CAFA Removal Appeal to Watch

Here's one to watch.  The Supreme Court agreed earlier this week to consider whether defendants seeking removal of a proposed class suit to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act must provide additional evidence supporting jurisdiction or just a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal. See Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens,  No. 13-719 (U.S., cert. granted 4/7/14).

The case came to the Court in an unusual posture. The Tenth Circuit denied defendant's petition for panel review, and the appeals court divided 4-4 on whether to hear the case en banc. Judge Hartz wrote a dissent, see 730 F.3d 1234 (10th Cir. 2013).

A defendant seeking removal of a case to federal court must file a notice of removal containing “a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal” and attach only the state court filings served on such defendant. 28 U.S.C. § 1446(a). Consistent with that statutory pleading requirement, the First, Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits require only that a notice of removal contain allegations of the jurisdictional facts supporting removal; those courts do not require the defendant to attach evidence supporting federal jurisdiction to the notice of removal. District courts in those Circuits may consider evidence supporting removal if it comes later in response to a motion to remand.

Here, the Tenth Circuit let stand an order remanding a class action to state court based upon the district court’s refusal to consider evidence establishing federal jurisdiction under CAFA because
that evidence was not attached to the original notice of removal. 

This case presents an important question of federal removal procedure and federal jurisdiction that potentially affects all litigants and district courts involved in a removal proceeding. More than 30,000 cases are removed to federal court each year.

Remand Not Warranted in CAFA Case

Often defendants in proposed class actions think of an individual's playing a dual role as lead plaintiff and class counsel as a useful fact to defeat class certification under the adequacy prong. Credit a plaintiff for "creative" -- although ultimately unsuccessful -- use of this situation in a proposed class action. See Hoffman v. DSE Healthcare Solutions, LLC, No. 2:13-cv-07582-JLL-JAD (D.N.J. 3/21/14)(unpublished).

Plaintiff Harold M. Hoffman filed a consumer fraud class action complaint in state court under New Jersey's consumer fraud act. Plaintiff’s Complaint alleged that defendant made “false and misrepresented claims of product efficacy” about a dietary supplement known as Lipo-Flavonoid Plus.  Defendant removed the lawsuit to federal court pursuant to the diversity jurisdiction conferred by the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA"), codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). According to defendant, the court had original jurisdiction over this action because (1) the suit is a “class action” as defined in 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(1)(B); (2) there is "minimal diversity"; and (3) the "aggregate value of the amount in controversy based on Plaintiff's allegations exceeds $5 million."

Plaintiff' filed a motion to remand the case to the Superior Court of New Jersey.Specifically, plaintiff argued that class certification is impossible in federal court because his dual role as class representative and class counsel, which, he said, is per se impermissible in the Third Circuit. Without class certification, plaintiff asserted, defendant cannot establish that the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million, as required by CAFA. Defendant responded that plaintiff cannot unilaterally divest the court of  jurisdiction simply because he represents himself. 

When a class action complaint expressly disclaims the ability to recover the $5 million jurisdictional amount, the Third Circuit instructs that the burden is on defendant to prove "to a legal certainty that plaintiff can recover" that amount. See Frederico v. Home Depot, 507 F.3d 188, 197 (3d Cir. 2007). The concept of legal certainty is not well defined, but falls somewhere below "absolute certainty" and above "preponderance of the evidence." See Nelson v. Keefer, 451 F.2d 289, 293 n.6 (3d Cir. 1971)). A court examines both the dollar figure offered by the plaintiff and plaintiff's actual legal claims to determine whether the amount in controversy exceeds the statutory threshold.

The court's analysis here turned on a reading of Knowles, where the Supreme Court interpreted CAFA to hold that a named plaintiff cannot unilaterally circumvent CAFA by his own non-binding actions. Specifically, the Supreme Court rejected a plaintiff’s attempt to evade the scope of CAFA jurisdiction by stipulating that the class he sought to represent would not seek damages that exceed the $5 million jurisdictional threshold.  Here, the court agreed with defendant that just as a class representative could not bind a class with a stipulation to limit the class’ damages in order to avoid federal jurisdiction, a class representative, such as Hoffman, cannot bind the class by unilaterally deciding to select himself as counsel.

The primary issue was whether defendant could show “to a legal certainty” that the individual claims of all proposed class members aggregated to more than $5 million. If defendant satisfied this burden, remand would be inappropriate.  And the court found that defendant had made the requisite showing. Estimating the actual aggregate losses of the individuals in the proposed class was a relatively straightforward process, said the court, where plaintiff brings suit requesting treble damages under the CFA.

Motion denied.

 

Ninth Circuit to Rehear CAFA Mass Action Removal

The Ninth Circuit en banc has agreed to rehear a panel's split decision on mass action removal under the Class Action Fairness Act that created a circuit split on the removal issue.  See Romo v. Teva Pharm. USA Inc. (9th Cir., en banc, 2/10/14).

This case presents the issue of whether removal was proper under the “mass action” provision of CAFA when plaintiffs moved for coordination pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure section 404. CAFA authorizes federal removal for mass actions when “monetary relief claims of 100 or more persons are proposed to be tried jointly on the ground that the plaintiffs’ claims involve
common questions of law or fact. . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(11)(B)(i). The panel originally concluded that this CAFA jurisdictional requirement was not met under the totality of the circumstances in this case, and affirmed the district court’s remand order.

More than forty actions have been filed in California state courts regarding products containing
propoxyphene. Some of the parties filed a petition asking the California Judicial Council to establish a coordinated proceeding for all California propoxyphene actions pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure section 404. The defendant then removed the cases. The district court found that there was no federal jurisdiction under CAFA because plaintiffs’ petition for coordination did not constitute an explicit proposal to try the cases jointly, and remanded the case back to state court. The appeals court panel agreed, rejecting defendant's argument which emphasized that plaintiffs had sought coordination to avoid “inconsistent judgments,”and “conflicting determinations of liability” -- which certainly sound like trial issues.

The decision created a split with cases like  In re Abbott Labs., Inc., 698 F.3d 568 (7th Cir. 2012).

En banc oral argument is set for the week of June 16, 2014.


