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Week 11 (2019)

Week of March 11, 2019 through March 15, 2019

NCO Fin. Sys., Inc. v. Montgomery Park, LLC (Niemeyer 3/15/2019): The Fourth Circuit held that a mitigation obligation does not implicate the doctrine of “mutual breach.” Instead, the mitigation-of-damages doctrine applies. Under this doctrine a lessor’s duty to mitigate damages merely requires that it act reasonably to re-let the space under the circumstances. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded it for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. Full Opinion

Highlight Case

Burrell v. Bayer Corp., No. 17-1715

Decided: March 14, 2019

The Fourth Circuit held state-law claims alleging negligence per se and fraud on Food and Drug Administration did not raise substantial federal questions.

Petitioners Kristiana Tweed Burrell and her husband filed suit against Bayer in connection with a female sterilization device known as Essure, alleging that Burrell suffered a stillbirth and then underwent a hysterectomy due to complications from the device. The Burrells commenced this action in North Carolina state court, seeking damages for violations of North Carolina tort and products liability law. The issue addressed on appeal did not involve the merits of the Burrells’ claims, but whether those claims should be heard in state or federal court. The Court held that the case be remanded to state court.

The Bayers argued it was a federal case. They reasoned that although they sought relief under state law, their claims necessarily implicated significant questions regarding Bayer’s compliance with federal regulations and thus give rise to federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The Court disagreed. The Court emphasized that § 1331 confers federal jurisdiction over state-law causes of action only in a “special and small” class of cases. That small class of cases does not apply to state duties that ‘parallel,’ rather than add to, federal requirements.” Here, the claim was rested on an alleged violation of a Food and Drug Administration for which the state had a parallel common law remedy. Because the Burrells’ state-law action against Bayer did not fall within that special class, the Court it should be adjudicated by North Carolina’s courts. The Court then vacated the District Court’s contrary judgment and directed that the case be remanded to state court.

Full Opinion

Kirsten Peterson