The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Fourth Circuit’s decision to send a local climate change case against various energy companies. BP P.L.C. v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 141 S. Ct. 1532, 1533 (2021).

Baltimore’s Mayor and City Council sued various energy companies in Maryland state court alleging that the companies concealed the environmental impacts of the fossil fuels they promoted (as if this was an issue no one outside the energy industry could look at). The defendant companies removed the case to federal court invoking a number of grounds for federal jurisdiction, including the federal officer removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1442. The City argued that none of the defendants’ various grounds for removal justified retaining federal jurisdiction, and the district court agreed, issuing an order remanding the case back to state court.

Readers who are civil procedure aficionados may recall that although an order remanding a case to state court is ordinarily unreviewable on appeal, Congress has determined that appellate review is available for those orders “remanding a case to the State court from which it was removed pursuant to section 1442 or 1443 of [Title 28].” § 1447(d). The Fourth Circuit, however, read this provision to authorize appellate review only for the part of a remand order deciding the § 1442 or § 1443 removal ground. It therefore held that it lacked jurisdiction to review the district court’s rejection of the defendants’ other removal grounds.

The Supreme Court (7-1) held that the Fourth Circuit erred in holding that it lacked jurisdiction to consider all of the defendants’ grounds for removal under § 1447(d).  The “order remanding a case” here rejected all of the defendants’ grounds for removal because (subject to exceptions not applicable here) the district court was not at liberty to remove the City’s case from its docket until it determined that it lacked any authority to entertain the suit. See, e.g., Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 356, 108 S.Ct. 614, 98 L.Ed.2d 720; see also Sprint Communications, Inc. v. Jacobs, 571 U.S. 69, 72, 134 S.Ct. 584, 187 L.Ed.2d 505 (“[C]ourts are obliged to decide cases within the scope of federal jurisdiction” assigned to them). And this case was removed “pursuant to” § 1442 because the defendants relied on § 1442 as a ground for removal when satisfying the requirements of § 1446. It makes no difference that the defendants removed the case “pursuant to” multiple federal statutes.

The Court’s most analogous precedent, Yamaha Motor Corp., U. S. A. v. Calhoun, 516 U.S. 199, 116 S.Ct. 619, 133 L.Ed.2d 578, resolves any remaining doubt about the best reading of § 1447(d). That case involved a dispute about the meaning of § 1292(b)—a statute allowing a district court to certify “an order” to the court of appeals if it “involves a controlling question of law.” The Court held that the statute’s grant of appellate review for the “order,” meant the entire order was reviewable, not just the part of the order containing the “controlling question of law.” Id., at 205, 116 S.Ct. 619.

The City’s “policy” arguments do not alter the result because “even the most formidable” policy arguments cannot “overcome” a clear statutory directive, Kloeckner v. Solis, 568 U.S. 41, 56, n. 4, 133 S.Ct. 596, 184 L.Ed.2d 433. While the City argues that allowing exceptions to the bar on appellate review of remand orders will impair judicial efficiency, that is the balance that Congress struck for cases removed pursuant to § 1442 or § 1443. And allowing full appellate review may actually help expedite some cases.

The Court declined to consider the merits of the defendants’ removal grounds and remanded for the Fourth Circuit to consider those matters in the first instance.  So that battle will continue there.