attempt to Remove Alabama Case to Federal Court After Fatal Failure of Bridgestone Tire

A manufacturer of an allegedly defective product may attempt to remove a personal injury lawsuit from state court to federal court, in the belief that a federal jury will be less sympathetic to plaintiffs. The most common basis for removal in such a case is diversity of citizenship, that the parties are citizens of different states and, therefore, as long as certain other conditions are met, the proper jurisdiction is federal court.

In this case, Ford Motor Company, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC, and two other companies, Woodmere Motors and M&D Automotive (“the Bridgestone Defendants”), filed a notice of removal after a lawsuit was filed following the deaths of a man and woman when a Bridgestone tire on their 1995 Ford Explorer failed catastrophically.

The basis for removal in this proceeding was that plaintiffs, citizens of Alabama, had no case against Woodmere, a corporation which was also a citizen of Alabama, and that without that defendant, the opposing parties would be from different states and the case should go to federal court.

Woodmere had sold the Ford Explorer to the man, and M&D Automotive inspected the vehicle and the sixteen-year-old Bridgestone tire, which had previously served as a spare, and installed the tire without informing the new owner of its allegedly defective condition.

 Days later, the man and woman headed north in the Ford Explorer from the Montgomery, Alabama area on Interstate 85. Shortly after they crossed into Georgia, the tire tread peeled off. The man, who was driving, lost control of the vehicle and he and the woman were both killed. They were each survived by a minor child. The children had not been involved in the fatal crash. The man and woman’s estates’ executors and the children’s guardians sued in the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Alabama.

The Bridgestone Defendants filed a notice of removal based on an affidavit from John Fitzgerald, the former president and director of defendant Woodmere, (“the Fitzgerald Affidavit”), stating that Woodmere, incorporated in Alabama, was a wholesaler at the time it owned and sold the Ford Explorer, neither inspecting the car, nor giving any warranty at the time of the sale. The Bridgestone Defendants argued that this new revelation made it impossible for plaintiffs to prove their claims against Woodmere due to its status as a wholesaler.

The other defendants hoped that by eliminating this Alabama defendant from the case, they could remove it to federal court. Plaintiffs opposed the removal and moved to remand the case for trial by the Alabama Circuit Court in Montgomery. No one contested that all of the defendants had consented to removal and that the amount in controversy was greater than the jurisdictional amount of $75,000, meeting the other federal statutory requirements for removal, so the only issue was diversity.

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama noted that “the Eleventh Circuit favors remand to state court where federal jurisdiction is not absolutely clear.” The court found that to succeed at removal, defendants were required to jump through both procedural and substantive hoops, but the procedural hoops came first. Failure to meet the procedural criteria would result in failure of the removal attempt and subsequent remand to state court.

The court found that defendants stumbled over the requirements of 28 U.S.C. section 1446(b)(3), which states that “notice of removal may be filed within thirty days after receipt by the defendant . . . 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.” This requirement has been refined to require that the paper be received by the defendant from either the plaintiff or from the court, if the document is an order. Lowery v. Ala. Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184 at 1213 n.63 (11th Cir. 2007).

The court found that defendants failed to satisfy the “receipt from the plaintiff” rule, since the Fitzgerald Affidavit was written by an employee of one of the defendants, not by plaintiffs. On this basis, defendants were tripped up and their attempt to remove the case from state court to federal court failed. The court granted plaintiffs’ motion to remand and the case proceeded in state court.

When you or a member of your family is affected by a defective product, your opponents may be companies from multiple states who will attempt to try your case wherever they believe they will have the best advantage. To succeed in bringing such a complex case, and to receive the compensation that you and your family are entitled to, you need a law firm like Jinks, Crow & Dickson, that is experienced in Alabama product liability cases. Contact Jinks, Crow & Dickson, PC today for a free case evaluation. Or call us in Montgomery or Union Springs at 888-297-9592.

More Blog Posts:
Tires – One of the Biggest Safety Threats in a Vehicle, December 15, 2013

The Use of Life Care Planning in Personal Injury Cases, June 10, 2014

Elder Care, Recalled Bed Handles, and Keeping Elderly Folks Safe, May 28, 2014

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