 

Supreme Court Hears Argument in CAFA Case

The U.S. Supreme Court heard argument in a case raising the issue whether a parens patriae group action by a state attorney general -- a class-like litigation without the procedural protections of a class action -- is removable as a mass action under CAFA.  See Mississippi ex rel. Hood v. AU Optronics Corp.,  No. 12-1036 (U.S., oral argument 11/6/13).

The Fifth Circuit, 701 F.3d 796 (5th Cir. 2012), had announced a claim-by-claim analysis to determine the real party in interest for purposes of CAFA jurisdiction in such parens patriae actions; the Fourth, Seventh and Ninth Circuits have taken a different, more “whole case” approach, considering the entire complaint to determine the real party in interest.  See AU Optronics Corp. v. South Carolina, 699 F.3d 385 (4th Cir. 2012); LG Display Co. v. Madigan, 665 F.3d 768 (7th Cir. 2011); Nevada v. Bank of America Corp., 672 F.3d 661 (9th Cir. 2012).

CAFA allows removal of certain mass actions, even if not styled as class actions, but contains an exception that a suit is not a mass action if all of the claims in the action are asserted on behalf of the general public (and not on behalf of individual claimants or members of a purported class) pursuant to a state statute specifically authorizing such action; but when specific individual consumers, in addition to the state, are the real parties in interest, there is no way that all of the claims are asserted on behalf of the general public.

Mississippi, of course, argued for "state sovereign prerogatives.”  And Mississippi focused on the statutory language about a mass action seeking a joint trial, and contended that the parens patriae action did not propose a joint trial for 100 or more plaintiffs' claims. On the other hand, defendants noted that the use of the word “persons” in CAFA's mass action provision clearly required the court to engage in a fact specific claim-by-claim analysis, rather than take a whole-claim approach. CAFA could have, but did not focus on “named plaintiffs.”  It was clear that the Mississippi consumers allegedly harmed by defendants' prices were the real parties in interest.  Regarding the federalism concerns, defendants noted that this was only a question of forum, and federal courts can faithfully enforce state law.

The Washington Legal Foundation, in one of multiple amicus filings, argued that CAFA was enacted to enhance the ability of defendants to remove interstate mass actions to federal court.  The Chief Justice raised the most compelling issue, asking “So the answer is, that there is nothing to prevent 50 attorneys general, from saying, every time there is a successful class action as to which somebody in my State purchased one of the items, we are going to file a parens patriae action, the complaint is going to look an awful lot like the class action complaint, and we want our money” -- in state court, out of the reach of CAFA?

 

Denial of Class Certification Does Not Deprive Federal Court of CAFA Jurisdiction

Quick CAFA point for our readers.

Another federal court has ruled that the denial of a motion for class certification does not divest a federal district court of jurisdiction when the case has been properly removed under CAFA.  See Edwards v. Zenimax Media Inc., No. 1:12-cv-00411-WYD-KLM (D. Colo. 9/27/13).

Plaintiff brought a proposed class action alleging an animation defect in a video game.  I am not the video game maven that my kids are, but the allegation was that because of the defect a player must restart from square one with an entirely new character rather than being able to continue with open-ended game play. He brought claims under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, as well as common law claims such as breach of the implied warranty of merchantability. The district court denied the motion for class certification and declined to allow plaintiff a second bite of that apple.  

In assessing further motion practice, the issue arose whether the federal court retained jurisdiction when the basis for the case being in federal court (the class claims) had arguably disappeared. This issue has not been decided by the Tenth Circuit, but the court noted that the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits have held that a federal district court retains jurisdiction over a case removed pursuant to CAFA after class certification denial. See Metz v. Unizan Bank, 649 F.3d 492, 500-501 (6th Cir. 2011); Buetow v. A.L.S., Enters., Inc., 650 F.3d 1178, 1182 n. 2 (8th Cir. 2011); United Steel Workers Int’l Union v. Shell Oil Co., 602 F.3d 1087, 1092 (9th Cir. 2010); Charter Corp. v. Learjet, Inc., 592 F.3d 805, 806 (7th Cir. 2010); Vega v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., 564 F.3d 1256, 1268 n. 12 (11th Cir. 2009).


The court predicted the Tenth Circuit would follow other appeals courts that have considered this issue.


 

Second Circuit Explains Home State Exception in CAFA

The Second Circuit recently weighed in on CAFA, and its  home state exception. See Gold v. N.Y. Life Ins. Co., No. 12-2344-cv (2d Cir., 9/18/13).

Not our usual mass tort context, and more up the alley of our colleague Bill Martucci, but plaintiff filed a complaint alleging wage and hour violations against his former employer, New York Life, individually and on behalf of a putative class of agents. The case was litigated for a number of years, and in 2012, New York Life moved to dismiss the complaint based on CAFA’s home state exception. Concluding that the exception applied, the district court dismissed the complaint. Gold appealed, contending that New York Life had waived the home state exception by failing to raise it within a reasonable time. The Second Circuit held that CAFA’s home state exception is not jurisdictional and must be –and in this case was– raised within a reasonable time.

CAFA confers original federal jurisdiction over class actions involving (1) an aggregate amount in controversy of at least $5,000,000; and (2) minimal diversity, i.e., where at least one plaintiff and one defendant are citizens of different states. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2). CAFA includes several exceptions, including the home state exception which provides that: “[a] district court shall decline to exercise jurisdiction . . . over a class action in which . . . two-thirds or more of the members of all proposed plaintiff classes in the aggregate, and the primary defendants, are citizens of the State in which the action was originally filed.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4)(B).

While plaintiff argued this exception was jurisdictional, the court found that the “‘decline to exercise’” language “‘inherently recognizes [that] the district court has subject matter jurisdiction’” but must actively decline to exercise it if the exception’s requirements are met. Reviewing this issue de novo, the Second Circuit agreed with the district court’s conclusion, and aligned itself with the Seventh and Eighth Circuits, in concluding that Congress’s use of the term “decline to exercise” means that the exception is not jurisdictional.

But, said the court, motions to dismiss under CAFA’s home state exception must also be made within a reasonable time.  Here, nearly three years after the complaint was filed, New York Life moved to dismiss based on the home state exception. Under most circumstances, the court said it would have some doubts that a delay of this length would be deemed reasonable. But, the application of the exception was, to a certain extent, complicated by the discovery schedule imposed by the district court here. Gold had apparently requested that individual discovery proceed first, followed by class discovery. The trial court agreed, and as a result, class discovery did not start until 2011. New York Life claimed that it learned only through class discovery that more than two-thirds of the class–New York Life agents employed in New York–were New York citizens, and then moved to dismiss based on the home state exception.

