Tennessee Federal Court Grants Motion to Remand Because 28 U.S.C. § 1445(c) Prohibits Removal of Actions “Arising Under the Workmen’s Compensation Laws”
Following a work-related injury, a store manager retained a lawyer to negotiate a workers’ compensation settlement with her employer. She maintains that her employer retaliated and ultimately fired her. Her attorney filed a putative class action in state court against her employer alleging “reprisal and/or retaliatory discharge for asserting workers’ compensation rights.” Going v. Bass Pro Outdoor World, LLC, 437 F.Supp.2d 762, 764 (W.D. Tenn. 2006). Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court on grounds of diversity; plaintiff’s lawyer moved to remand the lawsuit on the grounds that 28 U.S.C. § 1445(c) prohibited removal. Id. The district court rejected defense arguments and remanded the class action to state court.
The district court explained that the general rules governing removal under 28 U.S.C. § 1441 do not apply to actions “arising under the workmen’s compensation laws,” as such actions are specifically exempted from removal under § 1445(c). Goin, at 765-66. The question, then, is whether plaintiff’s lawsuit “‘arises under’ the [state’s] workers’ compensation laws, which in turn hinges upon the legal source of the cause of action at issue.” Id., at 766. The controlling authority for this inquiry is the Sixth Circuit opinion in Harper v. AutoAlliance Int’l, Inc., 392 F.3d 195 (6th Cir. 2004).
[Harper] defined a civil action arising under a state workmen’s compensation law as one where either 1) the workmen’s compensation law created the cause of action or 2) the plaintiff’s right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of workmen’s compensation law. . . . Harper further states that common law which recognizes a “cause of action for retaliatory discharge in violation of the public policy to protect workmen’s compensation claimants” does not itself constitute a “workmen’s compensation law” within the meaning of § 1445(c). . . . (Citations omitted.)
The defense argued that plaintiff’s grievance “is a run of the mill retaliatory discharge claim, and thus doesn’t arise under the state workmen’s compensation law,” id., at 766; plaintiff countered “that her right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of workers’ compensation law” because “the company policy of targeting employees who receive workers’ compensation benefits as ‘problem’ employees constitutes a ‘device’ under [Tennessee state law] separate from any specific retaliatory discharge” claim, id. The federal court agreed with plaintiff: “Plaintiff’s action necessarily requires the court to interpret the state’s workers’ compensation statute, and therefore it ‘arises under’ the statute as that term was interpreted by the Sixth Circuit Court in Harper v. AutoAlliance Int’l, Inc. Accordingly, the removal of this action was contrary to § 1445(c).” Id., at 768.