CAFA Mass Action Defense Case-Lowery v. Honeywell: Alabama Federal Court Rejects Defense Arguments And Remands Mass Action To State Court Due To Defense Failure To Establish $75,000 Amount In Controversy
Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA) did not Shift Burden of Proof of Amount in Controversy Requirements to Plaintiffs in Mass Actions or Class Actions Alabama Court Holds
In 2003, nine property owners filed suit in Alabama state court against eleven defendants asserting various common law based on defendants' discharge of pollutants and demanding as damages in excess of $1 million each. Lowery v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc., 460 F.Supp.2d 1288, 1290-91 (N.D. Ala. 2006). In an amended complaint filed in October 2005, 533 named plaintiffs sought damages against 12 named defendants seeking damages "in an amount of compensatory and punitive damages to be determined by a jury," id., at 1291. The complaint was amended against in March 2006 and June 2006; none of the complaints sought class action status, none of the theories of liability changed, and the indefinite prayer remained the same in the first through third amended complaints. Id. The Third Amended Complaint added as a party-defendant Alabama Power and Filler Products Company, and in July 2006 Alabama Power removed the action to federal court based in part on the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA) on the theory that "the action constitutes a 'mass action', which, under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(11)(B)(i), is removable." Id. Plaintiffs moved to remand the case to state court on the grounds that CAFA did not apply and that defendants had not demonstrated the requisite amount in controversy. In an opinion that contains some surprising legal conclusions but in the author's view reached the correct result, the federal court remanded the action to state court.
The district court noted that the complaint was filed long before CAFA's February 18, 2005 effective date, but the amendment that precipitated removal post-dated CAFA. Lowery, at 1292. The court explained at page1292, "This procedural fact creates two potentially dispositive removability questions: (1) did the filing of the third amended complaint 'commence' a new suit for purposes of CAFA; and (2) if so, did the new suit, by retroactive effect, 'commence' as to all defendants, or only as to [those defendants added by the third amended complaint]." CAFA looks to state law for determining when an action is "commenced," which under Alabama law was the date the original complaint was filed. Id. However, federal law holds that "as to the new defendant, removability is determined as of the date of receipt of service of the amended complaint, not as of the date on which the original suit was filed in state court." Id. (citations and italics omitted). The question, then, is whether Alabama Power properly removed the action. Id., at 1292-93.