Removal & Remand

Posted On: August 13, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–In re Burlington Northern: Seventh Circuit Reverses Remand Of Former Class Action Holding Jurisdiction Under Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) Determined At Time Of Removal Not After Amendment Of Complaint To Eliminate

Following Removal of Class Action to Federal Court under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act), Plaintiffs Decision to Amend Complaint to Eliminate Class Action Allegations did not Destroy Federal Court Jurisdiction because Jurisdiction is Determined at Time of Removal and is not Affected by Subsequent Events Seventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action in Wisconsin state court against Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation alleging that defendants’ “failure to inspect and maintain a railroad trestle caused the town to flood in July 2007, damaging their property.” In re Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co., 606 F.3d 379, 379-80 (7th Cir. 2010). Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act); plaintiffs then amended the complaint to remove the class action allegations and the district court remanded the matter to state court on the ground that without the class action allegations federal court jurisdiction was lacking under CAFA. Id., at 379. Id. Defense attorneys sought leave to appeal the remand order; the Seventh Circuit granted the petition and reversed.

The Seventh Circuit noted that “the parties battled extensively over jurisdiction” in the district court. In re Burlington, at 380. Defense attorneys argued diversity jurisdiction existed because the joinder of the non-diverse individual employee defendants was fraudulent, but the district court found it to be tactical rather than fraudulent. Id. The district court agreed, however, that jurisdiction existed under CAFA, and denied plaintiffs’ first motion to remand. Id. Plaintiffs thereafter sought and obtained leave of court to amend the complaint to remove the class action allegations. Id. The federal court also considered the motion to amend to be “an implied motion to remand the case, which it granted.” Id. In the district court’s view, because the amended complaint did not contain any class action allegations, jurisdiction under CAFA no longer existed. Id.

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Posted On: July 14, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–Moffitt v. Residential Funding: Fourth Circuit Court Affirms District Court Order Denying Remand Of Class Actions Holding CAFA Jurisdiction Existed At Time Remand Motions Filed

Even if Defendants Removed Class Actions to Federal Court Prematurely, Subsequent Class Action Complaints Filed by Plaintiffs Prior to Filing Motion for Remand Established Federal Court Jurisdiction under Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) so District Court did not Err in Denying Motion to Remand Class Actions to State Court Fourth Circuit Holds

In 2003, three plaintiffs filed individual state court lawsuits against various defendants, including Residential Funding, “alleging violations of the Maryland Secondary Mortgage Loan Law.” Moffitt v. Residential Funding Co., LLC, ___ F.3d ___ (4th Cir. May 3, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1, 4]. The lawsuits were dismissed in 2006 on statute of limitations grounds, “[b]ut in 2009, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed, permitting the cases to go forward.” Id., at 4 (citation omitted). Plaintiffs’ counsel then advised the various defendants, in writing, “that plaintiffs intended to amend their individual complaints into class actions.” Id. Plaintiffs’ counsel also provided defendants with copies of the three anticipated class action complaints. Id. The draft class action lawsuits alleged that the putative class covered “thousands of members” and, though they did not pray for a specific amount in damages, the cover letter estimated that the damage suffered by each class member ranged from $20,000 to $90,000. Id. Believing that the draft complaint constituted “other paper[s]” within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b) and that the draft class action complaints established federal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), and “[f]earing that the thirty-day deadline would expire before plaintiffs actually filed the amended complaints,” defense attorneys removed the lawsuits to federal court. Id. Plaintiffs’ counsel thereafter filed the amended class action complaints in the federal court, id., at 4-5, and “defendants filed motions for leave to amend their original notices of removal in order to base removal on plaintiffs’ actual filing of the complaints,” id., at 5. Plaintiffs then moved to remand the class actions to state court, id., at 5. Plaintiffs’ counsel conceded that the amended class action complaints fell within the scope of CAFA for purposes of federal court jurisdiction, but they argued that the removals were premature because neither the letter nor the draft class action complaints constituted “other paper[s]” within the meaning of § 1446(b). Id. The district court denied the motion, id. Plaintiffs obtained leave to appeal the district court’s order, id., at 5-6, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed.

The Circuit Court began its analysis by observing that it “need not decide whether the cases were improperly removed” because even if they were “the amended complaints provided an independent basis for the district court to retain jurisdiction.” Moffitt, at 3. Plaintiffs’ “principal argument” is that federal court jurisdiction “did not exist at the time of removal,” accordingly, the motion for remand should have been granted. Id., at 6. The Fourth Circuit recognized that the removal statute requires the case be subject to federal court adjudication “at the time the removal petition is filed,” id. (citation omitted), but held that “the mere fact that a case does not meet this timing requirement is not ‘fatal to federal-court adjudication’ where jurisdictional defects are subsequently cured.” Id. (citation omitted). It was therefore unnecessary for the Court to decide whether federal court jurisdiction over the cases existed at the time defense counsel removed them to federal court, because “plaintiffs independently conferred jurisdiction on the district court by filing their amended class action complaints prior to moving to remand.” Id., at 7. The Circuit Court also reasoned, “Requiring pointless movement between state and federal court before a case is tried on the merits can…impose significant costs on both courts and litigants[,]” and “Here, it would be a waste of judicial resources to remand these cases on the basis of an antecedent violation of the removal statute now that jurisdiction has been established.” Id., at 8. Put simply, the Fourth Circuit found that “these cases would likely end up in federal court regardless of whether we ordered remands at this juncture.” Id. Thus, “considerations of judicial economy weigh against requiring such a pointless exercise and in favor of allowing this case to go forward in a federal forum where jurisdiction has been perfected.” Id. The Circuit Court therefore affirmed the district court order denying plaintiffs’ motion to remand the class actions to state court, id., at 9.