The district court held that because of the agreed upon bifurcated discovery plan, New York Life had not had the opportunity to discover the citizenship of class members until it undertook class discovery in 2011 and that, under these circumstances, New York Life’s delay was excused.  While noting that nearly three years may not always be a reasonable time for an employer to determine where its own sales force lives, the district court was in a better position than the court of appeals was to evaluate when New York Life’s motion could have been made, based on its greater familiarity with the course of the litigation, especially scheduling and discovery matters.  Thus, the court of appeals was not prepared to say that the district court abused its discretion. It did note that there are numerous instances where the home state exception was raised much more promptly than it was in this case, and without full blown class discovery.

Supreme Court Takes CAFA Parens Patriae Issue

The U.S. Supreme Court granted cert last week to address whether a state attorney general's parens patriae antitrust action is removable as a mass action under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005.  See Mississippi v. AU Optronics Corp., No. 12-1036 (U.S., certiorari granted 05/28/13).

As noted in the respondents' papers, CAFA expands federal diversity jurisdiction for both “class actions” and “mass actions.” A “mass action” is defined as any civil action in which monetary relief claims of 100 or more persons are proposed to be tried jointly.  The definitions of “class actions” and “mass actions” are connected, as a mass action is deemed to be a class action removable to federal court if it otherwise meets the provisions of a “class action,” including CAFA’s unique minimal diversity.

Determining whether the 100 person level is satisfied requires consideration of whose claims are actually being asserted, as the Court has held that diversity  jurisdiction must be based upon the citizenship of
real parties to the controversy. E.g.,  Navarro Sav. Ass’n v. Lee, 446 U.S. 458, 461 (1980).  Where the action filed by the State seeks monetary relief claims on behalf of more than 100 unnamed persons who are among the real parties in interest and any one of them is diverse from any defendant, CAFA applies.  This was the approach of the 5th Circuit here, 701 F.3d 796, 800 (5th Cir. 2012), under the so-called “claim-by-claim" approach.  In contrast other courts look to the "state’s complaint as a whole." E.g., AU Optronics Corp. v. South Carolina, 699 F.3d 385, 394 (4th Cir. 2012).

It will be interesting to see if the Court applies the notion from the unanimous CAFA decision in Standard Fire that treating a nonbinding stipulation (on damages) from the class rep before a class is even certified as if it were binding on the later class would “exalt form over substance, and run directly counter to CAFA's primary objective: ensuring federal court consideration of interstate cases of national importance.”

 

 

CAFA Local Exception Rejected

 A federal court in Georgia ruled last week that a proposed class action alleging injury from chemical exposures was properly removed under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005.  See Anderson v. King America Finishing Inc., No. 1:11-cv-2258-JEC (N.D. Ga., 3/25/13).


Plaintiffs alleged that defendant King America Finishing released a toxic chemical into the Ogeechee River from its manufacturing plant in Dover, Georgia. According to plaintiffs, the toxic chemical release caused damage to surrounding land downstream from the Dover plant. In addition, plaintiffs claimed that certain individuals who swam in the Ogeechee River suffered from physical injuries due to the release. Plaintiffs filed a class action complaint in Fulton County Superior Court. They purported to represent a property damage class defined to include “[a]ll possessors of property affected, directly or indirectly, by [the May, 2011] release of chemicals into
the waters of the Ogeechee River.” One named plaintiff also purported to represent a personal injury class defined to include “[a]ll persons who have been exposed, directly or indirectly, with the waters of the Ogeechee River that had been contaminated by the Release.”


Defendants removed the case to federal court pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(d) and 1453. CAFA generally provides for the removal of any class action in which there is: (1) minimal diversity, (2) at least 100 putative class members and (3) $5 million in alleged damages. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(d)(2) and 1453. It was undisputed that these requirements were met in this case. Plaintiffs conceded that all of the named plaintiffs were diverse from defendant, that the putative class exceeded 100 members, and that the claims exceeded $5 million in damages.

Nevertheless, plaintiffs filed a motion to remand the case to state court, based on the “local controversy” exception to CAFA jurisdiction, which provides for the remand of a class action that “uniquely affects a particular locality to the exclusion of all others.” Evans v. Walter Indus., Inc., 449 F.3d 1159, 1164 (11th Cir. 2006). Specifically, a “local controversy” is defined by CAFA as a class action in which: (1) greater than two-thirds of the class members are citizens of the state in which the action was originally filed, (2) at least one “significant” defendant is a citizen of the state in which the action was filed and (3) the principal injuries alleged in the action were incurred in the state in which the action was filed. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4)(A).

Defendants did not dispute elements 2 and 3. The argument among the parties centered on the two-thirds requirement.  Under CAFA, plaintiffs bear the burden of proving that the exception applies. In order to meet their burden on the two-thirds requirement, plaintiffs had to present evidence from which a court could credibly adduce that more than two-thirds of the purported class members were Georgia citizens. Plaintiffs used tax and voter registration records,  reference to the Secretary of State’s Corporation website, and interviews of personal injury class members who were determined by interview to be Georgia citizens, to just get over the threshold.

The court rejected their calculations, finding no sound evidentiary basis for including several of these groups in the calculation. For example, with regard to the legal entities, the Secretary of State’s website merely lists a Georgia office address for each entity. The website does not indicate that any of these entities have their “principal place of business” in Georgia. In addition to the evidentiary issues with the numerator in plaintiffs’ equation, there were serious questions about the denominator as well. Both the property and the personal injury classes were defined broadly in the complaint to include all land and persons directly or indirectly allegedly impacted by the May, 2011 release. Given that broad definition, the property class likely included many more members than the 900 or so landowners in the particular geographical area chosen by plaintiffs’ attorneys for their showing. Likewise, there could be many more individuals who were “indirectly” injured by the release than the 20 potential class members interviewed by plaintiffs.  The court could not simply speculate about the citizenship of these unaccounted for class members.
Accordingly, the court denied the plaintiffs' motion for remand.

