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

Removing Defendants Bear Burden of Proof on Jurisdictional Threshold

Posted in Case Summaries

Vilitchai v Ametek Programmable Power Inc., 2017 WL 875595 (S.D. Cal. March 6, 2017).

A plaintiff brought a putative class action in California state court alleging the defendants violated various wage and overtime requirements set forth in the California Business and Professions Code. One defendant, Aerotek, Inc. (“Aerotek”), a staffing agency, removed the case to federal court under CAFA. The plaintiff moved to remand, arguing his claims did not meet CAFA’s jurisdictional minimum of $5,000,000.

Aerotek contended that pursuant to the complaint, the putative class included all of its employees in California, including those employees that were placed with Ametek Programmable Power, Inc. (“Ametek”), another defendant in the suit. If all Aerotek’s employees were included in the putative class, the class would have over 110,000 members and the amount in controversy would exceed $5,000,000. The plaintiff countered, and the Court agreed, that the putative class only included those Aerotek employees who were placed with Ametek in California—a significantly smaller number.

Ametek filed its own opposition to the motion to remand and argued that even if only its own employees (as opposed to also those employees of Aerotek not placed with Ametek) were included in the putative class, the $5,000,000 minimum would still be satisfied. Ametek’s calculation accounted for a 100% violation rate for the alleged wage and hour violations, which it contends was the proper calculation based on the complaint. The Court determined that the complaint did not allege a 100% violation rate, and that such an interpretation by Ametek was unsupported.

The Court explained that pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1446, a defendant is only required to include a plausible allegation that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum in her notice of removal. A defendant is only required to put forth evidence supporting that allegation if the plaintiff contests it or the court questions it. Ultimately, under Ibarra v. Manheim Inv., Inc., a “defendant seeking removal bears the burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the aggregate amount in controversy exceeds $5 million when federal jurisdiction is challenged.”

The Court found that neither Aerotek nor Ametek carried its burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that by their respective calculations, the amount in controversy exceeded $5,000,000. Accordingly, the Court granted the plaintiff’s motion to remand, and quoting Ibarra, further proclaimed, “Where, as here, the evidence is in quipise, i.e., no evidence on either side, ‘the scales tip against federal-court jurisdiction.’”

Posted by Amanda Laviage