Download PDF file of Moffitt v. Residential Funding

Posted On: July 1, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–Anderson v. Bayer: Seventh Circuit Court Holds Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) Provision For "Mass Actions" Did Not Allow Federal Courts To Treat Separate Lawsuits As One Lawsuit To Meet 100 Plaintiff Threshold

“Mass Action” Provision in Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), Extending Federal Court Jurisdiction to Lawsuits Involving at Least 100 Plaintiffs, did not Permit Federal Courts to Treat Multiple, “Virtually Identical Complaints” by Same Plaintiffs’ Counsel as a Single Lawsuit for Purposes of Determining Number of Plaintiffs Seventh Circuit Holds

Five separate but “mostly identical complaints” (not class actions) were filed against various Bayer entities in Illinois state court seeking damages for personal injuries allegedly caused by Bayer’s prescription drug Trasylol. Anderson v. Bayer Corp., ___ F.3d ___ (7th Cir. June 22, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1, 3]. According to the “virtually identical” lawsuits, “plaintiffs (or their decedents) suffered injuries as a result of being administered Trasylol during heart surgery.” Id., at 3-4. Defense attorneys removed the lawsuits to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), asserting that the lawsuits fell within CAFA’s “mass action” provision “which allows the removal of cases joining the claims of at least 100 plaintiffs that otherwise meet CAFA’s jurisdictional requirements.” Id., at 3. The district court remanded four of the five lawsuits on the ground that they involved less than 100 – it was, apparently, only by accident that the fifth lawsuit named precisely 100 plaintiffs. Id. Bayer asked the Seventh Circuit for permission to appeal the remand order; defense attorneys argued that the Circuit Court should “hold that (1) plaintiffs cannot avoid federal diversity jurisdiction by carving their filings into five separate pleadings, and (2) there is diversity jurisdiction over most plaintiff’s claims because the claims of the small number of non-diverse plaintiffs were fraudulently misjoined and should be severed.” Id. The Circuit Court rejected the appeal because it agreed with the district court that the lawsuits fell outside the scope of CAFA’s “mass action” provision because they involved fewer than 100 plaintiffs; accordingly, the Court held that it was without jurisdiction to reach the second issue advanced by Bayer. Id.

Plaintiffs’ counsel originally filed “four virtually identical complaints, using verbatim language,” in Illinois state court “on behalf of 57 unrelated plaintiffs.” Anderson, at 3-4. Defense attorneys removed the lawsuits to federal court on grounds of diversity, arguing that the non-diverse plaintiffs had been joined fraudulently to defeat diversity jurisdiction. Id., at 4. The federal court remanded the complaint to state court sua sponte. Id. On remand, plaintiffs’ counsel amended the lawsuits to add another 111 plaintiffs, distributed across the four complaints and bringing the total number of plaintiffs in one of those lawsuits to 100; plaintiffs’ counsel also filed a fifth lawsuit. Id. Bayer again removed the lawsuits to federal court on the ground that the five separate complaints “should be treated as a single mass action,” id. The lawsuits were again remanded to state court and Bayer filed a petition seeking permission to appeal under the CAFA provision that “creates an exception for class actions to the general rule that remand orders are not reviewable.” Id. (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d)).

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Posted On: June 29, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–Lincoln National Life v. Bezich: Seventh Circuit Court Dismisses Appeal For Lack Of Jurisdiction Holding Variable Life Insurance Policy Was A "Security" Within Meaning Of Exception To CAFA Jurisdiction

District Court Properly Remanded Class Action to State Court on Ground that Variable Life Insurance Policy Constituted a “Security” Within the Meaning of Exception to Federal Court Jurisdiction under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act) Seventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against the issuer of his life insurance policy, Lincoln National Life Insurance, alleging that it breached the terms of certain of its variable life insurance policies. Lincoln Nat’l Life Ins. Co. v. Bezich, ___ F.3d ___ (7th Cir. June 25, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, “Each month, Lincoln deducts cost-of-insurance charges from the accounts of its policyholders…[that] are not determined based on expected mortality, as promised by the policy.” Id., at 1-2. Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court, asserting jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), id., at 2. However, the district court remanded the class action to state court on the ground that CAFA provides an exception for class actions “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 (as defined under section 2(a)(1) of the Securities Act of 1933 (15 U.S.C. 77b(a)(1)) and the regulations issued thereunder).” Id. (citing § 1332(d)(9)(C)). Defendant filed a petition with the Seventh Circuit seeking permission to appeal the district court’s remand order. Id., at 1-2. Lincoln National Life argued “that its petition raises a ‘novel and important issue’ under CAFA: ‘whether contract claims grounded in the traditional insurance features of variable life insurance policies, as opposed to those related to their security features, qualify under the securities exception to CAFA.’” Id., at 2. Because the Seventh Circuit agreed with the district court’s conclusion that § 1332(d)(9)(C) required remand, it dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Id.

The Circuit Court explained that Lincoln allowed the holders of single variable life insurance policies to “allocate money between a General Account, which accumulates value from premium payments, and a Separate Account, an investment account whose value varies depending on the performance of the investments selected.” Bezich, at 2-3. The policyholder may place 100% of his or her funds in either the General or Separate Account, or may split the funds between the accounts in any percentage they desire. Id., at 3. “The Separate Account is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a unit investment trust under the Investment Company Act of 1940,” id. (citation omitted). The class action challenges the insurance charges deducted from both the General and Separate Account based on the percentage of funds in each account. Id. Defense attorneys argued that the appeal should be accepted because “no court of appeals has ever considered the application of CAFA to this type of variable life insurance policy.” Id.

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Posted On: February 10, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–Cunningham Charter v. Learjet: Seventh Circuit Court Holds Class Action Removed To Federal Court Under CAFA Remains In Federal Court Following Denial Of Class Action Certification

In Case Removed to Federal Court under Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), District Court Erred in Remanding Class Action Complaint to State Court Following Denial of Class Action Treatment because Jurisdiction is Generally Determined at Time Complaint is Filed and Class Action Allegations were not Frivolous Seventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action in Illinois state court against Learjet alleging breach of warranty and product liability claims; the class action complaint sought to represent all purchasers of Learjets “who had received the same warranty from the manufacturer that [plaintiff] had received.” Cunningham Charter Corp. v. Learjet, Inc., 592 F.3d 805 (7th Cir. 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1]. Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court under CAFA (the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005), id., at 1-2. Plaintiff then moved the district court to certify two classes, but the court denied class action treatment “on the ground that neither proposed class satisfied the criteria for certification set forth in Rule 23.” Id., at 2. The federal court then ruled that the denial of the class action certification motion removed federal court jurisdiction under CAFA and remanded the complaint to state court. Id. Defendant petitioned the Seventh Circuit for leave to appeal the remand order; the Circuit Court granted the petition “to resolve an issue under the Class Action Fairness Act that this court has not heretofore had to resolve.” Id. The Circuit Court reversed.