Court of Appeals Applies CAFA Mass Action Provision

The Seventh Circuit has resolved a conflict between district court decisions about whether a motion to consolidate and transfer related state court cases to one circuit court constitutes a proposal to try the cases jointly triggers the “mass action” provision of the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”).  The court held that plaintiffs’ motion to consolidate did propose a joint trial, and thus removal was proper. See In re Abbott Laboratories Inc., No. 12-8020 (7th Cir. 10/16/12).
 

Between August 2010 and November 2011, several hundred plaintiffs filed ten lawsuits in three different Illinois state courts for personal injuries they alleged were caused by Depakote, a prescription medication.  Later, plaintiffs moved the Supreme Court of Illinois to consolidate and
transfer their cases to one venue, St. Clair County. In the memorandum in support of their motion, plaintiffs indicated they were requesting consolidation of the cases through trial and not solely for pretrial proceedings. Defendant removed each of the cases to federal court (in two districts) asserting that the motion to consolidate brought the cases under CAFA’s “mass action” provision, which allows the removal of any case where 100 or more people propose to try their claims jointly. Plaintiffs moved to remand in both courts.

The Southern District granted the motion to remand, concluding that the language in the motion to consolidate did not propose a joint trial. The Northern District court denied plaintiffs’ motion to
remand, noting that the motion to consolidate clearly sought to consolidate the 10 complaints for all purposes, including for purposes of conducting a trial.  Plaintiffs argued on appeal that they did not specifically propose a joint trial because their motion to consolidate did not address how the trials of the various claims in the cases would be conducted, other than proposing that they all take
place in St. Clair County. In plaintiffs’ view, for the mass action provision to apply, they would have needed to take the further step of requesting a joint trial or an exemplar trial that would affect the remaining cases.

The court of appeals noted that plaintiffs argued that they never specifically asked for a joint trial, but a proposal for a joint trial can be implicit. See Bullard v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway
Co., 535 F.3d 759 (7th Cir. 2008).  A joint trial does not have to encompass joint relief. For example, a trial on liability could be limited to a few plaintiffs, after which a separate trial on damages could be held. Similarly, a trial that involved exemplary plaintiffs, followed by application of issue or claim preclusion to more plaintiffs without another trial, would be one in which the claims of 100 or more persons are being tried jointly. In short, said the court of appeals, a joint trial can take different forms as long as the plaintiffs’ claims are being determined jointly.

Here, plaintiffs may not have explicitly asked that their claims be tried jointly, but the language in their motion came close. Plaintiffs requested consolidation of their cases “through trial” and “not solely for pretrial proceedings.” They further asserted that consolidation through trial “would also facilitate the efficient disposition of a number of universal and fundamental substantive questions applicable to all or most Plaintiffs’ cases without the risk of inconsistent adjudication
in those issues between various courts...”  It is difficult to see how a trial court could consolidate the cases as requested by plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ claims would somehow not be tried jointly. Although the transferee court will decide how their cases proceed to trial, it does not matter whether a trial covering 100 or more plaintiffs actually ensues; the statutory question is whether one has been proposed.

The court thus reversed the Southern District's grant of the plaintiff's motion to remand and affirmed the Northern District's ruling. 

Supreme Court Grants Cert in CAFA Case

Here is one to watch, especially for our readers with a class action practice. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari last week in a case raising the issue whether class plaintiffs may stipulate to a damages amount below the jurisdictional threshold of the Class Action Fairness Act to avoid removal of the case to federal court. See Standard Fire Insurance Co. v. Knowles, No. 11-1450, U.S., certiorari granted 8/31/12).

Since the Act was passed in 2005, as surely as one end of a balloon expands when you squeeze the other end, litigants have reacted to the Congressional effort to expand federal jurisdiction over class actions by seeking exceptions and loopholes to keep the cases in state court.  This case will be the first time the Supreme Court considers a case arising under CAFA, and one of those creative efforts to avoid its reach.

Readers will recall that CAFA allows for removal of class actions in which just minimal diversity exists and the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million. A number of class plaintiffs have attempted to defeat the defendant's removal under the Class Action Fairness Act by filing a stipulation that purports to limit the damages sought to less than the $5 million threshold for federal jurisdiction.  A key question is whether that stipulation can be binding on absent class members, and thus possibly impact federal jurisdiction, when the Court recently reaffirmed that in a putative class action "the mere proposal of a class ... could not bind persons who were not parties." Smith v. Bayer Corp., 131 S. Ct. 2368, 2382 (2011).  In light of that holding, the question presented in this case is:

When a named plaintiff attempts to defeat a defendant's right of removal under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 by filing with a class action complaint a "stipulation" that attempts to limit the damages he "seeks" for the absent putative class members to less than the $5 million threshold for federal jurisdiction, and the defendant establishes that the actual amount in controversy, absent the "stipulation," exceeds $5 million, is the "stipulation" binding on absent class members so as to destroy federal jurisdiction?


The facts of the case involve a putative class action in Arkansas state court alleging that defendant Standard Fire Insurance Co. breached homeowners insurance policies by failing to fully  reimburse losses.  Standard Fire attempted to remove the case under CAFA but the federal district court remanded the case pursuant to the stipulation that plaintiffs would not seek damages above $5 million.   The Eighth Circuit denied Standard Fire's petition to appeal the remand order. Defendant then petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce weighed in with an amicus brief in favor of the petition.


The petition argued that putative class members are not bound by such actions taken by the named plaintiffs before class certification. Such a limitation, if effective at the time suit is filed, would violate the due process rights of the proposed class members.  The Chamber echoed that district courts must conduct a meaningful analysis to determine with legal certainty whether the stipulation will truly limit the ability of absent class members to recover no more than the stipulated amount, and whether the stipulation is consistent with due process. If allowed to stand, the lower court's decision could result in an enormous CAFA loophole allowing plaintiffs to drag businesses into class action-friendly state court systems.  Plaintiff argued that the petition was premature because the issue could be considered at the class certification stage within the adequacy of representation prong. 

Definitely one to watch.

House Hearing on CAFA- Seven Years Later

A topic near and dear to the hearts of readers of MassTortDefense was the subject of a recent hearing by a subcommittee of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Entitled "Class Actions Seven Years After the Class Action Fairness Act,” the hearing was designed to address what has worked with the law, what has not, and what Congress overlooked when it passed CAFA.

