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BYNUM v. NORFOLK S. RY. CO., NO. 13-2127

Decided: June 23, 2014

The Fourth Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to review a district court’s order that remanded a case to state court.

Gilbert Bynum, a Norfolk Southern Railway employee, was injured on the job when he tripped over debris that had accumulated alongside the railroad tracks.  Bynum applied for, and was awarded, workers’ compensation benefits as provided under the Federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).  Bynum also filed a lawsuit in state court under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), which alleged negligence on the part of Norfolk Southern.  Norfolk Southern removed the case to federal court contending that (1) because Bynum recovered under LHWCA he was barred from recovery under FELA and (2) whether Bynum’s injury was covered by the LHWCA was a federal question that should not be answered by state courts.  Bynum filed, and the district granted, a motion to remand to state court on the basis that Congress expressly eliminated the federal court’s jurisdiction over the LHWCA.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1447, appellate courts are generally prohibited from reviewing the merits of a district court’s remand order.  While the prohibition on appellate review has been limited in some ways, case law establishes that appellate courts may not review a remand that was ordered on the basis of either (1) lack of subject matter jurisdiction or (2) a defect in removal that was raised within thirty days after the notice of removal was filed.  Ellenburg v. Spartan Motor Chassis, Inc., 519 F.3d 192, 196 (4th Cir. 2008).  The Court reasoned that Norfolk Southern’s failure to comply with the statutory removal requirements, i.e. removing a FELA claim to federal court in contravention of the statutory bar to removal of FELA claims, constituted a defect and, therefore, the Court lacked jurisdiction to review the remand on appeal.

Full Opinion

Amanda K. Reasoner