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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–In re Hannaford Bros.: First Circuit Affirms Remand Of Class Action Holding Home State Exception To CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act) Jurisdiction Applies

Class Action on Behalf of Florida Citizens Against Florida Corporation, Removed to Federal Court under Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), Properly Remanded to State Court because Home State Exception to CAFA Jurisdiction Applies First Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a class action in Florida state court against Kash N’ Karry Food Stores (a chain of grocery stores in Florida) alleging “alleging that Kash N’ Karry had failed to adopt adequate security measures to protect its customers’ credit card information.” In re Hannaford Bros. Co. Customer Data Security Breach Litig., 564 F.3d 75 (1st Cir. 2009) [Slip Opn., at 3]. According to the allegations underlying the class action, a computer hacker stole from defendant the credit and debit card information of approximately 1.6 million Kash N’ Karry customers, and limited the class action’s definition to Florida residents, id., at 3-4. Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA), and the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation coordinated plaintiff’s class action for pretrial purposes with two dozen other class actions in the District of Maine. Id., at 4. The other 24 class actions had been filed against entities that were related to Kash N’ Karry; specifically, its sister corporation Hannaford Brothers, and their common parent company, Delhaize America. Id. Plaintiff moved to remand his class action to state court under the home state exception to CAFA jurisdiction; the district court granted plaintiff’s motion and the First Circuit gave defendant leave to appeal. Id. The Circuit Court stated that this case “presents an issue of first impression for this circuit regarding the application of the home state exception to federal jurisdiction under [CAFA].” Id., at 2. Defense attorneys argued that the class action complaint had been drafted to defeat CAFA jurisdiction “in violation of congressional intent”; plaintiff responded that the home state exception to CAFA jurisdiction applied and, accordingly, that the district court order remanding the class action to state court was correct. Id. The Circuit Court affirmed the remand of the class action to state court, holding that the class action complaint fell squarely within the home state exception to CAFA jurisdiction.

CAFA’s home state exception “requires a federal court to decline to exercise jurisdiction if at least two-thirds of the members of all proposed plaintiff classes in the aggregate and the primary defendants are citizens of the state where the action was originally filed.” In re Hannaford, at 2 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4)(B)). The First Circuit observed that plaintiff’s class action complaint limits the scope of the class to Florida citizens, and is brought against a single corporation, Kash N’ Karry, which also is a Florida citizen. Id. The district court remanded the class action to state court on the basis of the home state exception, and the Circuit Court affirmed, rejecting defense attorney claims that “the application of CAFA’s home state exception depends on a broader assessment of the claims brought by others who do not fall within the complaint’s class definition or of the claims available to the class against other possible defendants.” Id.

Preliminarily, the First Circuit held that plaintiff bore the burden of establishing the home state exception to CAFA jurisdiction, following the holdings of the Third, Seventh, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits. In re Hannaford, at 6 (citations omitted). The Circuit Court further noted that on its face the home state exception appears to be applicable to plaintiff’s class action complaint. Id., at 7. The issue, then, is whether defense attorneys are correct in proposing that the phrase “the members of all proposed plaintiff classes in the aggregate” in CAFA’s home state exception requires that a court look beyond the four corners of the class action complaint “to all previously filed class actions which arise from a core nucleus of operative facts such as to meet an ‘Article III case or controversy’ requirement.” Id., at 7-8. Under defendant’s reading, the term “aggregate” requires consideration of “the previously filed national class actions involving Hannaford that were consolidated by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation,” id., at 8. The First Circuit disagreed, finding defendant’s reading to be “contrary to the plain language of § 1332(d)(4)(B).” Id. The Circuit Court did acknowledge, however, that there may be times when a court must look outside the four corners of the class action complaint to determine whether CAFA jurisdiction exists, id., at 9-10, but that it need not reach that issue because “that situation is not before us here, and we leave further consideration of it for another day.” Id., at 10. The First Court similarly rejected defendant’s argument that the Court’s holding encourages plaintiffs to artfully plead around CAFA jurisdiction, again finding that defendant’s concern was not before it under the facts of this case. Id., at 10-11. In sum, the Circuit Court affirmed the district court order remanding the class action to state court and awarded plaintiff costs on appeal, id., at 13.

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