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Kawayne Steel v. Viscofan USA Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

January 19, 2017

VISCOFAN USA, INC., Defendant.



         Pending before the court are Defendant's Motion to Sever and for Partial Remand (Doc. 2), Defendant's Motion for Partial Dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 5), and Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. 10). For the reasons stated below, it is ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. 10) is GRANTED, and Defendant's Motion to Sever and for Partial Remand (Doc. 2) is DENIED. The case will be REMANDED to the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Alabama, and Defendant's Motion for Partial Dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 5) will remain pending before that court.[1]


         Defendant Viscofan USA, Inc. (“Viscofan”) employed Plaintiff Kawayne Steel as a machine operator in an industrial facility in Montgomery County, Alabama. On March 23, 2016, Steel cut his left arm as he fed a meat casing onto a machine, causing significant injuries. According to the complaint, Viscofan improperly designed, manufactured, installed, distributed, sold, or assembled this machine, causing Steel's injuries and resulting in claims pursuant to the Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine (“AEMLD”) and for negligence and wantonness.[2] Steel also brings a workers' compensation claim against Viscofan.

         Viscofan removed the action on October 6, 2016 on the basis of diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The notice of removal alleges that Viscofan is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois, while Steel resides in Alabama, and that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. Along with the notice of removal, Viscofan filed a motion (Doc. 2) that asks the court to sever and to remand Steel's workers' compensation claim, but retain jurisdiction over his remaining claims. Viscofan also filed a motion for partial dismissal (Doc. 5) invoking the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act's exclusivity provisions to argue that the AEMLD, negligence, and wantonness claims should be dismissed on the merits. In response, Steel filed a motion to remand (Doc. 10) arguing for the entire action to be remanded to state court under 28 U.S.C. § 1445(c).


         This is a court of limited jurisdiction. Only cases that originally could have been filed in federal court may invoke this court's jurisdiction through removal from a state court. E.g., 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994). The “removing defendant bears the burden of proving proper federal jurisdiction.” Leonard v. Enter. Rent a Car, 279 F.3d 967, 972 (11th Cir. 2002) (citing Williams v. Best Buy Co., Inc., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319-20 (11th Cir. 2001)). In analyzing whether the defendant has carried that burden, the “removal statutes are construed narrowly” and “uncertainties are resolved in favor of remand.” Burns, 31 F.3d at 1095 (citing Boyer v. Snap-on Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108 (3rd Cir. 1990); Coker v. Amoco Oil Co., 709 F.2d 1433 (11th Cir. 1983)).

         A. Remand of Actions Arising Under Alabama Workers' Compensation Law

         The interplay of the federal removal statutes and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure determines whether some or all of this case must be remanded to state court. The parties are in agreement that some of the case-specifically, Steel's workers' compensation claim-must be remanded. This is because 28 U.S.C. § 1445(c) prohibits the removal of a “civil action in any State court arising under the workmen's compensation laws of such State.” Steel's claim, which is set forth in Count One of his complaint, explicitly invokes the Workers' Compensation Act of Alabama in seeking all damages for his on-the-job injury to which the Act entitles him. Doc. 1-1 at 3-4. Although Steel does not specify the relevant portion of the Act, Alabama Code § 25-5-31 creates the employee's right to file a civil action to receive compensation from his employer when he is injured on the job. See Ala. Code § 25-5-31 (1975) (“When personal injury or death is caused to an employee by an accident arising out of and in the course of his employment . . . [he] shall receive compensation by way of damages therefor from the employer.”). The court finds that the private right of action created by § 25-5-31 is “an integral part of Alabama's workers' compensation regime.” Reed v. Heil Co., 206 F.3d 1055, 1060 (11th Cir. 2000) (remanding a retaliatory termination claim because it arose under § 1445(c)). As a result, Steel's workers' compensation claim arises under Alabama workers' compensation law within the meaning of § 1445(c) and is therefore nonremovable. See id.

         While Steel and Viscofan agree to the remand of the workers' compensation claim, their positions otherwise diverge. Viscofan urges the court to sever the AEMLD, negligence, and wantonness claims from the workers' compensation claim and to retain jurisdiction over those claims despite remanding the workers' compensation action to state court. Doc. 2 at 1-2. Steel objects to this course of action on two grounds. First, Steel argues that even the AEMLD, negligence, and wantonness claims arise under Alabama workers' compensation for purposes of § 1445(c), thus compelling remand of the entire action. Second, he argues that there is no basis for severing his properly joined claims, and the entire case must therefore be remanded. The court agrees with the second proposition, but not the first.

