Published on:

Class Action Defense Cases–Greenwich v. Countrywide: New York Federal Court Remands Class Action To State Court Holding Class Action Complaint Fell Within Exception To CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act) Removal

Class Action Complaint Satisfied Amount in Controversy and Minimal Diversity Requirements for Removal under Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), but Remand Warranted because Plaintiffs Met Burden of Establishing Exception to Removal Jurisdiction in that Class Action Related Solely to Securities New York Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs, the holders of mortgage-backed securities certificates issued by various trusts, filed a putative class action in New York state court against various Countrywide entities seeking declaratory relief; specifically, the class action complaint alleged inter alia that Countrywide violated the federal Truth-in-Lending Act (TILA). Greenwich Fin. Servs. Distressed Mtg. Fund 3, LLC v. Countrywide Fin. Corp., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (S.D.N.Y. August 18, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, the Attorneys General for 7 states sued Countrywide in 2008 alleging violations of predatory lending laws; Countrywide settled those lawsuits with “a multistate settlement, requiring it to modify the terms of numerous mortgage loans that it currently services – including at least some of the loans it services on behalf of plaintiffs.” Id., at 2-3. Plaintiffs argued that the loan modifications caused them to suffer monetary damage, and that Countrywide was required to repurchase the loans that it modified “at a price equal to the unpaid principal and accrued interest thereon” in order to make plaintiffs whole. Id., at 2-3. Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court; Countrywide argued that removal was proper under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA), and further argued that the class action was removable “because plaintiffs’ claims raise substantial, disputed federal questions under the Truth-in-Lending Act [(TILA)],” id., at 1. Plaintiffs moved to remand the class action to state court. Id. The district court held that neither CAFA nor TILA provided subject-matter jurisdiction over the dispute and remanded the class action as requested.

The district court first examined whether removal jurisdiction existed under CAFA, which authorizes removal of class actions where the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million and where minimal diversity exists. Greenwich, at 4. (A more detailed discussion of CAFA may be found HERE.) Plaintiffs conceded that the requirements for removal had been met, but countered that their class action fell within an exception to removal – viz., a class action that “solely involves a claim…that relates to the rights, duties (including fiduciary duties), and obligations relating to or created by or pursuant to any security.” Id. (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(9)(C)). The burden of establishing that the exception applied rests with plaintiffs, id. Relying on the Second Circuit decision in Estate of Barbara Pew v. Cardarelli, 527 F.3d 25 (2d Cir. 2008), the district court held that the class action fell squarely within the scope of the exception to CAFA removal jurisdiction, see Greenwich, at 4-8, and rejected Countrywide’s arguments to the contrary, see id., at 8-11.

With respect to whether the class action presented a “substantial question of federal law,” defense attorneys argued that the complaint “arises under federal law” within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because, under Grable & Sons Metal Prods. V. Darue Eng’g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308 (2005), the class action’s state law claims “implicate[] substantial, disputed issues of federal law.” Greenwich, at 11-12. After a detailed discussion of Grable, see id., at 12-15, the district court held that it did not provide jurisdiction over the class action’s state law claims, see id., at 15-19. The district court rejected the argument that “federal law is necessary element” of plaintiffs’ claims, id., at 17-18. The federal court observed that “[i]t is tempting to find federal jurisdiction every time a multi-billion dollar case with national implications arrives at the doorstep of a federal court,” but that such jurisdiction did not here exist. Id., at 21. Accordingly, the district court granted plaintiffs’ motion to remand the class action to state court, id., at 22.

Download PDF file of Greenwich Financial v. Countrywide