Witnesses included a plaintiff-side attorney, who typically complained about CAFA's impact on consumer fraud class actions, and Professor Redish from Northwestern, who talked about the need for legislative revision of the use of so-called “cy pres” awards in class action proceedings in particular.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) is the chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, and has expressed concern over the ability of plaintiffs to engage in a new form of forum shopping under CAFA, filing cases in particular federal circuits they think are more hospitable to class actions.

John Beisner, who typically represents defendants in class actions, testified on behalf of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform; he noted that a small number of judicial rulings have ignored Congress’s intent behind this landmark legislation, meriting further legislative attention. From imposing a heightened “legal certainty” standard on defendants with respect to CAFA’s amount-in-controversy requirement to broadly construing CAFA’s narrow exceptions to federal jurisdiction, these rulings run afoul of CAFA’s presumption in favor of federal jurisdiction. Second, he argued that Congress should also assess certain troubling aspects of federal class action jurisprudence that were not affected by CAFA. These issues include: (1) efforts by a small number of federal courts to loosen the requirements of Rule 23; (2) the increasing use of cy pres settlements to support large fee payouts to class counsel; and, he noted, (3) judicial approval of class actions that encompass substantial numbers of uninjured individuals (that is, persons who lack Article III standing).

Court Permits Plaintiffs to Evade CAFA Mass Action Reach

Readers know that one of the effects of the Class Action Fairness Act has been to encourage plaintiff counsel to get creative in ways to defeat federal jurisdiction and keep mass torts and class actions in state courts.  Last week, a federal court remanded several cases brought by individuals who claimed that they developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma as a result of exposure to PCBs, despite the “mass action” provisions of CAFA.  Nunn v. Monsanto Co., No, 4:11-CV-1657(CEJ) (E.D. Mo. 11/7/11).

Under CAFA, federal courts have jurisdiction over class actions in which the amount in controversy exceeds $5,000,000 in the aggregate; there is minimal diversity among the parties; and there are at least 100 members in the class. 28 U.S.C. §1332(d). CAFA also provides federal jurisdiction over a “mass action,” which is defined as “any civil action . . . in which monetary relief claims of 100 or more persons are proposed to be tried jointly on the ground that the plaintiffs’ claims involve common questions of law or fact . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(11)(B)(i).

The district court stated that for it to have jurisdiction under the mass action provisions, defendants must demonstrate that there really are 100 plaintiffs. Defendants made a clever and powerful argument, pointing out that in addition to the cases and these plaintiffs subject to the remand motion,  plaintiffs’ counsel filed two separate, largely identical, cases in the state court (St. Louis City Circuit Court), one with 95 plaintiffs and one with 96 plaintiffs. This clearly evidenced plaintiffs’ counsel purposeful efforts to “splinter” a single mass tort case for the purpose of evading federal jurisdiction. That kind of rigging was rejected in cases like Freeman v. Blue Ridge Paper Prods., Inc., 551 F.3d 405 (6th Cir. 2008), and Westerfeld v. Independent Processing, LLC, 621 F.3d 819 (8th Cir. 2010), argued defendants.

The court felt obligated to disregard such manipulations, however.  Defendants’ contention that plaintiffs had deliberately divided their cases in order to avoid the mass action threshold was somehow "irrelevant."  Reference to the other identical cases was, the court thought, akin to defendant "consolidating" the cases; by excluding cases in which the claims were consolidated on
a defendant’s motion, 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. Citing Anderson v. Bayer Corp., 610 F.3d 390, 393 (7th Cir. 2010); see also Tanoh v. Dow Chem. Co., 561 F.3d 945 (9th Cir. 2009). 
 

So, another example of the numerical loophole to removal of mass actions, evading the Congressional intent. Plaintiffs' attorneys continue to resort to dividing their clients into groups of 99 or fewer plaintiffs to try to avoid federal court.


 

Beware of Legislative Moves Over The Gulf Oil Spill

Last week,  U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) and Congressman Charlie Melancon (D-LA) introduced H.R. 5503, the “Securing Protections for the Injured from Limitations on Liability Act” (SPILL Act).  This is one of many pending and promised bills addressing legal liability issues arising from the Gulf Coast oil spill, including amendments to the Death on the High Seas Act.

Specifically, H.R. 5503 would:

• Amend the Death on the High Seas Act to permit recovery of non-pecuniary damages (e.g., pain and suffering and loss of care, comfort, and companionship) by the decedent’s family, as well as standardizing the geographic threshold for its application, and permitting surviving family members to bring suit directly rather than through a personal representative.

• Amend the Jones Act to permit recovery of non-pecuniary damages by the families of seamen who are killed.

• Repeal the Limitation on Liability Act to the extent it limits the liability of vessel owners to the value of the vessel and its cargo.

• Amend bankruptcy rules to prevent corporations allegedly responsible for damages under the Oil Pollution Act from certain moves seeking to sever their assets from the legal liabilities.

The bill is supposed to be in response to the Gulf Oil Spill. However, many of its provisions are not limited to the subject matter of oil spills.  For example, Section 5 proposes to amend the Class Action Fairness Act  to exclude from its reach any action brought by a State or subdivision of a State on behalf of its citizens.  Such a provision could have significant effect on CAFA, far beyond the oil spill litigation. For example, it might impact cases like State ex rel. McGraw v. Comcast Corp., 2010 WL 1257639 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 31, 2010). In that case, the state of West Virginia, in its capacity as parens patriae, filed an action in state court alleging that a cable company's requirements concerning cable boxes constituted impermissible tying behavior, in violation of state antitrust and consumer protection laws. On removal, the federal court held that the action was a “class action” under the Class Action Fairness Act, under which the definition of a class action must be “interpreted liberally.”

The bill has been referred to the following committees: House Judiciary, Subcommittee on House Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on House Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

Earlier this month, the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a field hearing In Louisiana on the local impact of the Gulf oil spill.The House Subcommittee heard testimony from experts on the environment and wildlife, some of whom who warned that the full effects of the spill will not be known until the flow of oil is stopped.  But the most emotional testimony came from two widows, whose husbands died when the Deepwater Horizon Rig exploded in April. The widows urged Congress to reform the Death on the High Seas Act, but also noted that they fully support offshore drilling as essential to our nation's economy.