The Seventh Circuit explained that CAFA creates federal court diversity jurisdiction in cases of minimal diversity; that is, “over certain class actions in which at least one member of the class is a citizen of a different state from any defendant (that is, in which diversity may not be complete).” Learjet, at 2. CAFA expressly applies “to any class action [within the Act’s scope] before or after the entry of a class certification order.” Id. (quoting § 1332(d)(8)). The Circuit Court explained that CAFA implies an “expectation” of class certification in that a district court should remand a putative class action to state court if “it would have been certain from the outset of the litigation that no class could be certified.” Id., at 3. On the other hand, “jurisdiction attaches when a suit is filed as a class action, and that invariably precedes certification.” Id. The Circuit Court concluded, therefore, “All that section 1332(d)(1)(C) means is that a suit filed as a class action cannot be maintained as one without an order certifying the class. That needn’t imply that unless the class is certified the court loses jurisdiction of the case.” Id.

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Posted On: October 8, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–Irish v. Burlington: Wisconsin Federal Court Reaffirms Order Remanding Class Action To State Court Holding Post-Removal Amendments Destroyed CAFA Removal Jurisdiction

Plaintiffs’ Amendment to Class Action Complaint Following Removal under Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) Defeated CAFA Jurisdiction Warranting Remand of Lawsuit to State Court Wisconsin Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action in Wisconsin state court against various defendants seeking “damages resulting from a flash flood that inundated plaintiffs’ homes in the town of Bagley, Wisconsin in 2007.” Irish v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co., 632 F.Supp.2d 871, 872 (W.D. Wis. 2009). Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court on grounds of diversity even though two of the defendants shared Wisconsin citizenship with the plaintiffs, arguing that the Wisconsin-resident defendants were fraudulently joined to defeat diversity, and also asserting removal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). Id., at 872-83. “Plaintiffs’ moved to remand the case to state court, arguing that joinder was not fraudulent and that their suit was not subject to the Class Action Fairness Act.” Id., at 873. The district court determined that the joinder was not fraudulent but that CAFA removal jurisdiction existed, id. Plaintiffs sought and obtained leave to amend their class action complaint, “disavowing their class action allegations and seeking relief for only the named plaintiffs.” Id. The district court then remanded the class action to state court on the ground that it “no longer had subject matter jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.” Id. Defense attorneys moved the district court to reconsider its remand order, arguing that because CAFA jurisdiction existed at the time of removal, it could not be taken away by subsequent amendment “even if the case was no longer a class action.” Id. The district court granted reconsideration but again held that the case had to be remanded to state court.

As a preliminary procedural matter, the district court noted that defendants also filed a notice of appeal from the remand order with the Seventh Circuit. Irish, at 873. For reasons we do not discuss here, the district court concluded that it retained jurisdiction over the matter to reconsider its remand order. See id., at 873-74. Turning to the merits, the district court noted that the reconsideration motion was primarily directed at “[the] decision to remand the suit on the basis of a post-removal amendment of the complaint.” Id., at 874. The district court rejected the argument that “for the purpose of determining whether subject matter jurisdiction exists in a case removed from state court under [CAFA], the court is bound by the allegations of the original complaint and may not consider any later amendments.” Id., at 875. The court reaffirmed its holding that “the dismissal of plaintiff's class action claims eliminated the ground for the court's grant of diversity jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.” Id., at 876.

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Posted On: September 23, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Rynearson v. Motricity: Washington Federal Court Again Remands Class Action To State Court Holding CAFA Jurisdiction Not Met And “Other Paper” Does Not Include Pleadings In Unrelated Action

Class Action Improperly Removed to Federal Court under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act) because Declaration of Plaintiff’s Counsel in Unrelated Lawsuit Against Different Defendant was Insufficient to Establish $5 Million Amount in Controversy and, in Any Event, did not Constitute an “Other Paper” within Meaning of Removal Statute, Warranting Remand of Class Action and Award of Attorney Fees and Costs for Frivolous Removal Washington Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action in Washington state court against Motricity alleging violations of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendant “facilitated placing unauthorized charges for mobile content on customers’ bills.” Rynearson v. Motricity, Inc., 626 F.Supp.2d 1093, 1095 (W.D. Wash. 2009). Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act); plaintiff moved to remand the class action to state court (Rynearson I). Id., at 1094-95. Defense attorneys argued that “the estimate of the cost of injunctive relief was sufficient to establish the amount in controversy requisite for jurisdiction,” and at oral argument added that “removal would also be appropriate based on the damages sought by Plaintiff because of a declaration filed by Plaintiff's counsel in a separate case,” id., at 1095. The district court remanded the class action to state court, id. Defense attorneys then removed the class action to federal court again (Rynearson II), this time arguing that while it had removed the class action previously, it now sought “to remove this action based on new and previously unknown grounds.” Id.¸ at 1096. Specifically, the second removal was based on the declaration of plaintiff’s counsel (Edelson) in a different matter that, according to defense counsel, constituted an “other paper” for removal purposes. Id. Plaintiff’s lawyer moved the district court to reassign Rynearson II to the court that had handled Rynearson I, and sought an OSC re contempt and sanctions, in addition to remand. Id. The district court denied the OSC, but remanded the class action and awarded plaintiff fees and costs. Id., at 1094-95.

In order to establish the $5 million threshold of removal jurisdiction under CAFA, defense attorneys argued that the declaration plaintiff’s counsel in an unrelated case showed that the amount in controversy had been met. Rynearson, at 1096. In explaining why that declaration was “new and previously unknown” when it had been relied on in Rynearson I, defense counsel claimed that this was true because Motricity had been unaware of the declaration at the time it had filed its first notice of removal. Id., at 1096-97. The district court was unimpressed. First, the Court held that the “other paper” may not be a pleading filed in an unrelated case “where the litigants are entirely different.” Id., at 1097. Accordingly, it had no bearing on Rynearson II. Id., at 1098. Second, while it was admittedly “perplexed by Motricity’s description of the Edelson declaration as ‘new and previously unknown,’” it found that defendant’s conduct did not rise to the level of civil contempt. Id. However, the federal court did find that defendant’s conduct warranted an award of attorney fees and costs, as there was no legal authority supporting defendant’s broad use of the phrase “other paper” to include documents filed in other actions. Id., at 1098-99. In the district court’s view, “Defendant's argument in support of removal was frivolous and unsupported by caselaw or a plain reading of the removal statute.” Id., at 1099. Accordingly, the federal court again remanded the class action to state court, and awarded plaintiff attorney fees and costs. Id.

