Bass v. Carmax Auto Superstores, Inc., 07-883, 2008 WL 441962 (W.D. Mo. Feb. 14, 2008)

In a scene eerily reminiscent of perhaps the greatest single movie clip of all time, the Salsa Shark,


our poor plaintiff, who once dreamt of swimming blissfully in the warm and fertile waters of state court, suddenly finds herself ripped from safety and trapped in the cold, murky, and oh-so frightening waters of federal court, never to return again. (Editors’ Note:  Ok,  so there’s really no similarities here, but how could we pass on such a great opportunity for a gratuitous Salsa Shark reference, particulary at the start of summer?)

In Bass, the plaintiff, a Missouri citizen, bought a car from one of Carmax’s, (a Virginia corporation) Missouri dealerships.  According to the plaintiff, Carmax financed the sale and charged a fee of $149.00 to prepare the financing documents. The plaintiff filed suit against Carmax as a putative class action, alleging that Carmax, by charging a document preparation fee, had: (1.) engaged in unauthorized practice of law; and (2.) committed unfair and deceptive trade practices in violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (“MMPA”). 

Carmax removed the case under CAFA by asserting minimal diversity and more than $5,000,000 in controversy. Bass sought remand by asserting that the amount in controversy wasn’t met. According to Bass’ math, a total of 4,419 Missouri residents paid the $149 document prepration fee.  Based on this calculation, Bass asserted that the actual damages were only $658,431.00, well short of the required $5,000,000. 

However, after calculating a potential award of attorney’s fees and punitive damages available under the MMPA, the court found that the actual amount in controversy was easily established. 

Not to be stopped by rational thought, Bass went on to argue that she had stipulated in her complaint that the “damages in this case, including, but not limited to all fees, costs, statutory penalties, punitive damages and other damages shall not exceed $5,000,000.” Thus, per Bass, even though the theoretical amount in controversy could have been over $5,000,000, she had limited her recovery through the stipulation and, therefore, barred removal. 

Just as the court rejected the plaintiff’s calculation of the amount in controversy, the court refused to give any weight to the stipulation limiting damages. Per the court, Bass had “…no right to limit or compromise the recovery of the class without Court approval, particularly before she has even been approved as a representative of the class.” While the decision to deny remand no doubt left Bass feeling a little fishy, we can only hope that she manages re-group, rather than flounder around in her new home.