 

UPDATE: the House Judiciary Committee approved H.R. 5503, Securing Protections for the Injured from Limitations on Liability Act (SPILL Act), by a roll call vote of 16-11, with two Republicans, Reps. Lungren (R-Calif.) and Rooney (R-Fla.), joining the rest of the Democratic committee members in voting in favor.

CAFA Jurisdiction Not Ousted By Plaintiffs Dropping Class Allegation

Readers know that the Class Action Fairness Act expanded federal jurisdiction over certain class actions.  An interesting set of issues has arisen over whether and when federal jurisdiction remains after class proceedings take a turn. In a recent decision, the Seventh Circuit held that CAFA jurisdiction survives even after class allegations are removed from the complaint.  In re Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Corp., 2010 WL 1980172 (7th Cir., 5/19/10).

Plaintiffs were a class of local property owners who filed a complaint in Wisconsin state court against Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company. They alleged that BNSF's failure to inspect and maintain a railroad trestle caused their town to flood in July 2007, damaging their property. Defendants removed. After the district court denied a remand motion, plaintiffs asked for leave to amend their complaint to omit the class allegations. The district court allowed the amendment, noting that it would streamline the litigation. The court also construed the plaintiffs' motion as an implied motion to remand the case, which it granted. The district court explained that its revised jurisdictional analysis was based on the amended complaint, and that since the new complaint did not contain class allegations, it did not provide jurisdiction under CAFA.

The Seventh Circuit disagreed: jurisdiction under CAFA is secure, even though, after removal, the plaintiffs amend their complaint to eliminate the class allegations. The well-established general rule is that jurisdiction is determined at the time of removal, and nothing filed after removal affects jurisdiction. CAFA is, at base, an extension of diversity jurisdiction. Even in cases filed originally in federal court, later changes that compromise diversity do not destroy jurisdiction.

The court also analogized to its recent conclusion in Cunningham Charter Corp. v. Learjet, Inc., 592 F.3d 805 (7th Cir.2010). The court there held that in a case removed under CAFA, jurisdiction survives even if the district court denies class certification. Id. at 806-07; see also United Steel, Paper & Forestry, Rubber, Mfg., Energy, Allied Indus. & Serv. Workers Int'l Union, AFL-CIO, CLC v. Shell Oil Co., 2010 WL 1571190, at *3-4 (9th Cir. Apr.21, 2010).  CAFA jurisdiction attaches when a case is filed as a class action; keeping the case in federal court after removal minimizes the expense and delay caused by shuttling a case from court to court and furthers CAFA's purpose of allowing putative class actions to be litigated in federal court.

When the post-removal change is not the district court's denial of class certification but is instead the plaintiffs' decision not to pursue class certification, the same considerations of expense and delay apply, said the court.  In addition, allowing plaintiffs to "amend away" CAFA jurisdiction after removal would present a significant risk of forum manipulation. CAFA's legislative history reflects an awareness of the latter concern, citing the existing rule that jurisdiction cannot be ousted by later events.  Otherwise plaintiffs who believed the tide was turning against them could simply  amend their complaint months (or even years) into the litigation to require remand to state court.  See S.Rep. No. 109-14, at 70-71 (2005).

  

7th Circuit Weighs In on CAFA Issue

The Seventh Circuit recently issued a decision clarifying an issue under the Class Action Fairness Act:  when the federal court denies class certification in a case in federal court because of CAFA, does that divest the court of jurisdiction?  The court of appeals reversed an Illinois district court ruling that a failed class action lost jurisdiction, ruling that the lower court misinterpreted CAFA. Cunningham Charter Corp., et al. v. LearJet Inc., No 09-8042 (7th Cir., Jan. 22, 2010).

Cunningham sued Learjet in an Illinois state court asserting claims for breach of warranty and products liability on behalf of itself and all other buyers of Learjets who had received the same warranty from the manufacturer that Cunningham had received. The defendant removed the
case to federal district court under CAFA. Eventually, the district judge denied the motion on the ground that neither proposed class satisfied the criteria for certification set forth in Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The judge then ruled that the denial of class certification
eliminated subject-matter jurisdiction under the Act, and so he remanded the case to the state court.

The 7th Circuit, per Judge Posner, disagreed.  the court offered some context, a textual explanation, and policy reasons. The general principle that jurisdiction once properly invoked is not lost by developments after a suit is filed, such as a change in the state of which a party is a citizen that destroys diversity. E.g., St. Paul Mercury Indemnity Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 293-95 (1938). That general principle was applicable to this case because no one suggests that a class action must be certified before it can be removed to federal court under the Act.  Cases should not be shunted between court systems; "itigation is not ping-pong."

Text: The Act defines class action as “any civil action filed under rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure or similar State statute or rule of judicial procedure authorizing an action to be brought by 1 or more representative persons as a class action.” § 1332(d)(1)(B). No requirement of certification.

Policy: If a state happened to have different criteria for certifying a class from those of Rule 23, the result of a remand because of the federal court’s refusal to certify the class could be that the case would continue as a class action in state court. That result would be contrary to the Act’s purpose of relaxing the requirement of complete diversity of citizenship so that class actions involving
incomplete diversity can be litigated in federal court.

In finding that federal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act does not depend on certification, the court joined Vega v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., 564 F.3d 1256, 1268 n. 12 (11th Cir. 2009).

Judge Posner concluded, that  is the better interpretation." See Richardson, “Class Dismissed, Now What? Exploring the Exercise of CAFA Jurisdiction After the Denial of Class Certification,” 39
New Mex. L. Rev. 121, 135 (2009); Clermont, “Jurisdictional Fact,” 91 Cornell L. Rev. 973, 1015-17
(2006).

 

 

CAFA Mass Tort Removal in Drug Case

A federal court in Illinois recently denied remand of approximately 100 cases involving Trasylol, an anti-bleeding drug, citing the Class Action Fairness Act. Gilmore v. Bayer Corp., 2009 WL 4789406(N.D. Ill., 12/10/09). (Federal Trasylol litigation was consolidated in 2008 in the Southern District of Florida. In re Trasylol Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 08-MD-1928 (S.D. Fla.). The plaintiffs typically assert that the product causes heart and kidney complications, and that the defendants allegedly failed to warn of the risks.)

The suit was originally filed in state court. The defendants removed the case, but Judge G. Patrick Murphy remanded it for lack of federal jurisdiction. Additional plaintiffs were added in October, followed by a second removal motion. The defendants asserted diversity of citizenship under CAFA. The plaintiffs again sought remand.

