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Litigation is a costly endeavor. Failing to ensure you are in the correct court after years of litigating can thus have costly consequences. This dilemma was on recent display when a federal appeals court tossed a case that had been litigated in federal court for four years because subject-matter jurisdiction was absent.

Two plaintiffs in a multidistrict litigation proceeding each alleged that they received a defective inferior vena cava filter manufactured by Defendant Cook Medical in Parton v. Cook Incorporated, No. 22-1844. A federal district court in Indiana granted the defendant summary judgment, finding no evidence that either plaintiff had an active clot that was presently impairing the function of their inferior vena cava, nor any evidence that their perforations impacted their daily lives.

On appeal, the parties devoted no attention to the issue of subject-matter jurisdiction. But the Seventh Circuit did. At oral argument, the federal appellate judges peppered the parties about whether there was subject-matter jurisdiction. After neither party could convince the court there was, the court ordered supplemental briefing on the issue. Ultimately, the court found no subject-matter jurisdiction because neither plaintiff’s alleged injuries put more than the statutorily required $75,000 at stake. In reaching that conclusion, the Seventh Circuit applied the “legal certainty” test, which provides that a plaintiff’s allegations about the amount in controversy control unless a court concludes “to a legal certainty” that the pleadings demonstrate the plaintiff cannot recover the jurisdictional minimum or that the plaintiff was not entitled to that amount. Applying that test to the underlying facts, the Seventh Circuit found it “legally impossible” for either plaintiff to recover more than $75,000.

The plaintiffs asserted that neither the district court nor the defendant had questioned jurisdiction before, but the Seventh Circuit was not swayed, as that fact “does not relieve us of our obligation to ensure we have jurisdiction.”

Similarly, the defendant hoped to convince the court to affirm on the merits and hold that the plaintiffs’ claims were not legally cognizable. The court again declined: “convenience . . . does not control our jurisdictional analysis.”

This case demonstrates it is incumbent on a federal appellate lawyer to first confirm subject-matter jurisdiction is secure before embarking on the time consuming process of appellate litigation. To learn more about this case, contact our team today.

About the Author
Christopher Keleher clerked for the Hon. William J. Bauer of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.  This unique opportunity provided Mr. Keleher with an invaluable understanding of the inner workings of an appellate court.  He saw what persuades judges and what does not, and utilizes this knowledge every time he writes an appellate brief. The Keleher Appellate Law Group handles all phases of appellate litigation in federal and state courts across the country. Read more here.