         Steel's attempt to sweep all of his claims into the purview of 28 U.S.C. § 1445(c) depends on overly broad interpretations of § 1445(c) and the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act. Specifically, he claims that the Act authorizes him to proceed with his workers' compensation claim while also suing a third-party tortfeasor, and therefore any third-party claim he brings for the same injury arises under Alabama workers' compensation law and cannot be removed under § 1445(c). Doc. 11 at 5-7 (citing Alabama Code § 25-5-11(a) (1975)). The Eleventh Circuit employed a more nuanced analysis in Reed when faced with the question of whether a claim for retaliatory discharge pursuant to Alabama Code § 25-5-11.1 arises under Alabama workers' compensation law. Reed, 206 F.3d at 1058-61. Categorizing retaliatory discharge as “a cause of action created by a state legislature for workers discharged because they file workers' compensation claims, ” the Eleventh Circuit distinguished this statutory retaliatory discharge cause of action from similar common-law causes of action. Id. at 1059. The court ultimately held that retaliatory discharge arises under Alabama workers' compensation law for purposes of § 1445(c), but only upon finding that the retaliatory discharge statute was “[c]odified together with the remaining workers' compensation laws” and “was passed to enhance the efficacy of the overall workers' compensation system, ” making it an “integral part” of the overall compensation scheme. Id. at 1060.

         Steel's causes of action for negligence and wantonness are precisely the type of common-law claims distinguished by the Reed court. These claims-found by the Eleventh Circuit to be “so different” as to “have little persuasive force”-included a common-law action for an employer's intentional injury to its employees. Id. at 1059-60. Negligence and wantonness claims are more analogous to this common-law tort than to Reed's statutory retaliatory discharge claim. And the court is not persuaded that common-law claims for negligence and wantonness are subsumed by the workers' compensation scheme solely because Alabama Code § 25-5-11(a) authorizes an employee to bring those claims while simultaneously maintaining a claim under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act. Most significantly, the negligence and wantonness doctrines, as creatures of the common law, existed before and wholly independent from the Act, and have not been codified in the Act. This court therefore joins other district courts sitting within the State of Alabama in finding that common-law tort claims, such as negligence and wantonness claims, do not arise under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act. See Moore v. CNA Found., 472 F.Supp.2d 1327, 1329 n.* (M.D. Ala. 2007) (citing Patin v. Allied Signal, Inc., 77 F.3d 782 (5th Cir. 1996), and finding that common-law claims for outrage, fraud, civil conspiracy, and intentional infliction of mental anguish against an employer's workers' compensation insurer do not arise under workers' compensation law for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1445(c)); Raye v. Employer's Ins. of Wausau, 345 F.Supp.2d 1313, 1316 (S.D. Ala. 2004) (“[C]laims for outrage and negligence do not trigger application of Section 1445(c).”); see also Payne v. J.B. Hunt Transp., Inc., 154 F.Supp.3d 1310, 1315 (M.D. Fla. 2016) (holding that common-law negligence claims do not implicate § 1445(c) despite statutes that “permit an employee to bring a traditional common law action in lieu of proceedings” under the Florida workers' compensation scheme).

         Steel's AEMLD claim likewise does not arise under Alabama workers' compensation law. Alabama law traditionally required privity of contract between an injured party and the manufacturer of the injuring product. See Tuscumbia City Sch. Sys. v. Pharmacia Corp., 871 F.Supp.2d 1241, 1247 (N.D. Ala. 2012). Although the privity requirement had been relaxed somewhat over time, in 1976 “the Alabama Supreme Court formally restated the elements of a manufacturer's liability claim in two cases decided on the same day, ” and “thereby christened the ‘extended' manufacturers' liability doctrine.” Id. (citing Atkins v. Am. Motors Corp., 335 So.2d 134 (Ala. 1976), and Casrell v. Altec Indus., Inc., 335 So.2d 128 (Ala. 1976)). The AEMLD thus has a judicial genesis, not a legislative one, and certainly not one within the same legislation as the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act. As with other “court-created tort remed[ies]” distinguished by the Eleventh Circuit in Reed, AEMLD claims do not arise under the Alabama workers' compensation scheme. Reed, 206 F.3d at 1059; see also Formosa v. Lowe's Home Ctrs., Inc., 806 F.Supp.2d 1181, 1190 (N.D. Ala. 2011) (remanding workers' compensation claim as arising under § 1445(c) while severing and retaining jurisdiction over AEMLD and other tort claims due to the plaintiff's waiver of procedural removal defects).

         B. Severance ...

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