7th Circuit Dismisses Appeal Of Remand After District Court Denies Immunity Request

James Foster claimed he was beaten by Corpsman Kirk Hill at a Naval Training Center. Foster sued Hill in the Illinois state court. Invoking the Westfall Act (United States shall be substituted as a party when a federal employee is sued in tort for actions in course of employment, if the Attorney General agrees), Hill petitioned for the United States to take his place as a party. When the Attorney General declined, Hill petitioned the state court to find that his actions were within the scope of his employment.

The United States then filed a petition for removal, as the Westfall Act permits. The federal district court agreed that Hill was not acting within the scope of his employment duties. The federal court thus dismissed Hill’s petition for substitution and, as required by the Westfall Act, remanded the case to state court. However, the district court’s opinion did not specifically state the basis for remand.

Hill appealed the district court’s ruling. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction. The general basis for the dismissal was 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d), which states that a remand order to the state court, based upon lack of subject matter jurisdiction, is not reviewable on appeal. In the absence of a statement stating the basis for remand, the appellate court ruled that it would presume lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The appellate court identified the problems caused by its ruling: “… [A] federal employee [Hill] will now resume defending litigation even though there is a chance that the Westfall Act purports to grant him immunity from suit. If we were permitted to consider that claim of immunity, the question could be settled once and for all. But whether this defendant should be immune from suit is a question that Congress and our circuit precedent prevent us from even considering. Meanwhile, the plaintiff has waited five years for a legal remedy, which today is no closer than it was in 2005 when the case was first removed to the district court.…”

You can read the whole opinion, Foster v. Hill, 497 F.3d 695, No. 06-2651 (8/13/07), by clicking here.