Appeals Court Refuses to Send Auto Product Liability Case Back to Federal Court – Bender v. Mazda Motor Co.

As a Missouri auto accident attorney, I frequently write here about cases involving alleged defects with an automobile itself or one of its parts. These can cause a crash even when the driver is doing nothing unsafe, putting the people in the car and everyone around them at serious risk because of an auto company’s mistakes. That was the allegation in Bender v. Mazda Motor Corp., an Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from Alabama. Peggy Bender lost a family member in a crash involving a Mazda Miata; she alleged that the airbags in the Miata were defective. Mazda sought to remove the case to federal court, but the federal court sent it back despite a pending ruling on the same issue in the Eleventh Circuit. Despite a ruling keeping that other case in federal court, the Eleventh in this case ruled that it did not have the authority to bring the case back into federal court.
Bender originally filed her lawsuit in Alabama state court against Mazda and the dealership where the Miata was purchased. Mazda removed the case, arguing that the amount in controversy was more than $75,000 and the auto dealership was not a proper defendant. Bender argued that there was insufficient evidence on the amount in controversy. Mazda cited a contemporary Alabama case, Roe v. Michelin North America Inc., which was awaiting a decision in the Eleventh Circuit at the time. Roe had similar facts, but the district court in that case found the amount in controversy, while not expressly stated, was “readily deducible” and “clear” from the complaint. The district court should follow this earlier ruling, Mazda said, or at least stay the case until the Eleventh made its ruling in Roe. The district court denied this motion and sent the case back to state court. Six months later, the Eleventh affirmed in Roe, keeping the case in federal court. Mazda moved in federal court for reconsideration of the previous ruling, but the federal court said it no longer had jurisdiction over the case because it had already been remanded. Mazda appealed.
On appeal, the Eleventh found that the district court was right — it was powerless to make new rulings in the case. This was true even though Mazda’s argument would otherwise have succeeded in moving the case back to federal court. The Eleventh found Harris v. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama was controlling. In that case, a claim moved back and forth from state to federal court, including a remand to state court from federal court. The defendants filed a successful motion to reconsider, and the plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the federal courts no longer had any authority to reconsider once the case was remanded. The Eleventh Circuit agreed, and in the current case, applied the same logic. Once a case is remanded, it said, the federal district court and even its federal appeals court have no jurisdiction to reconsider that remand order. It doesn’t matter that the remand order was legally erroneous under Roe, the Eleventh said; federal courts still have no jurisdiction. “The case has been removed to state court and that is where it will stay.”
As a St. Louis product liability lawyer, I’m interested in this case in part because it underscores an often-used tactic in injury cases. Injury cases, especially auto product liability cases like this, usually pit a single individual or family against a large, wealthy corporation. These corporations have a substantial advantage in terms of resources and legal expertise, so they don’t suffer much harm when they drag out the case with novel legal tactics or unlikely appeals. By contrast, this delay can hurt the plaintiff, who may not have the money to continue chasing the case through the court system (or systems). Indeed, plaintiffs often sue because the injury left them with serious financial problems. As a southern Illinois car crash attorney, I work hard to keep my cases where they belong and as short and easy on the plaintiffs as I can.


If you or someone you love was hurt in a crash you believe was caused by a defective vehicle, you should call Carey, Danis & Lowe to discuss how we can help. For a free, confidential case evaluation, send us an email or call 1-877-678-3400.
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