Murphy Brothers, Inc. v. Michetti Pipe Stringing, Inc.

PETITIONER:Murphy Brothers, Inc.
RESPONDENT:Michetti Pipe Stringing, Inc.
LOCATION:Knowles’ Car

DOCKET NO.: 97-1909
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 526 US 344 (1999)
ARGUED: Mar 01, 1999
DECIDED: Apr 05, 1999

Deborah A. Smith – Argued the cause for the petitioner
J. David Pugh – Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

On January 26, 1996, Michetti Pipe Stringing, Inc. (Michetti), filed a complaint in Alabama state court seeking damages for an alleged breach of contract and fraud by Murphy Bros., Inc. (Murphy). Michetti did not serve Murphy then, but three days later it faxed a “courtesy copy” of the complaint to a Murphy vice president. Michetti officially served Murphy under local law by certified mail on February 12, 1996. On March 13, 1996, 30 days after service but 44 days after receiving the faxed copy of the complaint, Murphy removed the case under 28 U. S. C. ?1441 to the Federal District Court. Michetti moved to remand the case to the state court on the ground that Murphy filed the removal notice 14 days too late under 28 U. S. C. ?1446(b), which specifies that the notice “shall be filed within thirty days after the receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of the [complaint].” Michetti asserted that the removal was untimely because the notice had not been filed within 30 days of the date on which Murphy’s vice president received the facsimile transmission. The District Court denied the remand motion on the ground that the 30-day removal period did not commence until Murphy was officially served with a summons. On an interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed, instructing the District Court to remand the action to state court. The court held that the defendant’s receipt of a faxed copy of the filed initial pleading sufficed to commence the 30-day removal period, emphasizing the statutory words “receipt…or otherwise.”


Is the time limit in which a named defendant may remove a state-court action to a federal court, as set forth in 28 U. S. C. ?1446(b), triggered by the mere receipt of a complaint unattended by any formal service?

Media for Murphy Brothers, Inc. v. Michetti Pipe Stringing, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 01, 1999 in Murphy Brothers, Inc. v. Michetti Pipe Stringing, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 05, 1999 in Murphy Brothers, Inc. v. Michetti Pipe Stringing, Inc.

William H. Rehnquist:

Today’s order of the Court has been duly entered and certified and filed with the Clerk, may will not be otherwise announced.

The opinion of the Court in No. 97-1909, Murphy Brothers versus Michetti Pipestringing will be announced by Justice Ginsburg.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

This case concerned a time limit.

The time allowed a defendant named in a State Court lawsuit to remove the action to a Federal Court.

The governing measure is 28 U.S.C. §1446(b), which provides that the removal notice shall be filed within 30 days after the receipt by the defendant through service or otherwise of a copy of the complaint.

The question presented, must the named defendant be officially summoned to court before the time to remove begins or does the removal clock starts even before service of process when the named defendant receives a faxed copy of the filed complaint?

Respondent Michetti Pipe filed a complaint against petitioner Murphy brothers in an Alabama State Court.

Three days later Michetti faxed a courtesy copy of the filed stamped complaint to one of Murphy’s Vice President, nearly two weeks after that Michetti officially served Murphy.

30-days after service but 44-days after receiving the faxed copy of the complaint, Murphy removed the case to a Federal District Court.

The District Court denied Michetti’s motion to remand the case to the State Court, but the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed and held the case should go back to the Alabama Court.

Defendant’s time to remove, the Eleventh Circuit held, ran from Murphy brothers’ receipt of the faxed copy of the filed complaint not on the later day of official service.

We reverse the Court of Appeals’ decision and hold that a named defendant’s time to remove is triggered by simultaneous service of the summons and complaint or receipt of the complaint after service of the summons, but not by mere receipt of the complaint unattended by any formal service.

We read the removal prescription in light of a bedrock principle: An individual or entity named as a defendant is not obliged to engage in litigation, unless notified of the action and brought under a court’s authority, by a formal process.

The summons continue to function today as it did historically as the courts command directing an individual or entity to participate in a civil action or forgo procedural or substantive rights.

When Congress enacted 1446(b), the legislators did not endeavor to break away from that traditional understanding.

The original version of 1446(b) provided that the petition for removal maybe filed within 20 days after commencement of the action or service of process, whichever is later.

Congress soon recognized that this provision created problems in states like New York, where service of the summons commences the action and that service could precede the filing of the complaint.

Under 1446(b), as originally enacted, the removal time in New York could have expired before the defendant obtained access to the complaint.

To prevent this from happening Congress, in 1949, enacted the current version of 1446(b).

Nothing in the legislative history of the current version suggest that Congress, in making changes to accommodate atypical state commencement and complaint filing procedures, meant to dispense with the historic function of service of process as the official trigger for responsive action by a named defender.

The Chief Justice has filed a dissenting opinion, which Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas have joined.