The Southern District of Illinois ruled that the removing defendants asserted correctly that this case was a removable “mass action” within the meaning of CAFA. Among the actions covered by CAFA is a “mass action,” defined by the statute as “any civil action ... in which monetary relief claims of 100 or more persons are proposed to be tried jointly on the ground that the plaintiffs' claims involve common questions of law or fact,” and in which there is minimal diversity of citizenship (at least one plaintiff is not a citizen of the same state as at least one defendant) and the plaintiffs each seek a recovery exceeding $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S .C. § 1332(d)(11)(B)(i).

The court concluded that an independent review “discloses plainly that the removal of this case is proper under the CAFA.”  The operative complaint asserted claims on behalf of one hundred persons, the minimum number of plaintiffs required for the exercise of jurisdiction pursuant to CAFA's “mass action” provisions.  Further, this case obviously presented questions of law and fact common to the claims of all one hundred plaintiffs, said the court. Common questions of fact and law included, for example, what information Bayer, Bayer LLC, and Bayer Healthcare possessed concerning the alleged harmful effects of Trasylol, what information they elected to disclose to physicians and patients about those harmful effects, and what information they were required by law to disclose about those effects, according to the court.

With respect to the requirement of minimal diversity of citizenship, this jurisdictional prerequisite was satisfied in this case as plaintiff Thomas Gilmore is a citizen of Washington and Bayer is incorporated under Indiana law and has its principal place of business in Pennsylvania.

Finally, with respect to the jurisdictional amount in controversy under the CAFA's “mass action” provisions, the Court noted that in other cases involving allegations of personal injuries allegedly caused by the drug similar to the allegations contained in the operative complaint in this case that the plaintiffs' claims individually exceeded $75,000.

Our readers know that Congress enacted CAFA to allow more interstate class actions to be heard in federal court, and to address class action abuse.  "Mass actions" were recognized as class actions in disguise, and included in CAFA the provision to prevent the statute's objectives from being undermined by these "close substitutes that escape the statute's application." The courts increasingly offer a common sense reading of CAFA  that thwarts any attempt by plaintiffs' counsel to avoid federal court through the class-action substitute.

Court Allows Plaintiffs to Structure Suits To Avoid CAFA

Two thousand Central American banana farm workers suing over their alleged exposure to a pesticide were permitted split up their suits to avoid federal court jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.  See Vanegas v. Dole Food Co., 2009 WL 690198 (C.D. Cal. 3/9/09).  The opinion allowed the plaintiffs to craft their suits against the Dole Food Co., Dow Chemical Co., and other defendants, so that they each have no more than 100 plaintiffs and avoid CAFA's mass action reach.

Plaintiffs allege that they were injured by exposure to 1, 2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane (“DBCP”), a toxic chemical sold under the brand names “Nemagon” and “Fumazone.” Plaintiffs allege that defendants manufactured, marketed, and distributed DBCP. Plaintiffs further allege that they were exposed to DBCP as a consequence of working on banana plantations in Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, and Guatemala, owned or operated by defendants.

Plaintiffs were divided, alphabetically and by country, into 30 cookie cutter cases such that each case has less than 100 plaintiffs; they alleged claims for (1) products liability-negligence; (2) strict products liability; (3) products liability-defect in design, manufacture, and chemical composition; (4) products liability-breach of warranty; (5) fraudulent management; (6) intentional misrepresentation; (7) fraud by concealment; (8) general negligence; and (9) conspiracy.

Defendants removed, and plaintiffs sought remand. Plaintiffs argued that this case is not a “mass action” pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, 28 U.S .C. §§ 1332(d) and 1453, because their complaint s each contain less than 100 plaintiffs. Defendant responded that plaintiffs may not “gerry-mander their lawsuit to circumvent CAFA,” citing Freeman v. Blue Ridge Paper Products, Inc., 551 F.3d 405, 2008 WL 5396249, at *1 (6th Cir. Dec.29, 2008); Proffitt v. Abbott Laboratories, 2008 WL 4401367, at *5 (E.D.Tenn. Sept.23, 2008)). Defendants argued that plaintiffs cannot artificially splinter their actions to avoid jurisdictional thresholds.

The district court remanded, holding that the removal statute is to be “strictly construed against removal jurisdiction and any doubt must be resolved in favor of remand,” citing Hofler v. Aetna U.S. Healthcare of California, Inc., 296 F.3d 764, 767 (9th Cir.2002). These actions do not constitute “mass actions” under CAFA, said the court, because each of these actions has been brought by less than 100 plaintiffs. Tanoh v. AMVAC Chemical Corp., 2008 WL 4691004, at *5 (C.D.Cal. Oct.21, 2008). Nothing in CAFA suggests that plaintiffs, as masters of their complaint, may not “file multiple actions, each with fewer than 100 plaintiffs, to work within the confines of CAFA to keep their state-law claims in state court.” Tanoh, 2008 WL 4691004 at *5.

The court distinguished Freeman, saying the Sixth Circuit limited its ruling to one type of claim splitting. “In Freeman, the plaintiffs divided their suit into five separate suits with identical parties and claims, each covering distinct, sequential six-month time periods,” the court said. “By contrast, each of the cases at issue here involves distinct plaintiffs. Moreover, the Sixth Circuit explicitly noted that its holding is limited to the situation where there is “no colorable basis for dividing up the sought-for retrospective relief into separate time periods, other than to frustrate CAFA.”
 

Denial of Class Certification Does Not Alter CAFA Jurisdiction

A federal court has issued an opinion on an important aspect of the Class Action Fairness Act, namely whether the denial of class action status deprives a federal court of jurisdiction under the Act. In Kitts v. Citgo Petroleum Corp., 2009 WL 192550 (W.D. La., 1/23/09), the district court declined to remand to state court a personal injury action stemming from an oil spill. Although some district courts have held that post-removal events such as class certification denial can render the court without subject matter jurisdiction under CAFA, the Western District of Louisiana held that the better approach is to retain jurisdiction.