Download PDF file of Rynearson v. Motricity

Posted On: September 17, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Brown v. JEVIC: Third Circuit Reverses Order Remanding Class Action To State Court Holding Class Action Properly Removed Under Class Action Fairness Act Despite Fact Co-Defendant Was In Bankruptcy

Class Action Filed in State Court Against Defendant and Co-Defendant Debtor in Bankruptcy Removable to Federal Court under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act) because Co-Defendant Sued in Violation of Automatic Stay and because Co-Defendant’s Bankruptcy does not Preclude Defendant from Removing Class Action to Federal Court Third Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against JEVIC Transportation and its parent company, Sun Capital Partners, alleging labor law violations; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendants violated New Jersey’s WARN Act which, “[l]ike its federal counterpart, …requires advance notice of a plant closing under certain circumstances.” Brown v. JEVIC, 575 F.3d 322, 325 (3d Cir. 2009). JEVIC had filed for bankruptcy protection, and the class action was filed as an adversary proceeding in the United States Bankruptcy Court, id. One week later, and despite the automatic stay afforded by the bankruptcy proceeding, plaintiffs filed a class action in New Jersey state court against JEVIC and Sun Capital Partners. Id. Defense attorneys for JEVIC removed the state court class action to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA); the district court remanded the class action sua sponte on the grounds that the automatic stay precluded the debtor’s petition for removal. Id. Defense attorneys for Sun Capital then removed the state court class action to federal court under CAFA; the district court again remanded the class action, ruling that “[w]hen an action is initiated after the filing of a Chapter 11 petition, in violation of the accompanying stay, removal is not available.” Id., at 325-26. The Third Circuit granted Sun Capital’s petition for leave to appeal the remand order, id., at 326. The Circuit Court explained at page 325, “In this appeal implicating the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, we consider whether a defendant is precluded from removing a class action to federal court because a co-defendant is in bankruptcy. We hold that it is not.”

The Third Circuit began its analysis by noting that Sun Capital bore the “heavy burden” of establishing federal court jurisdiction. Brown, at 326 (citation omitted). Central to the Circuit Court’s analysis was the fact that Sun Capital was not in bankruptcy, so the district court’s reliance “on cases dealing with debtor defendants who attempted to remove actions” were inapplicable. Id. Also central to its analysis was the fact that the state court class action against JEVIC was improper because it was filed in knowing violation of the automatic stay, so plaintiffs had “improperly joined JEVIC in the [state court class action], [and] that joinder cannot prevent Sun from removing the action.” Id. In essence, plaintiffs fraudulently joined JEVIC in the state court class action. Id., at 326-27. The Third Circuit summarized its holding at page 327: “In sum, because [plaintiffs] had no reasonable basis to believe that JEVIC was amenable to suit, we hold that JEVIC was a fraudulently joined party and its status as a Defendant could not be used to defeat otherwise proper federal jurisdiction.” (The Third Circuit also held that the district court erred in remanding the class action to state court because JEVIC had never been served with legal process and therefore was not properly before the district court. See id., at 327. We do not here analyze that aspect of the Circuit Court's opinion.) Accordingly, the Circuit Court reversed the district court order remanding the class action to state court, id., at 329.

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Posted On: September 10, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–Manson v. GMAC Mortgage: Massachusetts Federal Court Denies Motion To Remand Class Action To State Court Holding Class Action Removable Under CAFA

Class Action Properly Removed to Federal Court under Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) because Defendants Adequately Established $5 Million Amount in Controversy and because Plaintiffs Failed to Establish that Local Controversy Exception or Home-State Controversy Exception Applied Massachusetts Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action in Massachusetts state court against GMAC Mortgage and various other defendants challenging defendant’s mortgage foreclosure practices; specifically, the class action complaint alleges GMAC violated Massachusetts state law in connection with its foreclosure proceedings because “the foreclosed mortgages had not been validly assigned to the foreclosing banks at the time the foreclosure actions were undertaken.” Manson v. GMAC Mortgage, LLC, 602 F.Supp.2d 289, 291-92 (D. Mass. 2009). Plaintiffs’ class action seeks to represent some 1000 people, all residents of Massachusetts residents, “whose primary residence was foreclosed by a power of sale...by a defendant that did not contemporaneously possess a written assignment of the underlying mortgage at the time the Notice of Sale was served” or “who face a pending foreclosure initiated by a defendant that did not have a written assignment of the underlying mortgage when the Notice of Sale was served and/or when a Right to Cure notice was sent.” Id., at 292. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, “the defendant banks and law firms knew that the foreclosures violated: (i) the Statute of Frauds…; (ii) the statutory notice and sale requirements…; and (iii) the common-law duty of good faith and diligence.” Id. Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act), id. Plaintiffs moved to remand the class action to state court on the grounds that the $5 million amount-in-controversy had not been shown and that CAFA’s “local controversy” or “home-state controversy” exceptions required that the district court “decline jurisdiction.” Id. The district court denied plaintiffs motion, concluding that the class action had been properly removed.

The federal court began by noting that CAFA, inter alia, creates federal jurisdiction over class actions with minimal diversity where the combined amount in controversy exceeds $5 million and the class action involves 100 members or more. GMAC, at 293. Plaintiffs conceded that minimal diversity was present and that the putative class contained more than 100 members, but insisted that it was not “reasonably probable” that the amount in controversy exceeded $5 million at the time of removal. Id. (In this regard, the district court observed that the time of removal was the relevant inquiry because “[e]vents subsequent to removal that reduce the amount in controversy do not divest a federal court of CAFA jurisdiction.” Id., at 293 n.5 (citing Coventry Sewage Assocs. v. Dworkin Realty Co., 71 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 1995)).) Under plaintiffs’ analysis, the class action seeks primarily injunctive and declaratory relief, and each class members’ monetary damage is approximately $1200; thus, the amount in controversy is only $1.2 million. GMAC, at 293. Defense attorneys countered that a total of 3,934 loans were “referred for foreclosure” during the putative class period, with 1,048 of these loans proceeding to foreclosure and 48 foreclosed properties being sold to third parties for more than $15 million. Id., at 293-94. GMAC argued that this fact went directly to “plaintiffs’ contingent claim that defendants may be liable for the collective replacement value of the homes that were foreclosed.” Id., at 294 n.8. In the alternative, defense attorneys argued that “the actual amount assessed foreclosed borrowers in costs and fees was approximately $8,000 per transaction,” not the $1200 figure provided by plaintiffs, which would make the amount in controversy approximately $8 million. Id., at 294. The district court found defendant’s evidence sufficient to meet the amount in controversy test, id.

