District Court Erred in Remanding Class Action to State Court because while Class Action Complaint Involved Sale of Securities it was Premised on Fraudulent Concealment of Company’s Financial Condition so Exception to CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act) Removal Jurisdiction did not Apply Second Circuit Holds
Plaintiffs filed a putative class action in New York state court against various defendants, including Agway (the issuer) and PriceWaterhouseCoopers (its auditor), alleging violations of New York’s consumer fraud statute; specifically, the class action complaint asserted “that officers of an issuer – abetted by the issuer’s auditor – failed to disclose, while marketing certain debt certificates, that the issuer was insolvent.” Estate of Pew v. Cardarelli, 527 F.3d 25 (2d Cir. 2008) [Slip Opn., at 3]. Plaintiffs had filed a prior class action complaint in New York state court alleging Agway failed to disclose in financial statements that it was insolvent, and was discharging its debts through the issuance of new certificates; defense attorneys removed that class action to federal court, so plaintiffs amended the class action “to plead essentially the same acts of concealment under New York’s consumer fraud law.” Id., at 5. The district court subsequently granted a defense motion to dismiss with prejudice the federal securities claims, but dismissed without prejudice the remaining state law claim based on its decision not to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over it. Id., at 6. Plaintiffs then filed another class action in New York state court that sought relief only under New York law, id. Defense attorneys again removed the class action to federal court, asserting removal jurisdiction existed under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA), id. The district court granted plaintiffs’ motion to remand the class action to state court on the ground that it “falls within an exception to CAFA’s removal provision for actions ‘that relate to the rights, duties (including fiduciary duties), and obligations relating to or created by or pursuant to any security.” Id., at 6-7. The Second Circuit granted a defense request for permission to appeal, and reversed.
Agway was an agricultural supply and marketing cooperative that sought to raise money by issuing unsecured, fixed-interest debt instruments (money market certificates). Pew, at 4. The question presented was whether the class action’s “state-law consumer fraud claim” falls within the exception to CAFA jurisdiction, as determined by the district court. Id., at 13. Finding that “the imperfect drafting of the status makes it ambiguous,” id., and elsewhere describing CAFA’s text as “cryptic,” see id., at 19, the Circuit Court examined the statute’s wording, context and legislative history. Based on its analysis, the Second Circuit held that even though the Agway Certificates are “securities” and create “obligations” and “rights” in the holders, id., at 18, the exception to CAFA did not apply because the gravamen of the class action complaint “does not ‘relate to’ those rights; rather, it is a state-law consumer fraud action alleging that Agway fraudulently concealed its insolvency when it peddled the Certificates.” Id., at 19. In sum, the Court held that Congress intended to reserve the exception to CAFA removal jurisdiction for “‘disputes over the meaning of the terms of a security,’ such as how interest rates are to be calculated, and so on.” Id., at 23. Accordingly, it concluded that the district court erred in remanding the class action to state court and reversed. Id.
NOTE: The decision was not unanimous; Judge Pooler’s 15-page dissenting opinion may be found at pages 24 through 38 of the Slip Opinion. Also, with respect to the time for seeking permission to appeal, the Second Circuit stated that it “join[s] our sister circuits in interpreting the statute to mean ‘not more than 7 days’” after entry of the order, even though the statute states “not less than 7 days,” id., at 7-8; the author believes this interpretation of the statute is clearly correct. The Second Circuit also rejected various claims that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the appeal, see id., at 8-12, but we do not here discuss that portion of the opinion.