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WOOD v. CRANE CO., NO. 13-1868

Decided: August 15, 2014 

The Fourth Circuit held that Appellant, Crane Co. (“Crane”) was not entitled an opportunity to assert another basis for federal jurisdiction after the district court remanded its case to Maryland state court when Appellee, James Joyner (“Joyner”), amended his complaint to eliminate the claim underlying Crane’s federal defense, and concluded that Crane’s attempt to amend its notice was untimely.

Joyner filed suit against Crane in Maryland state court alleging that Crane manufactured and supplied asbestos-containing valves and gaskets to the Navy, on whose ships Joyner worked. Crane removed the case to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1), averring that it would assert a federal contractor defense because it supplied the valves in conformance with military specifications. Crane’s notice of removal, however, did not explicitly assert the defense as it related to the gaskets, but only as it related to the valves. Joyner then amended his complain to eliminate the claims related to the valves, and thus eliminated the claims underlying Crane’s federal defense. Joyner also requested that the case be remanded to state court, which the district court allowed. Crane contested Joyner’s motion, arguing that Joyner manipulated his complaint to avoid federal jurisdiction; that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (F.R.C.P.) 15 did not permit such a calculated amendment; and, that it could assert its federal defense in relation to the gaskets. The district court rejected Crane’s arguments, and remanded the claims to Maryland state court.

As an initial matter, the Fourth Circuit noted that, contrary to Joyner’s contentions, it had jurisdiction over the appeal pursuant to § 1442(a)(1). The Court then rejected Crane’s claim that Joyner’s disclaimer of damages on the valves was a legal nullity. The Court noted: “[a]s we have no reason to believe that the state court will fail to hold Joyner to this disclaimer, it effectively precludes any defense based on valves alone.” The Court also rejected Crane’s argument that Joyner’s amendment should be disallowed as a “manipulative tactic[]”, and concluded that such manipulation is not prohibited.

Accepting the disclaimer’s effect, the Court addressed whether Crane could assert any other grounds of federal subject matter jurisdiction. Crane suggested that it should have an opportunity to amend its notice of removal. The Court, however, noted that “where the amendment is something more than a minor technical correction”, courts generally require that the amendment must be filed within the thirty day removal period. The Court emphasized that Crane made a strategic decision in open court to not include the gaskets as a ground for removal. The Court noted that parties are generally held “to that sort of strategic decision,” and that Crane’s case presented no reason to depart from the general rule.

Full Opinion

Abigail Forrister