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Ford Motor Class Action Defense Case–Phillips v. Ford Motor Company

Post-CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) Amendment of Complaint to Add or Substitute Named Plaintiffs Does Not “Commence” New Action Under CAFA Seventh Circuit Holds

The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA) became effective on February 18, 2005. Understandably, then, federal courts still confront matters of first impression under CAFA. On January 30, 2006, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals addressed “whether amending a complaint to add or substitute named plaintiffs (class representatives) ‘commences’ a new suit” for purposes of CAFA. Phillips v. Ford Motor Co., 435 F.3d 785, 786 (7th Cir. 2006). The Court noted, “No appellate court has yet decided whether adding named plaintiffs to a class action suit ‘commences’ a new suit for purposes of removal under CAFA.” Id.

In Phillips, the lawsuits at issue had been filed prior to the enactment of CAFA, but new plaintiffs were added by amendment after CAFA’s effective date. The Seventh Circuit held that the amendment did not commence a new suit for purposes of CAFA. In analyzing the legal issue presented, the Court observed that state law controlled: because the question “is whether adding named plaintiffs commences a new suit in state court, the answer should depend on state procedural law.” Phillips, at 787.

As a general rule, “’[a] routine amendment to the complaint does not commence a new suit.’” Phillips, at 786 (citation omitted). Adding or substituting named plaintiffs is such a “routine” amendment.

The clearest case in which an amended complaint does not kick off a new suit is where the amendment “relates back” to the original complaint. For then the fact that the statute of limitations has run . . . is not a bar, as it would be if the amended complaint did not relate back – that is, if it stated a new claim and thus kicked off a new suit.

Phillips, at 787-88 (citations omitted, italics added). The Court observed that the “relation back” doctrine is particularly important in class action lawsuits, and held that under Illinois law “the addition of [new] plaintiffs in the two cases before us did not commence new suits.”

Download PDF file of Phillips v. Ford Motor Co.