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How to Remove a Case to Federal Court

Allison Ng and Steven Maher Harkins


  • Evaluating the forum choice and jurisdiction is crucial in any lawsuit, especially in mass tort litigation where defendants may be sued in multiple local courts.
  • To remove a case from state court to federal court, defendants have 30 days from being served to initiate the removal process.
  • The removability determination involves assessing federal subject matter jurisdiction based on federal question or diversity jurisdiction, ensuring complete diversity among opposing parties.
  • Potential pitfalls include the unanimity rule, time limits for removal based on diversity jurisdiction, the later-served defendant rule, and the risk of waiver.
How to Remove a Case to Federal Court
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Generally, plaintiffs choose to file a lawsuit in the forum and venue most favorable to their position. As such, evaluating their forum choice and determining the proper jurisdiction is a fundamental first step in any case. This is particularly important in mass tort litigation, as defendants may be sued in any number of local courts where plaintiffs reside. If a plaintiff files in state court, the threshold analysis should include assessing whether the case should be removed to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1446. The removal procedure includes numerous technical steps and potential pitfalls—including jurisdiction-specific requirements. Below are some typical steps to consider, though every case is different and may dictate different actions.


Once a case is served, the defendant has 30 days to remove it to federal court. If a case is not initially removable, but becomes removable later—due to amendment, joinder, or otherwise—this typically triggers the 30-day deadline from the date of the operative event.

Removability Determination and Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction

  • Federal question. Does the case arise under or involve a federal statute or U.S. constitutional question?
  • Diversity jurisdiction. Are all opposing parties from different states (the “complete diversity” requirement), and is the amount in controversy $75,000 or greater (the “amount in controversy” requirement)?
    • Note: A case cannot be removed to federal court under diversity jurisdiction if any defendant is a citizen of the state in which the case is filed (the “forum defendant rule”).
  • In the mass torts context, diversity jurisdiction is the most common basis for removal, and attorneys evaluating such jurisdiction should pay careful attention to the “complete diversity” requirement.
    • Domicile. Accurately identify the state or states where all parties are domiciled for purposes of evaluating diversity. Corporations are only citizens of the state in which they are incorporated or have their principal place of business; maintaining a registered agent within the state is not enough. The citizenship of an LLC requires evaluating the citizenship of each of its members.
    • Improper or fraudulent joinder. Consider whether parties, who would defeat diversity jurisdiction, were improperly joined. For example, cases often name as defendants the local retailer that simply distributed a product, but such entities may qualify as “innocent sellers” subject to dismissal on a finding that they were joined solely for the purpose of defeating removal.

Potential Pitfalls

  • Unanimity rule. Unanimous consent is a procedural requirement and failure to comply with this rule may result in the case being remanded to state court. While this rule requires every served defendant to consent to removal, there is a circuit split on how consent can be expressed. Some courts require that all defendants—individually—express their consent to removal, while other courts permit one defendant to pledge unanimous consent in the notice of removal.
  • Time limit for removal based on diversity jurisdiction. A case cannot be removed on diversity jurisdiction more than one year from the date of commencement of the action unless plaintiff acted in bad faith to prevent removal.
  • “Later-served defendant rule.” Each served defendant will have 30 days to remove the case. In essence, a new 30-day deadline starts each time a defendant is served.
  • Waiver. Prior to removal, a defendant’s active defense of the lawsuit in state court may be considered as a waiver of removal.

Removal Steps

  • Removal Documents to File in the Federal Court:
    • The “removal packet” includes material to be filed in the federal court to which the case is being removed. Exact requirements vary by jurisdiction, but the removal packet will typically include:
      •  Payment of a filing fee (either by check or electronically)
      •  Civil Action Cover Sheet
      •  Federal Notice of Removal
      •  Copies of all pleadings, process, and orders filed in the state court
      •  Docket sheet or other index for the state matter
      •  Other jurisdiction-specific lists or background information
        • Note: Do not forget to research and file any other material required as part of defending a suit in the particular federal court generally, such as a corporate disclosure statement or demand for jury trial.
  • Removal Documents to File in the State Court
    • You must “promptly” notify the state court from which the case is being removed. It is good practice to file this notification the same day the removal documents are filed in federal court. The notification will typically include:
      • Formal notification of the removal
      •  Attached copies of some or all documents from the removal packet filed in federal court
  • Documents to Serve on Other Parties
    • The materials filed in federal court and state court must also be served to other parties to the litigation. Such material typically includes:
      •  Copies of the removal documents filed in state court
      • Any new federal pleadings associated with the removal (such as the notification, removal packet, or corporate disclosure statement)
  • Federal Pleadings and Next Steps
    • Having successfully removed the case to federal court, be sure to identify the deadline for filing an answer or other responsive pleading in that forum.
    •  Note that the deadline for a responsive pleading can be as short as seven days after the notice of removal is filed. Review Fed. R. Civ. P. 81(c)(2) to identify the applicable deadline.