U.S. Supreme Court Breathes Life Into Removal Statute

Employers usually prefer federal court over California state court. Federal court practice includes a unanimous jury, tough rules that drive plaintiff attorneys nuts, judges that seem to grant summary judgment more readily, and other perceived benefits.

Federal courts don't routinely hear state law claims unless they are tied to a federal claim, or unless the plaintiff and defendant are "diverse" citizens. But federal courts often prefer not to litigate relatively simple state-law based claims. So, they have limited jurisdiction to hear those matters based on "diversity" of the parties' citizenship.

The Supreme Court stepped in to clarify how to determine a corporation's citizenship for diversity jurisdiction. The case arose in California. Melinda Friend and other sued Hertz for wage and hour violations. Hertz sought to remove the case on the ground that Friend was a California Citizen, and Hertz was a citizen of New Jersey. The lower federal courts determined that Hertz was the equivalent of a California citizen, because it had substantial activities in California.

On review, the Supreme Court rejected the analysis. The Court concluded:
“principal place of business” is best read as referring to the place where a corporation’s officers direct, control, and coordinate the corporation’s activities. It is the place that Courts of Appeals have called the corporation’s “nerve center.” And in practice it should normally be the place where the corporation maintains its head-quarters—provided that the headquarters is the actual center of direction, control, and coordination, i.e., the “nerve center,” and not simply an office where the corporation holds its board meetings (for example, attended by directors and officers who have traveled there for the occasion).
So, that's a much more straightforward analysis, which will result in the limitation of corporations' citizenship to its state of incorporation and the state where the officers/ senior management primarily do business. As a result, employers with lots of operations in different states will be able to remove cases to federal court based on diversity of citizenship jurisdiction.

The case is Friend v. Hertz Corporation and the opinion is here.