US Supreme Court interprets federal appeals court jurisdiction broadly
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US Supreme Court interprets federal appeals court jurisdiction broadly

The Supreme Court held Monday in BP v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore that the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit erred in holding that it lacked the power to consider the defendants’ entire grounds to remove a case from state court pursuant to 28 USC §1447(d).

After taking this case to resolve a circuit split on appellate authority under section 1447(d), the court agreed with the Seventh Circuit’s broad interpretation, finding that it permits federal appellate courts “to review any issue in a district court order remanding a case to state court” when the defendant removed in part pursuant to §1442 or §1443.

This case began three years ago when Baltimore’s Mayor and City Council sued several energy companies in state court, alleging that they “concealed the environmental impacts of the fossil fuels they promoted.” In response, the defendant companies promptly removed the case to federal court, citing various statutes, one of which was §1442. Preferring a state court venue, the city filed a motion to remand the case to state court claiming that removal was improper. The district court agreed and approved the City’s motion.

Generally, federal appellate courts lack the authority to review a district court’s remand order. However, under §1447(d), Congress provides an exception for cases that, like this one, were removed pursuant to §1442 or §1443. Even so, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision after interpreting the exception narrowly as authorizing review of only the part of the order discussing §1442.

Still, the defendants sought a higher opinion and successfully appealed to the Supreme Court. In the court’s majority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch began by considering the ordinary meaning of the term “order,” and interpreted it broadly as a judicial command in whole. Consequently, the court disagreed with the Fourth Circuits’ narrow interpretation and found that §1447(d) authorizes a court of appeals to review “each and every one” of the defendants’ grounds for removal.

The City warned that a broad interpretation would inhibit judicial efficiency, and also encourage Defendants to remove pursuant to §1442 or §1443 in an attempt to guarantee appellate review. But in a typical response to such policy arguments, the court noted that its “task is to discern and apply the law’s plain meaning as faithfully as [it] can, not ‘to assess the consequences of each approach and adopt the one that produces the least mischief.'”