Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ninth Circuit Rules CAFA “Local Controversy” Exception Elements to Be Established Based on Allegations in Complaint: Coleman v. Estes Express Lines

On January 25, 2011, the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion in Coleman v. Estes Express Lines, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 1538, concluding that a district court is limited to the complaint in deciding whether two of the criteria for CAFA’s “local controversy exception” are satisfied.  The local controversy exception requires remand notwithstanding establishment of the CAFA removal requirements when the plaintiff establishes the following:
(I) greater than two-thirds of the members of all proposed plaintiff classes in the aggregate are citizens of the State in which the action was originally filed;
(II) at least 1 defendant is a defendant —
     (aa) from whom significant relief is sought by members of the plaintiff class;
     (bb) whose alleged conduct forms a significant basis for the claims asserted by the proposed plaintiff class; and
     (cc) who is a citizen of the State in which the action was originally filed; and
(III) principal injuries resulting from the alleged conduct or any related conduct of each defendant were incurred in the State in which the action was originally filed.
28 § 1332(d)(4)(A)(i).

As held by the Colman Court, a district court must make its determination on the issues under subsections (aa) and (bb) based on allegations in the complaint, as opposed to extrinsic evidence. The Court reasoned that this conclusion was not only required by the plain language of these subparts, but because a contrary holding would result in an expansive mini-trial, contrary to Congress’ intent that jurisdiction determinations be made quickly under CAFA. See Coleman, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 1538, at 12-15.

The Court's holding would appear to be a significant one from the plaintiff's perspective, as the Court basically found both subparts met in this case by virtue of the fact the complaint sought relief equally among both defendants for the same harm:
We hold that Coleman’s complaint seeks sufficient relief against Estes West to satisfy subsection (aa). The complaint seeks damages equally from Estes West and Estes Express. There is nothing in the complaint to suggest that Estes West is a nominal defendant, or that Estes West has so few assets (including, for instance, buildings and trucks) that Coleman is not seeking significant monetary relief from it. Further, the complaint seeks injunctive relief against Estes West. There is nothing in the complaint to suggest either that the injunctive relief sought is itself insignificant, or that Estes West would be incapable of complying with an injunction.
Coleman’s complaint also sufficiently alleges conduct of Estes West that forms a significant basis for the claims asserted on behalf of the class under subsection (bb). The complaint alleges that Estes West employed the putative class members during the relevant period, and that Estes West has violated California law in a number of ways with respect to those employees. The complaint also alleges that Estes Express has violated the same provisions of California law, but the allegations against Estes Express in no way make the allegations against Estes West, the actual employer, insignificant.
See Coleman, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 1538, at 23-25.

Significantly, the Court closed its opinion noting that in many cases a Plaintiff may be required to amend their complaint, as complaints originally filed in state court may not address these local controversy issues:
We are aware of the difficulties that can be created by different pleading requirements in state and federal courts. A plaintiff filing a putative class action in state court need satisfy only the pleading standards of that court. It is therefore possible that if a putative class action is removed from state to federal court under CAFA the complaint, as originally drafted, will not answer the questions that need to be answered before the federal court can determine whether the suit comes within the local controversy exception to CAFA jurisdiction. In that circumstance, the district court may, in its discretion, require or permit the plaintiff to file an amended complaint that addresses any relevant CAFA criteria.
See Coleman, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 1538, at 25-26.

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