“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)).
In essence, Bayer argued that “plaintiffs’ five separate pleadings are a transparent attempt to circumvent CAFA, and, as such, should be treated as a single mass action.” Anderson, at 5. The Seventh Circuit disagreed, noting that, by its express terms, CAFA “exclude[es] cases in which the claims were consolidated on a defendant’s motion,” so “Congress appears to have contemplated that some cases which could have been brought as a mass action would, because of the way in which the plaintiffs chose to structure their claims, remain outside of CAFA’s grant of jurisdiction.” Id., at 6. In light of the general rule that the plaintiff is the master of his or her own complaint, this reading of CAFA did not create an “anomalous” result, id. Moreover, the Circuit Court noted that the only sister circuit to address the issue had reached the same conclusion. Id., at 6-7 (citing Tanoh v. Dow Chemical Co., 561 F.3d 945 (9th Cir. 2009)). And because CAFA did not provide a basis for exercising federal court jurisdiction, the Seventh Circuit lacked jurisdiction to consider Bayer’s alternative arguments. Id., at 8. Accordingly, the Circuit Court denied Bayer’s request for leave to appeal, id., at 9.