New Law Takes Effect Regarding Venue, Removal

For all the litigators out there, a reminder that The Federal Courts Jurisdiction and Venue Clarification Act of 2011, H.R. 394, P.L. 112-63. took effect last week.  The act amends the federal jurisdictional statutes regarding diversity jurisdiction (28 U.S.C. § 1332), venue (28 U.S.C. §§ 1390-92, 1404), and removal (28 U.S.C. §§ 1441, 1446, 1454).  Legislative history here.

Among its provision, the new act states that, with respect to diversity, the district courts shall not have original jurisdiction of any civil action between citizens of a state, and citizens or subjects of a foreign state who are lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States and are domiciled in the same state.

It modifies the citizenship rules to treat corporations as citizens of any foreign state: (1) by which it has been incorporated, and (2) where it has its principal place of business. It treats insurers as citizens of any foreign state: (1) of which the insured is a citizen, (2) by which the insurer has been incorporated, and (3) where the insurer has its principal place of business.

The law now dictates that, upon removal of any civil action with both removable and non-removable claims, the district court shall sever from the action all non-removable claims and remand them to the state court from which the action was removed.  So no discretion to hold on to such claims.

The law prescribes revised requirements for filing notices of removal, including allowing statements in the notice of the amount in controversy, when it exceeds the necessary amount, if the initial pleading seeks: (1) non-monetary relief; or (2) a money judgment, but where the relevant state practice either does not permit demand for a specific sum or permits recovery of damages in excess of the amount demanded. Removal of the action is proper on the basis of an amount in controversy asserted this way,  if the district court finds, by the preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy exceeds the amount required.

Importantly, the law now allows removal of a case based on diversity of citizenship more than one year after commencement of the action if the district court finds that the plaintiff has acted in bad faith in order to prevent a defendant from removing the action.  This deals with a common plaintiff tactic in mass torts, such as the inclusion of a treater simply to defeat diversity. In 1988, Congress amended the statute to prohibit the removal of diversity cases more than one year after their commencement. This change was intended to encourage prompt determination of issues of removal in diversity proceedings, and it sought to avoid the disruption of state court proceedings that might occur when changes in the case made it subject to removal. The change, however, led some plaintiffs to adopt removal-defeating strategies designed to keep the case in state court until after the 1-year deadline passed. In those situations, some courts have viewed the 1-year time limit as `jurisdictional' and therefore an absolute limit on the district court's jurisdiction.

The new venue provision requires the issue of proper venue of any civil action brought in a U.S. district court to be determined without regard to whether the action is local or transitory in nature. It repeals the "local action" rule that any civil action, of a local nature, involving property located in different districts in the same state, may be brought in any of such districts.  It also allows a district court to transfer a civil action to any district or division to which all parties have consented.

Significantly, the act resolves a circuit split regarding the time each defendant in a multi-defendant case has to file a notice of removal. Traditionally, the defendant had 30 days from receipt of the plaintiff’s complaint to file a notice of removal.  But in multi-defendant cases, some courts have adopted the “first-served” rule, under which each defendant in a case had 30 days from the date on which the first defendant was served, while others adopted the “later-served” rule, which gives each defendant a 30-day period to file a notice of removal after that defendant is served.  The new law adopts the latter view (but keeps the unanimity rule.)

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).

  

Supreme Court Clarifies Definition of "Principal Place of Business"

Our readers know a crucial early decision for defendants in cases brought in state court is whether to seek to remove the case to federal court.   In a decision that will impact when corporations can remove litigation to federal court based on diversity, the Supreme Court this week adopted a new test of corporate citizenship. Hertz Corp. v. Melinda Friend, et al., No. 08-1107 (S.Ct. 2/23/10).

Plaintiffs, California citizens, sued Hertz Corporation in a California state court.  Hertz sought removal to the federal district court, claiming that because it and plaintiffs were citizens of different states, the federal court had diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiffs, however, claimed that Hertz was a California citizen, like themselves, and that, hence, diversity jurisdiction was lacking under §1332(c)(1), which provides that “a corporation shall be deemed to be a citizen of any State by which it has been incorporated and of the State where it has its principal place of business.”

To show that its “principal place of business” was in New Jersey, not California, Hertz submitted a declaration stating, among other things, that it operated facilities in 44 States, that California accounted for only a portion of its business activity, that its leadership is at its corporate headquarters in New Jersey, and that its core executive and administrative functions are primarily carried out there. The district court concluded that it lacked diversity jurisdiction because Hertz was a California citizen under Ninth Circuit precedent, which asked, instead, whether the amount of the corporation’s business activity is “significantly larger” or “substantially predominates” in one state.

The Supreme Court acknowledged that the phrase “principal place of business” has proven difficult to apply.  Lower courts were at times uncertain as to where to look to determine a corporation’s “principal place of business” for diversity purposes. If a corporation’s headquarters and executive offices were in the same state in which it did most of its business, the test seemed straightforward. But if those corporate headquarters, including executive offices, were in one state, while the corporation’s plants or other centers of business activity were located in other states, the answer was less obvious. In particular, courts have had difficulty when a corporation’s operations are not far-flung but rather limited to only a few states. When faced with this question, various federal courts have focused more heavily on where a corporation’s actual business activities are located, adopting divergent and increasingly complex tests to interpret the statute.

In an effort to find a single, more uniform interpretation of the statutory phrase, the Supreme Court returned to the “nerve center” approach under which a “principal place of business” is best read as referring to the place where a corporation’s officers direct, control, and coordinate the corporation’s activities. In practice it should normally be the place where the corporation maintains its headquarters — provided that the headquarters is the actual center of direction, control, and coordination, i.e., the “nerve center,” and not simply an office where the corporation holds its board meetings.

Among the considerations that convinced the Court that the “nerve center” approach, while admittedly imperfect, was superior to other possibilities:  first was the statutory language which uses the word “place” in the singular, not plural, and refers to a place within a state, not the state itself.  This rules out those lower court tests that look not at a particular place within a state, but incorrectly at the state itself, measuring the total amount of business activities that the corporation conducts there and determining whether they are significantly larger than in the next-ranking state.

Second, administrative simplicity is a major virtue in a jurisdictional statute. A “nerve center” approach is simple to apply, comparatively speaking. MassTortDefense agrees that a clear rule -- predictability -- is something the business community has been looking for.  Greater predictability may assist businesses in making investment and other financial decisions.  The new rule may also reduce the need for extensive and expensive jurisdictional discovery.

The Court admitted that while there may be no perfect test that satisfies all administrative and policy criteria, this test is relatively easier to apply. The Court warned that if the record reveals attempts at jurisdictional manipulation -- for example, that the alleged “nerve center” is nothing more than a mail drop box, a bare office with a computer, or the location of an annual executive retreat -- the courts should instead take as the “nerve center” the place of actual direction, control, and coordination, in the absence of such manipulation.

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.