CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–Korn v. Polo Ralph Lauren: California Federal Court Denies Motion To Remand Class Action To State Court Holding Defense Established Class Action Alleging Song-Beverly Act Violations Involved More Than $5 Million

May 21, 2008 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Defense Evidence in Support of Removal of Class Action to Federal Court Adequately Established Removal Jurisdiction under Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) California Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action lawsuit in California state court against Polo Ralph Lauren alleging violations of California’s Song-Beverly Act; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendant requested personal information from customers as part of credit card transactions in violation of California Civil Code § 1747.08. Korn v. Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., 536 F.Supp.2d 1199, 1202 (E.D. Cal. 2008). Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court alleging removal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA); plaintiffs moved to remand the class action to state court on the grounds that defendant failed to establish the requisite diversity or amount in controversy. Id. As the district court explained, “CAFA grants district courts original jurisdiction over civil class actions filed under federal or state law in which any member of a class of plaintiffs is a citizen of a state different from any defendant and the amount in controversy for the putative class members in the aggregate exceeds the sum or value of $5,000,000, exclusive of interest and costs.” Id. (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2)). The district court refused to remand the class action to state court, holding that defendant sufficiently established CAFA removal jurisdiction.

Plaintiff first argued that Polo Ralph Lauren did not establish that it was not a citizen of California, Korn, at 1201; the district court rejected this argument, noting that plaintiff is bound by the judicial admission in his complaint that defendant is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in New Jersey, id., at 1203. Accordingly, the federal court held plaintiff “bound by the allegations in his complaint that assert defendant’s citizenship, for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, is in Delaware and New Jersey.” Id. Plaintiff next argued that the defense failed to establish the $5,000,000 amount in controversy requirement. Id., at 1201. While the class action complaint did not seek a specific amount of damages, the district court observed that the class action seeks “statutory civil penalties for the alleged violations [of] up to $1000 per violation.” Id., at 1202. Further, as part of the documentation supporting removal of the class action to federal court, defense attorneys had submitted a declaration establishing that Polo Ralph Lauren had “processed more than 5,000 credit card transactions over the last year in the state of California.” Id. The district court held that this was sufficient.

In the Ninth Circuit, “defendant must provide evidence establishing that it is ‘more likely than not ‘ that the amount in controversy exceeds that amount.” Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398, 404 (9th Cir.1996) (citation omitted). The district court explained at page 1205, “In measuring the amount in controversy, a court must assume that the allegations of the complaint are true and that a jury will return a verdict for the plaintiff on all claims made in the complaint…. The ultimate inquiry is what amount is put ‘in controversy’ by the plaintiff’s complaint, not what a defendant will actually owe….” (Citations omitted.) Thus, plaintiff’s argument that the court may award “less than the maximum statutory penalty per violation” is irrelevant to the determination of “the amount in controversy in this litigation.” Id. (citation omitted). Because the class action complaint expressly seeks up to $1,000 per violation, because plaintiff has not stipulated to damages of less than $1,000 per violation, and because defendant established that it processed at least 5,001 credit card transactions during the requisite time period, the amount in controversy requirement had been met. Id., at 1205-06. Accordingly, the federal court denied plaintiff’s motion to remand the class action to state court. Id., at 1206.

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