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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–Rynearson v. Motricity: Washington Federal Court Remands Class Action Complaint To State Court Holding Defense Failed To Establish Amount In Controversy Under CAFA

Motion to Remand Class Action to State Court Granted because $5 Million Amount in Controversy Required by Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) not Established because “Cost” of Complying with Possible Injunction not Sufficient to Support Removal Jurisdiction Washington Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff, a citizen of Florida, filed a class action in Washington state court against Motricity, a Delaware corporation with its principle place of business in Washington; the class action complaint alleged that Motricity, which “represents providers of mobile content in dealing with wireless carriers whose networks and billing services the providers use” and “receives a fee per content transaction billed to cellular telephone users,” violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act by “placing unauthorized charges for mobile content on customers’ bills.” Rynearson v. Motricity, Inc., 601 F.Supp.2d 1238, 1239 (W.D.Wash. 2009). The class action sought damages, treble damages, restitution, interest, attorney fees and costs, as well as injunctive and declaratory relief. Id., at 1239-40. Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA), id., at 1240. Plaintiff moved to remand the class action to state court, arguing that the amount in controversy did not exceed $5 million. Id. The district court granted plaintiff’s motion

The district court noted that plaintiff did not contest that numerosity and minimal diversity existed under CAFA; rather, plaintiff focused on the CAFA requirement that the amount in controversy exceed $5 million. Rynearson, at 1240. The federal court explained at page 1240, “The burden of proving the amount in controversy depends on what the plaintiff has pleaded: (1) when the complaint does not specify an amount of damages, the party seeking removal must prove the amount in controversy by a preponderance of the evidence; (2) when the complaint alleges damages in excess of the jurisdictional requirement, the requirement is presumptively satisfied unless it appears to a ‘legal certainty’ that the claim is actually for less than the amount in controversy requirement; and, (3) when the complaint alleges damages less than the jurisdictional requirement, the party seeking removal must prove the amount in controversy with legal certainty.” (Citation omitted.) In this case, the class action complaint did not seek a specific amount of damages so defendant was required to prove that the amount in controversy had been met, id. The thrust of the defense argument was that the cost of developing an “access code” system to comply with a possible injunction the district court may issue would exceed $5 million, thereby satisfying the amount in controversy requirement. Id. The district court disagreed, holding that the defendant’s interpretation of the class action complaint was flawed because “[t]he plain language of the complaint does not request Defendant to implement its own access code system.” Id. Accordingly, the federal court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the class action warranting remand of the class action to state court. Id., at 1240-41.

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