Breuer v. Jim's Concrete of Brevard, Inc.

PETITIONER: Breuer
RESPONDENT: Jim's Concrete of Brevard, Inc.
LOCATION: Harris County Sheriff’s Department

DOCKET NO.: 02-337
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 538 US 691 (2003)
DECIDED: May 19, 2003
ARGUED: Apr 02, 2003

ADVOCATES:
Andrew S. Hament - Argued the cause for the respondent
Donald E. Pinaud, Jr. - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Lisa Schiavo Blatt -
Lisa S. Blatt - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the respondent

Facts of the case

Philip Breuer sued in state court to resolve an overtime dispute under the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Attorneys for Breuer's employer, Jim's Concrete of Brevard, had the case moved to federal court by citing the federal removal statute. According to the statute, defendants in state court cases dealing with federal laws may have the case moved to federal court "unless otherwise expressly provided by Act of Congress." Breuer's attorney argued that Congress had provided for suits under the FLSA to be heard in state court and that the case should therefore be returned to state court; attorneys for Jim's Concrete disagreed. The district court refused to send the case back to state court. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

Question

In providing for suits under the FLSA, did Congress bar removal of such actions from state to federal court?

Media for Breuer v. Jim's Concrete of Brevard, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 02, 2003 in Breuer v. Jim's Concrete of Brevard, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 19, 2003 in Breuer v. Jim's Concrete of Brevard, Inc.

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court, in No. 02-337, Breuer versus Jim's Concrete of Brevard, Inc. will be announced by Justice Souter.

David H. Souter:

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Petitioner Breuer sued his former employer, Jim's Concrete of Brevard, Incorporated in a Florida State Court under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

The Act provides that an action may be maintained in any Federal or State Court of competent jurisdiction.

Jim's Concrete removed the case to Federal District Court under 28 U.S. Code 1441(a) which reads like this: "except as otherwise expressly provided by an Act of Congress, any civil action brought in a State Court of which the District Courts have original jurisdiction may be removed by the defendant to the District Court."

After Jim's Concrete had removed the case to the Federal Court, Breuer sought an order remanning it to State Court.

The District Court denied Breuer's motion and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed finding that Section 216(b) did not include the kind of direct unequivocal language required by Section 1441's express removal provision.

We granted certiorari to resolve a conflict among the Circuits and we now affirm.

Breuer unquestionably could have begun his action in the District Court.

Removal is thus prohibited under Section 1441 only if Congress expressly provided as much.

Nothing on the face of 216(b) looks like an expressed prohibition of removal, there being no mention of removal or of prohibition.

While Section 216(b) provides that an action may be maintained in any State Court.

The word "maintain" enjoys a breadth of meaning that leaves its bearing on removal ambigious at best.

"Maintain" in reference to a legal action may be read as to bring or file but maintaining an action may also mean to continue to litigate as opposed to commencing an action.

If an ambigious term like maintain qualified as an expressed provision for Section 1441, then the requirement of an express provision would call for nothing more than a mere provision pure and simple leaving the word "express" without any consequence at all.

The need to make the express exception requirement a serious one is underscored by examples of indisputable prohibitions of removal in a number of other statutes which demonstrate that when Congress wishes to give plaintiffs an absolute choice of forum, it is capable of doing so in unmistakable terms.

The judgment of the Court is unanimous.