Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc. v. Thompson

478 U.S. 804, 106 S. Ct. 3229 (1986)



The question whether a claim "arises under" federal law must be determined by reference to the "well-pleaded complaint." A defense that raises a federal question is inadequate to confer federal jurisdiction. Since a defendant may remove a case only if the claim could have been brought in federal court, 28 U.S.C.S. § 1441(b), moreover, the question for removal jurisdiction must also be determined by reference to the "well-pleaded complaint."


Respondents sued petitioner in state court for tort claims and violation of Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Each respondent, alleging that a child suffered birth defects due to the mother's ingestion of a drug made by petitioner, requested damages on tort theories and for violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDC). Petitioner had the cases removed to federal court, the cases were consolidated, and respondents moved to remand to state court. The district court denied the motion, but the appellate court reversed. The parties agreed there was no federal cause of action for FFDC violations. 


Was federal jurisdiction proper?




The Court held that federal question jurisdiction was lacking because a complaint using a federal statute as an element of a state cause of action, when there was no private federal cause of action under the statute, did not state a claim arising under federal law. The judgment was affirmed.

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