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Posted On: September 9, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Walker v. Motricity: California Federal Court Remands Class Action To State Court Holding CAFA’s Amount In Controversy Requirement Not Met And Sanctions Defendant For Removal

Class Action Improperly Removed to Federal Court (Twice) because Defendant Failed to Establish $5 Million Amount in Controversy Required by Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) and Basis for Defendant’s Removal of Class Action Warrants Sanctions Sua Sponte California Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action in California state court against Motricity alleging violations of every conceivable statute, including the kitchen sink (see NOTE), arising from Motricity’s alleged act of billing for unwanted mobile content. Walker v. Motricity Inc., 627 F.Supp.2d 1137, 1139-40 (N.D. Cal. 2009). According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, Motricity “allegedly operates mobile transaction networks to help companies develop, deliver and bill for ‘mobile content’ services to compatible mobile devices in California and the nation,” including such services as “customized ring tones, premium text messages, and sports score reports,” and is purportedly “able to reach and bill millions of wireless subscribers nationwide and has registered thousands of transactions and processed thousands of dollars in California over recent years.” Id., at 1139. Plaintiff alleges that Motricity billed her for “unwanted mobile content services on her cellular telephone bill in the form of premium text messages” that she did not authorize, leading to the filing of her class action. Id., at 1139-40. But plaintiff’s act of excessive pleading was more than matched by defendant’s act in response. Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), but the district court granted plaintiff’s motion to remand the class action on the ground that Motricity failed to show the requisite $5 million amount in controversy. Id., at 1139, 1140. Defense attorneys again removed the class action to federal court under CAFA “just fifteen days later,” based on a declaration filed by plaintiff’s counsel in an unrelated action which (Motricity alleged) set forth a ratio for revenue that would (if applied in this case) meet the $5 million threshold for removing class actions under CAFA. Id., at 1140. Plaintiff again moved to remand it to state court. Id. The district court granted plaintiff’s motion, and awarded sanctions for frivolous removal of the class action.

After summarizing CAFA and noting the removing party’s burden of demonstrating that removal jurisdiction exists, see Walker , at 1140-41, the federal court observed that Ninth Circuit authority establishes “different burdens of proof for establishing removal jurisdiction in the CAFA context, depending on what has been pled in the complaint,” id., at 1141. If the class action complaint specifically alleges the amount of damages at issue, then it must appear to a “legal certainty” that the amount prayed for is incorrect; in other words, “If the complaint alleges specific damages in excess of the jurisdictional minimum, then the amount in controversy is presumptively satisfied unless it appears to a ‘legal certainty’ that the claim is actually for less than the jurisdictional minimum, whereas if the specific damages are less than the statutory minimum, it must be shown to a legal certainty that the amount in controversy exceeds that minimum for removal.” Id., at 1141 (citation omitted). But if the complaint does not specify the amount in controversy, then “then the court must look beyond the facts of the complaint and apply the preponderance of the evidence standard.” Id. (citations omitted). In its initial order granting plaintiff’s motion to remand the class action to state court, the district court noted that the class action complaint is silent as to the amount in controversy so Motricity was required to show that the amount in controversy exceeded $5 million. Id., at 1141-42. Because it failed to meet that burden, the court remanded the class action to state court. Id.

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Posted On: August 25, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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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.

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Posted On: June 23, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–Thomas v. Bank of America: Eleventh Circuit Affirms Remand Of Class Action To State Court Holding Evidence Insufficient Of Amount In Controversy Under Class Action Fairness Act

Class Action Improperly Removed to Federal Court under Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) because Defendant Failed to Adequately Establish that the $5 Million Amount in Controversy Requirement Eleventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a class action in Georgia state court against Bank of America and its wholly-owned subsidiary FIA Card Services (collectively “BofA”) alleging insurance fraud, unfair and deceptive acts, bad faith, and violations of the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO); the class action complaint was premised on the allegation that BofA “[sold] a bundled insurance product, known as Credit Protection Plus, to ineligible individuals.” Thomas v. Bank of America Corp., 570 F.3d 1280, 2009 WL 1636535, *1 (11th Cir. 2009). According to the class action, BofA’s credit protection plan provides benefits for various contingencies, including “credit life insurance, credit accident and sickness insurance, involuntary unemployment insurance, hospitalization, and unpaid family leave of absence.” Id. However, the class action complaint alleged that most benefits were conditioned on the customer being gainfully employed for at least 30 hours per week, and that BofA sold the product to individuals (such as plaintiff) who were not so employed. Id. Among the damages prayed for by the class action were treble damages and attorneys’ fees under RICO, id. The class action complaint did not identify the number of individuals in the proposed class or the amount of money sought as damages. Id. Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), id. However, because the class action complaint was silent on the amount of damages sought to be recovered, it fell to BofA to establish that the amount in controversy exceeded $5 million; it sought to meet this burden by presenting evidence that it collected more than $4.8 million from almost 78,000 customers during the class period, and that because plaintiff sought treble damages and attorney fees “the amount in controversy clearly exceeded $5,000,000.” Id. Plaintiff moved to remand the class action to state court on the grounds that the $5 million threshold had not been satisfied; the district court agreed, finding the $4.8 million inaccurate because the class action “did not allege that all of the Georgia Credit Protection Plus customers were entitled to relief for the entire amount of their Credit Production Plus fees.” Id. BofA appealed, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

The Eleventh Circuit explained that under CAFA a class action is not removable until the defendant receives a document from the plaintiff “be it the initial complaint or a later received paper ... [that] unambiguously establish[es] federal jurisdiction.” Thomas, at *2 (citation omitted). The defendant then has 30 days to file a notice of removal, id. Here, however, the class action complaint does not unambiguously establish federal court jurisdiction under CAFA because it “provided no information indicating the amount in controversy or the number of individuals in the alternative classes.” Id. The Circuit Court concluded, therefore, that remand of the class action to state court was proper “because defendant has not shown the amount in controversy and the sizes of the alternative classes by a preponderance of the evidence,” id. Accordingly, it affirmed the judgment of the district court. Id.