On June 15, 2007, plaintiffs filed a putative class action suit in state court in Louisiana, claiming damages resulting from a 2006 oil spill alleged to have occurred from a facility owned and operated by defendant. Plaintiffs' complaint alleged they suffered injuries from this spill, respiratory problems and illnesses, sinus damage, difficulty breathing, and burning of the throat and nasal passages. Defendant removed, based on CAFA. The federal district court later denied class certification. Plaintiffs then filed a Motion to Remand alleging that remand to state court was appropriate because the refusal to certify this matter as a class action divested the court of subject matter jurisdiction.

The court, however, found compelling the reasoning of those cases finding jurisdiction continues to exist even after denial of the class action. Particularly appropriate was the conclusion reached by the Southern District of Florida in Colomar v. Mercy Hospital, Inc., 2007 WL 2083562, *3 (S.D.Fla.07/20/2007). In support of its denial of a Motion to Remand filed in a case properly removed under CAFA, but after the minimally diverse defendant was dismissed and class certification was denied, the Florida district court stated that the courts considering the issue of whether a federal court retains jurisdiction after class certification is denied have concluded that case developments subsequent to removal do not alter the courts' CAFA jurisdiction, if jurisdiction was proper at the time of removal.

The court quoted from the CAFA legislative history, the Senate Report stating that “once a complaint is properly removed to federal court, the federal court's jurisdiction cannot be ousted by later events.... If a federal court's jurisdiction could be ousted by events occurring after a case was removed, plaintiffs who believed the tide was turning against them could simply always amend their complaint months (or even years) into the litigation to require remand to state court.... [I]f subsequent events could unravel a federal court's jurisdiction, a defendant could prevail on the merits, only to have the federal court conclude that it lacks jurisdiction to enter judgment."  S. Rep. 109-14, 109th Cong., 1st Sess.2005, reprinted in 2005 U.S.C.CA.N. 3, *70-71, *66-67.

Here, the court said that to litigate the case up to the eve of trial, and then to seek remand after adverse rulings have issued and summary judgment is briefed, equates to a forum shopping. Plaintiffs admitted that this matter was properly removed under CAFA. Plaintiffs' efforts to unravel jurisdiction on the eve of trial was forum shopping which the traditional rules of removal and remand are designed to preclude.
 

Seventh Circuit Rejects Remand of CAFA Mass Action

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a trial court’s ruling that a case involving plaintiffs alleging damages from chemicals escaping from a wood-processing facility is a “mass action” that belongs in federal court. See Bullard, et al. v. Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway, et al., 2008 WL 2941359 (7th Cir. 2008).

A state court complaint by 144 plaintiffs sought damages from four corporations that had designed, manufactured, transported, or used chemicals that allegedly escaped from a Texas wood-processing plant and purportedly injured people living nearby. Among the plaintiffs’ claims are negligence, trespass, willful and wanton conduct, and fraudulent concealment, asserting that chemicals associated with creosote used to preserve wood were released into the environment through soil, ground water, and/or air mechanisms.

Defendants removed the suit, relying on the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. CAFA expanded federal jurisdiction over various types of class actions. CAFA’s expanded jurisdiction was not limited to pure class actions, however. It also reaches a category of cases – “mass actions” – in which monetary claims of 100 or more persons are proposed to be tried jointly on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ claims allegedly involve common questions of law or fact. See 28 U.S.C. ¶1332(d)(11)(B)(i).

Plaintiffs moved to remand. They denied that the suit was a “mass action,” noting their complaint never proposed a trial. Thus, according to plaintiffs, defendants may remove a “mass action” only when a final pretrial order or equivalent document identifies the number of parties to the trial, which is to be “joint.” The district judge denied the motion for remand, and plaintiffs obtained interlocutory review “because the legal issue is novel.”

On appeal, plaintiffs argued they are entitled to litigate in state court because the Class Action Fairness Act has a loophole. Section 1332(d)(11)(B)(i) refers to “claims of 100 or more persons ... proposed to be tried jointly.” Complaints do not propose trials, plaintiffs insisted; they'd be happy to win by summary judgment or get a settlement. The case may never get to a trial. Cross that bridge when you come to it.

The Court rejected this reading. Plaintiffs' lawyers who want to avoid federal court, the Court said, have simply designed a class-action substitute. Their complaint alleges that several questions of law and fact are common to all 144 plaintiffs; it provides no more information about each individual plaintiff than an avowed class complaint would do. No one supposes that all 144 plaintiffs will be active; a few of them will take the lead, just as in a class action, and as a practical matter counsel will dominate, just as in a class action.

If the plaintiffs’ proposed strict reading were right, then, actually, §1332(d)(11) would be defunct, because it defines a class action to include a mass action. Taken to its logical end, in plaintiffs' view, no “mass action” could ever be a “class action”, for a suit cannot be officially identified as a “mass action” until the trial is finalized, not on the date of filing which, plaintiffs say, is the operative date. But “courts do not read statutes to make entire subsections vanish into the night,” said the Court.

A second reading would be to reject the date of filing as the only operative date and find that a case could become a “mass action” at any time. That could be long after filing, once plaintiffs are formally and explicitly proposed to be tried jointly. The prospect of this situation is why §1332(d)(11) allows the definition to be applied after the suits' filing date. But nothing in the statute says that the eve of trial is the only time when a “mass action” can be detected.

When plaintiffs take advantage of procedural rules that permit the joinder of multiple plaintiffs in a single suit where the claims arise out of “the same transaction or series of transactions” and “common questions of law or fact” are allegedly present, that's “exactly when a single trial is appropriate.” It does not matter whether a trial covering 100 or more plaintiffs actually ensues; the statutory question is whether one has been “proposed.” This complaint, which describes circumstances common to all plaintiffs, proposes one proceeding and thus, for statutory purposes, sufficiently alleges one trial.

And the Seventh Circuit went on to anticipate and reject plaintiffs' next likely reaction: A proposal to hold multiple trials in a single suit, or just one trial with 10 plaintiffs and the use of preclusion to cover everyone else, does not take the suit outside the language applying to any “civil action ... in which monetary relief claims of 100 or more persons are proposed to be tried jointly.” The question is not whether 100 or more plaintiffs answer a roll call in court, but whether the “claims” advanced by 100 or more persons are proposed to be tried jointly. A trial of 10 exemplary plaintiffs, followed by application of issue or claim preclusion to 134 more plaintiffs without another trial, is one in which the claims of 100 or more persons are being tried jointly, and this would bring the suit within federal jurisdiction.