Johns Hopkins is quite possibly the greatest hospital in the history of the world. People come from all over the world to get the best medical care that Hopkins can provide. The U.S District Court in Baltimore decided this week a case involving a woman who traveled from Kuwait to get treatment at Hopkins to get cancer treatment only to lose her leg. She believes she lost her leg because the doctors at Hopkins committed malpractice. The question in the case is whether this medical malpractice lawsuit against Johns Hopkins should be heard in federal court on in state court.
I don’t know if negligence caused this woman to lose her leg. But I do know that as great of a hospital as Johns Hopkins is, mistakes do happen there that cause people severe injuries and death. Like any hospital, Hopkins has bad doctors and good doctors that sometimes make bad decisions.
This case is not about what happened to the patient. Instead, the question is whether this medical malpractice lawsuit against Johns Hopkins will be heard in federal court on in state court. In a blow to the Plaintiff, the court ruled that this case will be heard by a federal judge and jury.
Facts of the Case
The Plaintiff* alleges that she underwent leg surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital and that their negligence caused her physical and emotional pain. She lost her leg, so clearly it is a brutal injury.
Hopkins sought to remove the case to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction because Johns Hopkins and the doctors are citizens of Maryland and plaintiff is a citizen of Kuwait. Thirty-four days later, plaintiff filed a motion for remand.
I’m amazed at how many lawyers do not understand diversity. As a defendant, Hopkins cannot claim diversity jurisdiction because they are forum defendants. The entire purpose of the diversity rule is so out-of-state parties do not suffer from home cooking in state court in bringing a claim. Imagine a New Yorker bringing a claim in some remote part of Texas. It can sometimes be hard to get justice in someone’s else backyard, a problem that was probably even worse in 1790. But Hopkins clearly does not have this concern as a Maryland defendant. The plaintiff could have filed in federal court, to be sure. But Hopkins cannot remove to federal court.
Hopkins had some convoluted argument why the could claim diversity jurisdiction that failed. The hospital did, however, have a simple argument: a motion to remand must be field with 30 days after the filing of the notice of removal under section 1446(a).
Why This Matters So Much
Let’s take an intermission to underscore why this battle is important. The value of this case is much higher in Baltimore City Circuit Court than it is in U.S. District Court. I cannot emphasize this point enough. I can argue the value of the case is twice as much in Baltimore City Circuit Court than it is in federal court. Not because of the federal-state court distinction. It all comes down to the jurors. Baltimore City juries are more likely to find the doctor responsible. Further, Baltimore City juries are less likely to assume that a Hopkins doctor could do no wrong and more likely to give a higher damage award for the future medical bills and economic losses, that are likely to be important in this case.
The Court’s Ruling
The issue in this case is whether the failure to comply with 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c)’s thirty-day deadline to move for remand applies in this case. Plaintiffs claimed the “forum defendant rule” that means that Hopkins cannot remove is a jurisdictional rather than procedure defect to removal. This is a tough issue because the Fourth Circuit has not addressed this particular question and different courts have addressed the issue differently. Judge Hollander the question of whether removal before service defeats the removal bar provided in the forum-defendant rule . . . .” Phillips Constr., LLC v. Daniels Law Firm, PLLC, 93 F. Supp. 3d 544, 549 (S.D.W. Va. 2015). “There is a broad and growing divide among the district courts as to whether the forum-defendant rule bars pre-service removal based on diversity jurisdiction.” Id. at 550; see id. at 550-53 (discussing three approaches that district courts have taken in resolving this question).
My thinking on these types of case is when in doubt, err on the side of letting substance triumph over substance. Judge Hollander did not look at the issue that way. She broke down the case law and was persuaded that this is a procedural issue and the case should remain in federal court. You can read the court’s opinion to get a more complete understanding of the case and the court’s rationale in Almutairi v. Johns Hopkins here.
*Plaintiff’s husband is also a plaintiff in this case. I used “Plaintiff” just because it flows better.