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Posted On: June 10, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–Marshall v. H & R Block: Seventh Circuit Reverses Remand Of Class Action To State Court Holding Potential Increase In Liability Rendered Class Action Removable Under CAFA

District Court Erred in Remanding Class Action to State Court because Decertification Order and Dismissal of Co-Defendants Substantially Increased Remaining Defendant’s Liability such that Amended Class Action Complaint did not “Relate Back” to Original Class Action Complaint, Rendering Class Action Removable under Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA) Seventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action in Illinois state court against various H & R Block companies alleging violations of the state’s Consumer Fraud Act; the class action complaint alleged that defendants “had used deceptive practices to sell ‘Peace of Mind’ insurance against mistakes by H & R Block that increased customers’ tax liabilities.” Marshall v. H & R Block Tax Services, Inc., 564 F.3d 826, 827 (7th Cir. 2009). The state court granted plaintiff’s motion to certify the litigation as a nationwide class action, identifying three classes and defining the defendant class (which it also certified) as “any entity with the names ‘H & R Block’ or ‘HRB’ in its name, or otherwise affiliated or associated with [TSI], and which sold or sells the [Peace of Mind] product.” Id. Eventually all of the defendants were dismissed from the class action except H & R Block Tax Services (TSI), id. “Subsequently, however, the court decertified the defendant class at TSI's request, leaving TSI, which already was the only defendant, with no class-representative status since there was no longer a defendant class. TSI had asked the court to decertify the plaintiff classes as well, and while the court refused to do so, it did narrow the classes to residents of 13 states.” Id. Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005), id. TSI argued that “decertification of the defendant class had made the case removable under the Class Action Fairness Act because the decertification occurred after the Act's effective date, and had increased TSI's potential liability notwithstanding the elimination of claims by residents of 37 states.” Id., at 828. Plaintiff argued that TSI’s liability had not increased because it had been jointly and severally liable for the misconduct of the other H & R Block defendants, id. The district court found that CAFA did not apply and remanded the class action to state court. Id. TSI sought and received leave to appeal the remand order, and the Seventh Circuit reversed.

The Seventh Circuit explained that TSI is the franchisor of the H & R Block retail tax offices – it does not operate them. Marshall, at 828. TSI claimed that, based on the decertification order, its potential liability has increased by $60 million, and argued that “a ruling that increases a defendant's potential liability may make a case originally filed before the effective date of the Class Action Fairness Act removable if the ruling comes after that date, unless the alteration in the scope of the plaintiff's claim ‘relates back’ to the original claim.” Id. (citations omitted). The district court remanded the class action to state court because it believed that “only a formal amendment of the complaint could commence a new action for CAFA purposes”; the Circuit Court disagreed, noting that such an interpretation would elevate form over substance. Id. Turning to whether the class action complaint adequately alleged joint and several liability, the Circuit Court concluded that the class action did not meet this test and that plaintiff now sought to “pin the entire liability of all the former members of the defendant class on TSI.” Id., at 829. The Seventh Circuit concluded at page 829, “They may, for all we know, be able to do so, but that will, so far as appears, enlarge TSI's liability; the plaintiffs have presented no evidence to the contrary.” This significant change in potential liability did not “relate back” to the original class action complaint – “the expansion of potential liability was a surprise.” Id. Accordingly, the district court erred in remanding the class action to state court, id.

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Posted On: June 4, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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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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Posted On: May 12, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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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.

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Posted On: April 2, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Arbitration Class Action Defense Cases–Vaden v. Discover Bank: Supreme Court Reverses District Court Order Under Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) Compelling Arbitration Of Class Action Counterclaims On Individual Basis

FAA does not Enlarge Federal Court Jurisdiction but Simply Permits District Court to Entertain Petition to Compel Arbitration where Jurisdiction Exists but for Arbitration Clause, and while District Courts may “Look Through” Pleadings to Decide Petition under FAA Section 4, Counterclaims are not Removable if Complaint is not Subject to Federal Court Jurisdiction Supreme Court Holds

Discover Card filed a “garden-variety, state-law-based contract action” against a cardholder in Maryland state court to collect $10,610.74, plus interest and attorney fees; the cardholder agreement provided for arbitration of “any claim or dispute” between Discover and the cardholder, and included a class action waiver in that it prohibited “any claims as a representative or member of a class.” Vaden v. Discover Bank, 129 S.Ct. 1262, 1268-69 and n.2 (2009). The cardholder answered and filed a putative class action counterclaim that also asserted only state law claims, id., at 1268. According to the allegations underlying the class action counterclaim, “Discover's demands for finance charges, interest, and late fees violated Maryland's credit laws.” Id. Neither Discover nor the cardholder invoked the arbitration clause in the cardholder agreement. Id., at 1268-69. In response to the class action counterclaim, Discover petitioned the federal court for an order compelling arbitration under § 4 of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), id., at 1269 (9 U.S.C. § 4). Though the class action claims were brought under state law, Discover argued that the counterclaims were governed by § 27(a) of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (FDIA), which “prescribes the interest rates state-chartered, federally insured banks like Discover can charge, ‘notwithstanding any State constitution or statute which is hereby preempted.’” Id. Discover’s argument was that the cardholder’s state law claims were preempted by the FDIA and, accordingly, the federal court had jurisdiction to rule on Discover’s petition under the FAA. Id. The district court granted Discover’s petition and ordered arbitration of the cardholder’s individual claims. Id. The cardholder appealed: the Fourth Circuit questioned whether the district court had federal question jurisdiction over Discover’s FAA petition; the Circuit Court remanded the case to the district court with instructions to “‘look through’ the § 4 petition to the substantive controversy between the parties” and to make “an express determination whether that controversy presented ‘a properly invoked federal question.’” Id. (citations omitted). On remand, the cardholder conceded that his state law claims were completely preempted by the FDIA because Discover was a federally insured bank; based on this concession, the district court held it had federal-question jurisdiction and again granted the petition compelling arbitration. Id. This time, the Fourth Circuit affirmed. Id. The Supreme Court reversed.

