Whitehead v. The Nautilus Group, Inc., 428 F. Supp. 2d 923 (W.D. Ark. 2006).

Ahh…Another Class Action Fairness Act case involving the world of pumpitude… (Editors’ Note:  As Hans and Franz say, "Hear me know and believe me later."  See the CAFA Law Blog analysis of Robinson v. Holiday Universal, Inc.,  posted on April 3, 2006). Citing the relation back standards of the Natural State—Arkansas—a federal court in the Western District of Arkansas, in Whitehead v. The Nautilus Group, Inc., remanded to state court a class action lawsuit filed by an Arkansas resident who must not have been too happy with his “natural state.” On February 9, 2005, Thomas Whitehead filed a putative class action suit against the manufacturers of the Bowflex home gym system because the manufacturer did not act quickly enough in sending repair kits after issuing product recalls.  Whitehead sought damages for unjust enrichment and fraud.

On October 11, 2005, the court docketed Whitehead’s amended complaint. The amended complaint contained new factual allegations and theories of recovery related to the recalls. However, the amended complaint added no new legal claims. The amended complaint alleged that Nautilus had all the information it needed at the time of the recalls to send repair kits immediately, yet it merely notified the owners of the recall and required the owners to take the affirmative step of requesting a repair kit. Whitehead claimed that this protracted process meant “newly-formed muscles softened and cardiac health diminished” and consumers could have been rendered “permanently unfit.” (Seems like someone is determined not to be a pitiful, pathetic loser and would rather be a properly pumped up piece of perfect pumpitude.)

Probably thinking to themselves “listen to me now and believe me later, you crybabies” Nautilus’s legal team removed the case alleging federal diversity jurisdiction under CAFA. Nautilus alleged that the amended complaint did not relate back to pre-CAFA filing of the original complaint, and that the federal court had supplemental jurisdiction over any part of the amended complaint that did relate back. Naturally, Whitehead filed a motion to remand.

The key issue was whether the case was “commenced” before or after CAFA’s effective date. Because CAFA is silent as to what constitutes commencement, the court looked to Arkansas state law to define the term, citing Plubell v. Merck & Co., 434 F.3d 1070 (8th Cir. 2006) (Editors’ Note:  See the CAFA Law Blog analysis of Plubell posted on January 25, 2006). Arkansas law generally provides that a case is commenced when it is filed with a clerk of court. Under Arkansas law, amendments to complaints so filed relate back to the date of filing of the original complaint when they arise out of the same conduct, transaction or occurrence as set forth in the original complaint, unless the original complaint is a nullity. 

Nautilus, implying that Whitehead’s original claims were weak and flabby (if only he’d gotten that repair kit more quickly), argued that the original complaint was a nullity, because loss of use damages are unavailable under Arkansas law and because the allegations were otherwise deficient. Nautilus did not pump up enough and failed to provide the court with any authority to support its position, apparently. The court, while expressing uncertainty that the claims could withstand a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, rejected Nautilus’s invitation to characterize the original complaint as a nullity.

The court concluded its analysis by confirming that the new allegations of the amended complaint arose out of the same product recalls that formed the basis for the original complaint, and so related back. This meant the case had been commenced before CAFA’s effective date, and thus there was no diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). After discarding Nautilus’s other arguments in favor of federal jurisdiction (Nautilus pulled a muscle when it raised for the first time in opposition to the remand motion the claim that there was also federal question jurisdiction), the court granted the motion to remand.