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Peake v. Suzuki Motor Corp.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

September 5, 2019

Brandon Peake, Plaintiff,
v.
Suzuki Motor Corporation, American Suzuki Motor Corporation, and Suzuki Motor Corporation of America, Inc., Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         This matter is before the court pursuant to Plaintiff Brandon Peake's ("Peake") Motion to Remand (ECF No. 16) this action to the Fairfield County Court of Common Pleas. Defendant Suzuki Motor of America, Inc. ("Defendant" or "SMAI") opposes Peake's Motion to Remand and asks the court to retain jurisdiction. (ECF No. 24.) For the reasons set forth herein, the court DENIES Peake's Motion to Remand (ECF No. 16) and retains jurisdiction over this matter.

         I. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Peake filed this products liability action in the Fairfield County Court of Common Pleas on December 19, 2018. (See generally ECF No. 1-1 at 2-4.) Peake names three Defendants: (1) Suzuki Motor Corporation ("SMC"), (2) American Suzuki Motor Corporation ("ASMC"), and (3) SMAI (collectively, "Defendants"). Id. Peake's chief allegation is that the defective condition of a Suzuki Quadrunner 4WD-allegedly designed, manufactured, and sold by Defendants-resulted in serious and severe head and bodily injuries to Peake. (Id. at 3-4; ECF No. 11 at 1-3.)

         On February 11, 2019, SMAI filed its Notice of Removal (ECF No. 1), alleging that the case is removable to this federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b), based on diversity of citizenship. See 28 U.S.C. §1332; (ECF No. 1.)

         On February 28, 2019, Peake filed his Motion to Remand (ECF No. 16). Peake's main argument supporting remand is that SMAI improperly removed the action without the consent of all "properly joined and served defendants" as required under the removal statute. 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(2)(A).[1] (See generally ECF No. 16.) Specifically, Peake argues that SMC was a "properly joined and served defendant" because the South Carolina Secretary of State accepted service on its behalf on January 7, 2019, pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 15-9-245(a) (2019).[2]Peake asserts that, despite being properly served, SMC failed to consent to removal.

         SMAI counters that S.C. Code § 15-9-245(a), while a proper method of service in some circumstances, was not applicable here. To that end, SMAI timely filed its Opposition to Peake's Motion to Remand (ECF No. 24) on March 14, 2019. SMAI contends that SMC was not properly served because the corporation does not "do business" in South Carolina. SMAI further argues that, because SMC is a foreign corporation with no business in South Carolina, Peake was required to serve SMC through the Hague Convention process and failed to do so. Accordingly, SMAI argues that the case is properly removed because SMAI was the only "properly joined and served" Defendant at the time of removal, and it, therefore, did not need SMC's consent to remove this action to this court.[3]

         Now, before the court is Peake's Motion to Remand this case to the Fairfield County Court of Common Pleas (ECF No. 16), which this court considers below.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), "any civil action brought in a state court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The relevant procedure for removing a case to federal court is as follows:

(a) A defendant or defendants desiring to remove any civil action or criminal prosecution from a State court shall file in the district court of the United States for the district and division within which such action is pending a notice of removal signed pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and containing a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal, together with a copy of all process, pleadings, and orders served upon such defendant or defendants in such action.
(b) The notice of removal of a civil action or proceeding shall be filed within thirty days after the receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of the initial pleading setting forth the claim for relief upon which such action or proceeding is based, or within thirty days after the service of summons upon the defendant if such initial pleading has then been filed in court and is not required to be served on the defendant, whichever period is shorter.

28 U.S.C. § 1446.

         Moreover, "The Supreme Court has construed these statutes to require all defendants in a case to join in or consent to removal, creating the so-called 'rule of unanimity.'" Hartford Fire Ins. Co. v. Harleysville Mut. Ins. Co., 736 F.3d 255, 259 (4th Cir. 2013). The Fourth Circuit has recognized that "the rule of unanimity is consistent with [the court's] obligation to construe removal jurisdiction strictly because of the significant federalism concerns implicated." Id. (internal quotations omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The crux of this matter centers on whether the case was properly removed to this court. In order to determine whether removal was proper, the court must examine two underlying issues: (1) whether SMC was properly served and (2) whether SMC's consent ...


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