Under Section 4 of the FAA, a district court may consider a petition to compel arbitration “if the court would have jurisdiction, ‘save for [the arbitration] agreement,’ over ‘a suit arising out of the controversy between the parties.’” Vaden, at 1267-68. The petition for certiorari presented the Supreme Court with two questions “concerning a district court’s subject-matter jurisdiction over a § 4 petition”: First, “Should a district court, if asked to compel arbitration pursuant to § 4, ‘look through’ the petition and grant the requested relief if the court would have federal-question jurisdiction over the underlying controversy?” And second, “[I]f the answer to that question is yes, may a district court exercise jurisdiction over a § 4 petition when the petitioner's complaint rests on state law but an actual or potential counterclaim rests on federal law?” Id., at 1268. The High Court summarized its holding at page 1268 as follows, “A federal court may ‘look through’ a § 4 petition and order arbitration if, ‘save for [the arbitration] agreement,’ the court would have jurisdiction over ‘the [substantive] controversy between the parties.’” But the Supreme Court reversed the Fourth Circuit’s decision because it had “misidentified the dimensions of ‘the controversy between the parties’ by ignoring that the lawsuit originated with “Discover's claim for the balance due on Vaden's account” – “Given that entirely state-based plea and the established rule that federal-court jurisdiction cannot be invoked on the basis of a defense or counterclaim, the whole ‘controversy between the parties’ does not qualify for federal-court adjudication.” Id. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed.

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Posted On: March 16, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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SLUSA Class Action Defense Cases–Kurz v. Fidelity Management: Seventh Circuit Affirms Removal Of Class Action And Subsequent Defense Judgment In Class Action Holding Class Action Complaint Fell Within SLUSA

Class Action Premised on Violations of “Best Execution” Duty Fell within Scope of SLUSA (Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998) so Properly Removed and then Properly Dismissed because Time-Barred and no Proof of Injury Seventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs, former investors in portfolio managed by Fidelity Management & Research and FMR Co. (collectively “Fidelity”), filed a class action in state court against Fidelity alleging violations of state law and breach of contract based on the allegation that “some of [Fidelity’s] employees placed trades through Jeffries & Co.” because “Jeffries bribed the employees to send business its way.” Kurz v. Fidelity Management & Research Co., ___ F.3d ___ (7th Cir. February 23, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. The rules of the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) prohibit trading through a broker “paid under the table” as violative of the duty of “best execution,” that is, failing to get “the optimal combination of price, speed, and liquidity for a securities trade.” Id., at 2 (citation omitted). The conduct underlying the class action is covered by regulations under the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (IAA) and the Investment Company Act of 1940 (ICA). Id. The SEC commenced proceedings against Fidelity under the IAA and the ICA, and Fidelity entered into a consent decree governing “how future trades will be placed and executed.” Id. In response to plaintiffs’ class action, Fidelity argued that the employee misconduct involved securities laws and, accordingly, removed the class action to federal court under the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (SLUSA). Id., at 2-3. In essence, defense attorneys argued that, according to the allegations in the class action, Fidelity “had either misrepresented that best execution would be achieved, or failed to disclose that best execution was not being achieved,” and that under either scenario “the wrong took place ‘in connection with the purchase or sale’ of covered securities because it affected trades in those securities (and potentially the net price obtained).” Id., at 3-4. Plaintiffs moved to remand the class action to state court; the district court agreed with Fidelity that the class action fell within the scope of SLUSA and denied the motion. Id., at 4. The district court subsequently entered judgment in favor of Fidelity on the class action complaint on the grounds that plaintiffs “filed suit after the federal statute of limitations had run and also was unable to show injury.” Id. The Seventh Circuit affirmed.

The Seventh Circuit first held that removal was proper. Plaintiffs argued that the class action was based on contract law, and that further the duty of “best execution” is not one “in connection with the purchase or sale” of securities; accordingly, plaintiffs insisted that the class action did not fall within the scope of SLUSA. Kurz, at 4. The Circuit Court concluded “[t]hat argument is frivolous,” id., at 4-5 (citations omitted). The Seventh Circuit recognized that a true contract claim would fall outside of SLUSA, but no contract existed in this case. Id., at 5. The class action complaint did not allege that Fidelity breached any promise to plaintiffs; rather, the class action asserted that plaintiffs were third-party beneficiaries of a contract between Fidelity and Jeffries. Id. Moreover, plaintiffs could not produce that contract, and the Circuit Court observed at page 5 that “for all we know none exists.” On the other hand, a securities law violation would support plaintiffs’ class action claims. Id., at 6. Put simply, “How Fidelity discharges its duties toward investors is a subject requiring disclosure under federal law.” Id. And even though Fidelity’s top managers and board did not know about the misconduct, and therefore could not have acted with the necessary scienter to support a securities liabilities claim, the individual employees did act with scienter and Fidelity may be derivatively liable for their misconduct. Id., at 6-7. In sum, the Seventh Circuit held that the district court correctly determined that plaintiffs had either a federal securities claim or nothing. Id., at 7. Assuming it was the former, plaintiffs’ class action advanced “a bad securities claim, given the expiration of the federal statute of limitations and the class’s inability to show loss causation.” Id. (citation omitted). Accordingly, the Circuit Court affirmed the judgment.

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Posted On: March 5, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–Katz v. Gerardi: Seventh Circuit Reverses Order Remanding Class Action To State Court Holding Class Action Fairness Act May Trump Securities Act Of 1933

District Court Erred in Remanding Securities Class Action to State Court because Evidentiary Hearing Required to Determine Whether Section 22(a) of Securities Act Precluded Removal of Class Action to Federal Court Pursuant to CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act) Complaint Seventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action in state court against various defendants purportedly on behalf of “a class of persons who contributed real property (or interests in real property) to the Archstone real estate investment trust, in exchange for interests called ‘A-1 Units’”; the class action complaint asserted that defendants violated federal securities laws. Katz v. Gerardi, 552 F.3d 558, 559 (7th Cir. 2009). According to the allegations underlying the class action, “In 2007 Archstone merged into Tishman-Lehman Partnership. Holders of A-1 Units were offered a choice of cash or Series O Preferred Units in the entity formed by the merger. [Plaintiff] contends that the merger violated the terms of the A-1 Units, because neither cash nor the Series O Preferred Units offered investors the same tax benefits as A-1 Units.” Id. Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA), id. The district court remanded the class action to state court on the grounds that the Securities Act of 1933 prohibited removal, id., at 560. The Seventh Circuit granted defendants’ application for permission to appeal and reversed the district court’s remand order.

