Phillips v. Severn Trent Environmental Services, Inc., 2007 WL 2757131 (E.D. La. 2007)

Why is Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, so cosmopolitan? We can’t figure it out, and we’re less than two hours away. Nevertheless, the court determined in this CAFA remand case that the plaintiff could not meet its burden of proving a local controversy exception to CAFA because he presented no evidence that the class members, all residents of Plaquemines Parish between May 15 and May 20, 2007, were domiciled in Louisiana. Obviously, it must have been the week of the big “Hey we’re not just for locals, y’all all come down and shrimp wit us” festival. But we digress.

James Phillips sued Plaquemines Parish and Severn Trent Environmental Services, Inc. on behalf of himself and a class of all persons who were living in Plaquemines Parish between May 15 and May 20, 2007, and who used contaminated water provided by Belle Chase Water System. Severn Trent was the administrator of the system. The suit claimed that the Parish (as its affectionately know to Louisianans) and Severn Trent (outsider from Texas) were negligent in allowing the drinking water to become contaminated with excessive amounts of carbon tetrachloride and benzene. We are not chemists, but that kind of stuff sounds like it shouldn’t be in your water.

Being the astute outsider, Severn Trent removed the matter under CAFA. The Court was satisfied with the removal requirements after plaintiff complained of personal injuries such as liver, lung and kidney damage, cancer, depression of the central nervous system, delayed pulmonary edema, and leukemia. Did we mention suit was filed approximately 2 months after the water was drunk. If anyone knows the Parish, the $5,000,000.00 minimal amount in controversy amount was wrapped up when the plaintiff said “Now into court” and “benzene.” The Court also agreed that there were a sufficient number of class members given the amount of drinking water supplied to the Parish residents.

Undeterred, and possible now underweight, the plaintiff alleged the seldom used “local controversy” exception to CAFA. Without using fancy lawyer terms, the court explained the exception “tells federal courts to remand when most of the class members are local, most of the injuries occurred locally, and at least one of the ‘significant’ defendants is an in-state citizen.” The burden of proving local controversy rests with the one seeking remand.

The court had little trouble determining that significant relief was sought from an in-state citizen, the Parish. But, in a surprise, the court determined that plaintiff did not prove citizenship of two thirds of the putative class. As any first year law student learns, citizenship is not just residence, but domicile. The plaintiff offered no evidence to support that the people using tap water in the Parish were domiciled and, therefore, citizens of Louisiana. Therefore, no local controversy and remand denied! (While writing this article, the CAFA Law Blog staff can’t help but envision the hordes of shrimp and crew boats carrying the daily commuters to this beautiful Gulf Coast destination. I mean seriously, who resides in the Parish that isn’t domiciled in the Parish. Maybe you have to live here to understand.)