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CAFA Law Blog Information, cases and insights regarding the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005

A Defendant’s Subjective Belief Does Not Trigger Removal

Posted in Case Summaries

Roth v. CHA Hollywood Medical Center, L.P., 2012 WL 5456406 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 7, 2012).

A District Court in California, addressing a motion to remand, was left with serious doubts as to the propriety of the removal because the defendants at no time referenced any “paper” that they had received that allowed them to first ascertain that the case has become removable.

The plaintiff brought a class action on behalf of herself and others similarly situated against the defendant in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. The plaintiff’s first amended complaint alleged three claims for violations of the California Labor Code and one claim for violation of California Business and Professions Code.

The defendant removed the action to the District Court 103 days after the amended complaint was filed, claiming jurisdiction under both CAFA and federal question jurisdiction.

The plaintiff filed a motion to remand, and the District Court remanded the case to the Los Angeles County Superior Court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The Court noted that the defendants based their removal petition on CAFA jurisdiction and federal question jurisdiction under the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA). The Court found that both grounds failed because the defendants did not demonstrate what triggered their right to removal under 28 U.S.C § 1446(b). The Court referenced the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Harris v. Bankers Life & Cas. Co., 425 F.3d 689 (9th Cir. 2005), which held that defendants may not remove a case whenever they pleased based on their subjective beliefs because doing so would encourage gamesmanship.

The Court noted that the defendants claimed that many of the class members were diverse but provided no evidence for their assertions.   Section 1446(b) requires that a defendant file a notice of removal within 30 days from the date he first objectively learns that an action is removable and further provides that a defendant may learn that an action is removable in one of two ways: through the face of the initial pleadings or through the receipt “of a copy of an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable.” The defendants argued that the timeliness of the removal was proper because the plaintiffs never served a “paper,” which revealed that CAFA jurisdiction existed. 

The Court, referencing § 1446(b), observed that the Harris decision clarified that a defendant cannot remove based on its own investigation. The first 30-day window is triggered by defendant’s receipt of an initial pleading that reveals a basis for removal. If no ground for removal is evident in that pleading, the case is not removable. If the case is not removable from the complaint, then the defendants must wait until a second 30-day window is triggered via a change in the parties or other circumstances revealed in a newly-filed “paper.”

The Roth defendants never referenced any “paper” that they received, which allowed them to first ascertain that the case was removable. The District Court, therefore, was left with serious doubts as to the propriety of the removal and declined jurisdiction.

The Court similarly found that the defendants’ arguments for federal question jurisdiction were improper because these allegations similarly stated that the plaintiffs at no time served a “paper” establishing such jurisdiction. Citing Harris, the Court once again outlined that defendants may not remove a case whenever they pleased based on their subjective beliefs, as doing so would encourage gamesmanship.

Accordingly, the District Court remanded the case to the Los Angeles County Superior Court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

By:  Kimberly Higginbotham