The Circuit Court began its analysis by observing, “One might suppose that a statute enacted in 2005 supersedes a statute enacted in 1933, but the district court held that § 22(a) [of the Securities Act of 1933] controls because it is ‘more specific’ than the 2005 Act – for § 22(a) deals only with securities litigation, while the 2005 Act covers class actions in many substantive fields.” Katz, at 560. The Seventh Circuit also noted that “[o]nly purchasers of securities may pursue actions under the 1933 Act,” id. (citation omitted). But the district court found it sufficient that the class action complaint “invokes the Securities Act of 1933,” which, in the district court’s view, was alone sufficient to preclude removal.” Id. The Seventh Circuit disagreed: “It is hard to distinguish between a claim artfully designed to defeat federal jurisdiction and one that is properly pleaded but unsuccessful on the merits, but it cannot be right to say that a pleader's choice of language always defeats removal.” Id. Based on the Circuit Court’s analysis, “Section 22(a) and the 2005 Act are incompatible; one or the other must yield,” id., at 561, and further that § 22(a) did not “insulate” the class action’s alleged claims under the Securities Act from removal under CAFA. See id., at 561-63.

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Posted On: February 25, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–McLoughlin v. People’s United: Connecticut Federal Court Denies Motion To Remand Class Action To State Court Holding Removal Jurisdiction Exists Under Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA)

Class Action Properly Removed to Federal Court under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) because Defendants Established by Preponderance of the Evidence that Class Action Placed more than $5 Million in Controversy Connecticut Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a class action in Connecticut state court against Bank of New York Mellon (“Mellon”) and People’s United Bank (“Bank”) alleging negligence, invasion of privacy, breach of fiduciary duty, and violations of Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA); the class action complaint asserted that Mellon lost electronic data belong to Bank customers. McLoughlin v. People's United Bank, Inc., 586 F.Supp.2d 70, 71 (D.Conn. 2008). According to the allegations underlying the class action, the Bank entered into a contract with Mellon to store customer data and records electronically, and Mellon created backup tapes of this information which were later lost. Id. The class action “alleged damages [that] include ‘improperly charged account fees,’ ‘the costs of remedying the [data] breach through the purchase of identity theft protection and monitoring of accounts to ensure against identity theft,’ damages for ‘unnecessary and illegal intrusion into their privacy rights,’ and ‘mental and emotional distress’ as well as punitive damages and attorney's fees.” Id., at 71-72. Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA); plaintiffs moved to remand the class action to state court. Id., at 72. Plaintiffs argued that the $5 million amount in controversy had not been met because the class may consist of only 450,000 people (whereas defendants asserted up to 10 million people may have been affected). Id. The district court refused to remand the class action to state court.

After summarizing removal jurisdiction under CAFA, the and defendants’ burden of establishing that removal jurisdiction exists, the district court observed that, because the class action complaint failed to specify the amount of damages sought, Mellon and the Bank were required to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million. McLoughlin, at 72. The federal court observed that this was “the only point of dispute,” id., at 72, and the parties were entitled to introduce evidence to establish the amount in controversy, id., at 72-73. Defendants introduced the only evidence on this issue, which showed that 556,000 Bank customers and a total of 10 million people were affected. Id., at 73. Also, plaintiffs’ counsel had stated that he was seeking “seeking seven years of credit monitoring, credit insurance, and other damages for his clients.” Id. Defendants also introduced evidence that Experian charges $14.95 per month for credit monitoring services, id. Plaintiffs did not challenge these figures, and the district court explained that “at $14.95 a month, for seven years, the amount in controversy for each class member would be $1,255.80.” Id. The amount in controversy for 10 million class members, then, would be more than $12 billion, id. Accordingly, defendants had adequately established removal jurisdiction under CAFA, and the district court denied plaintiffs’ motion to remand the class action to state court. Id., at 74.

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Posted On: February 12, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases--Ava Acupuncture v. State Farm: New York Federal Court Denies Motion To Remand Class Action To State Court Holding "Reasonably Probable" $5,000,000 Was At Stake And Plaintiffs Failed To Establish Local Controversy Exception

Class Action Properly Removed to Federal Court under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act) because State Farm Declaration Established “Reasonable Probability” that Amount in Controversy Exceeded $5 Million and Plaintiffs Failed to Establish Relief Sought Against “Significant” Local Defendant New York Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs, medical providers who had “been assigned No-Fault medical reimbursement claims by eligible injured persons (‘EIPs’),” filed a class action in New York state court against various defendants, including State Farm, alleging “that defendant insurers have fraudulently failed to pay statutorily mandated medical benefits under New York's No-Fault Insurance Law” and that, together with “their legal counsel and special investigation units (‘SIUs’),” violated various New York state laws. Ava Acupuncture P.C. v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co., ___ F.Supp.2d ___, 2008 WL 5170186, *1 (S.D.N.Y. December 9, 2008). According to the allegations underlying the class action, the defendants engaged in “harassing, abusive verification and litigation tactics” and used “preset numeric targets to limit claim payouts,” and allegedly bribed individuals at the Suffolk County District Attorney's office. Id. Defense attorneys for State Farm and two other defendants removed the class action to federal court, asserting removal jurisdiction existed under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA), id. In response, plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their class action claims against the two other removing defendants, leaving State Farm as “the only remaining removing defendant,” and then filed a motion to remand the class action back to state court. Id. The district court denied the motion.

Plaintiffs argued that the class action should be remanded to state court for two reasons: (1) because State Farm failed to establish that the amount in controversy exceeded $5,000,000, and (2) because the class action falls within the scope of CAFA’s “local controversy” exception. Ava Acupuncture, at *1. After summarizing New York’s no-fault insurance law and federal subject matter jurisdiction requirements of CAFA, see id., at *2, as well as the general rules for calculating the amount in controversy and summarizing the “local controversy” exception to CAFA removal jurisdiction and the burden of the party opposing removal to establish the applicability of exceptions to CAFA removal, see id., at *3, the district court turned to whether the removing parties had met their burden of establishing federal court jurisdiction within a “reasonable probability,” id., at *2. While the class action complaint outlined damages “in only the most general terms, indicating that the exact number of class members will be ascertained through discovery and review of defendants' records.,” and while the class action failed to “plac[e] a value on the object of the litigation,” the complaint did allege that “thousands” of individuals would be covered by the class action and attacked every denial of insurance coverage by State Farm over a 6-year period. Id., at *4. To meet its burden, State Farm submitted as evidence a declaration stating that “over the last six years State Farm has denied $40,265,558 worth of claims arising out of investigations conducted by its SIU investigators” and that “the amount of unpaid denied claims since 2003 far exceeds $5,000,000.” Id. The district court rejected plaintiffs’ objections to this declaration and concluded that the $5 million threshold was “easily” met. Id., at *4-*5. The federal court therefore turned to the local controversy exception.

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