Weekley v. Guidant Corp., 392 F. Supp. 2d 1066, 2005 WL 2348476 (E.D. Ark. Sept. 23, 2005).
U. S. District Judge J. Leon Holmes, of the Eastern District of Arkansas, considered the issue of when a civil action initially filed in state court as a single-plaintiff action prior to the enactment of the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, which is later amended to seek certification of a national class after CAFA’s effective date, is “commenced.” Judge Holmes saw the issue as one of statutory construction, and held that the statute in question – CAFA — was clear and unambiguous. He wrote, “Congress made the Act applicable to any civil action commenced after February 18, 2005. Congress did not make the Act applicable to any civil action commenced before that date.”
On July 26, 2004, Weekley filed her complaint against the defendants for damages involving an allegedly defective pacemaker, and expressly limiting the damages sought as less than the $75,000 minimum amount in controversy required for federal diversity jurisdiction. On July 8, 2005, Weekley filed her “Amended Complaint; Motion for Class Certification,” incorporating the original complaint by reference, and including a four paragraph motion, “alleging in conclusory fashion” the elements necessary for class certification under state and federal Rule 23. On July 28, 2005, the defendants filed their notice of removal, claiming that CAFA was applicable to the action, thus giving the federal court original jurisdiction.
Weekley countered that the civil action was commenced when the original complaint was filed in 2004. The defendants argued that the 2005 amendment seeking class certification constituted the date of “commencement” under CAFA.
Judge Holmes stated that CAFA is “about as clear and simple as a statute can be; it says that the Act ‘shall apply to any civil action commenced on or after the date of enactment of this act.’ ” He then pointed to Rule 3 of the Arkansas and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, noting that an action is commenced by filing a complaint, and wrote, “[b]ecause Weekley filed her complaint before February 18, 2005, the Class Action Fairness Act does not apply to this civil action.”
Judge Holmes opined that the phrase “any civil action” as used in CAFA has the same meaning as in other removal statutes, and that a civil action, viewed as a whole, can be commenced only once. He also noted that it would have been easy for Congress to include actions that become removable after the effective date, but since Congress chose not to do so, “It is not within the province of this Court to read into the statute a provision that Congress chose not to include.”
The defendants argued that the amendment to the complaint does not relate back to the original complaint; however, Judge Holmes called the argument irrelevant since Congress did not say that CAFA would apply to actions amended after February 18, 2005. Since CAFA was held not to be applicable, the case was remanded to state court.
Editors’ Note: Presumably, this ruling will be appealed. It will be interesting to see how the 8th Circuit will rule, as this fact pattern seems to fall squarely within one of the congressionally-stated purposes of CAFA — that national class actions be heard in federal court rather than state court — and the amendment to attempt to certify this formerly single-plaintiff action as a national class appears one of the “amendments” referenced by the 7th Circuit in Knudsen, et al. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, 411 F. 3d 805, 2005 WL 1389059 (7th Cir. June 7, 2005), which probably should trigger CAFA.
See also Plummer v. Farmers Group, Inc., No. CIV-05-242-WH, 2005 WL 2292174 (E.D. Okla. Sept. 15, 2005), the subject of a separate post on CAFA Law Blog, in which the Oklahoma federal court reaches the opposite conclusion in a case involving a similar factual situation.