Senterfitt v. SunTrust Mortgage, Inc., CV 105-059, 2005 WL 2100594 (S.D. Ga. Aug. 31, 2005).
A Georgia federal judge, faced with the plaintiff’s motion to remand this case removed under CAFA, was persuaded that the post-CAFA amendments to the original complaint significantly expanded the definition of the putative class and amounted to an entirely new action under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. This class action, claiming George state law voilations by the bank’s charging allegedly illegal fees for faxing payoff statements, was originally filed in state court in March, 2004, long before the adoption of CAFA, and was timely removed by the defendant SunTrust Mortgage, Inc. after the plaintiffs filed their second amended complaint in March, 2005. The remand battle targeted the expanded class, as defined by the post-CAFA second amended complaint, which modified the class to cover plaintiff borrowers over a 16 year period, a significant increase over the 4 year period defined by the first amended complaint.
Size does matter when deciding whether an amended complaint relates back, the court noted, focusing on the question of whether the original suit put SunTrust on notice of the expanded class defined by the second amended complaint. The first incarnation of the suit failed that test. Not only did the second amended complaint fail to relate back, the court determined that the pleading “commenced” a new action for CAFA purposes.
The date of commencement issue is the battleground in many remand fights, but the court’s analysis did not end there. The court, after finding that SunTrust had demonstrated the commencement of a new action subject to CAFA, then proceeded to consider whether the second amended complaint satisfied CAFA’s minimum diversity and amount in controversy requirements. The court rejected the plaintiffs’ contentions that minimum diversity did not exist since (as the plaintiffs alleged) (a)SunTrust was actually a Georgia citizen, or (b) that SunTrust, which was incorporated and headquartered in Virginia, was actually the alter ego or agent of Georgia’s SunTrust Bank, or (c) that SunTrust’s nerve center was actually located in Georgia. Three strikes.
The court also accepted SunTrust’s estimate of the number of defendants involved in the newly-defined class, deciding that that the claims asserted by the expanded putative class met CAFA’s $5 million amount in controversy standard. Finding that CAFA was applicable, and that the minimum diversity and amount in controversy requirements of CAFA were met, the court denied the plaintiffs’ motion to remand.