CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–Irish v. Burlington: Wisconsin Federal Court Reaffirms Order Remanding Class Action To State Court Holding Post-Removal Amendments Destroyed CAFA Removal Jurisdiction

Oct 8, 2009 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Plaintiffs’ Amendment to Class Action Complaint Following Removal under Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) Defeated CAFA Jurisdiction Warranting Remand of Lawsuit to State Court Wisconsin Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action in Wisconsin state court against various defendants seeking “damages resulting from a flash flood that inundated plaintiffs’ homes in the town of Bagley, Wisconsin in 2007.” Irish v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co., 632 F.Supp.2d 871, 872 (W.D. Wis. 2009). Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court on grounds of diversity even though two of the defendants shared Wisconsin citizenship with the plaintiffs, arguing that the Wisconsin-resident defendants were fraudulently joined to defeat diversity, and also asserting removal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). Id., at 872-83. “Plaintiffs’ moved to remand the case to state court, arguing that joinder was not fraudulent and that their suit was not subject to the Class Action Fairness Act.” Id., at 873. The district court determined that the joinder was not fraudulent but that CAFA removal jurisdiction existed, id. Plaintiffs sought and obtained leave to amend their class action complaint, “disavowing their class action allegations and seeking relief for only the named plaintiffs.” Id. The district court then remanded the class action to state court on the ground that it “no longer had subject matter jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.” Id. Defense attorneys moved the district court to reconsider its remand order, arguing that because CAFA jurisdiction existed at the time of removal, it could not be taken away by subsequent amendment “even if the case was no longer a class action.” Id. The district court granted reconsideration but again held that the case had to be remanded to state court.

As a preliminary procedural matter, the district court noted that defendants also filed a notice of appeal from the remand order with the Seventh Circuit. Irish, at 873. For reasons we do not discuss here, the district court concluded that it retained jurisdiction over the matter to reconsider its remand order. See id., at 873-74. Turning to the merits, the district court noted that the reconsideration motion was primarily directed at “[the] decision to remand the suit on the basis of a post-removal amendment of the complaint.” Id., at 874. The district court rejected the argument that “for the purpose of determining whether subject matter jurisdiction exists in a case removed from state court under [CAFA], the court is bound by the allegations of the original complaint and may not consider any later amendments.” Id., at 875. The court reaffirmed its holding that “the dismissal of plaintiff’s class action claims eliminated the ground for the court’s grant of diversity jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.” Id., at 876.

Defendants also argued, for the first time, that federal jurisdiction existed under the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (“the Act”). Irish, at 874. The district court concluded that defendant’s failure to raise this argument earlier did not waive the issue because “subject matter jurisdiction is not subject to waiver.” Id., at 875. Defense attorneys argued that the Act “expressly preempts the type of suit plaintiffs have brought.” Id., at 876. For reasons we do not discuss here, the district court concluded that the Act did not expressly preempt plaintiffs’ claims. See id., at 876-78. Accordingly, the court denied defendants’ motion to keep the case in federal court. Id., at 878.

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