Robinson v. Cheetah Transportation, No. Civ. A. 06-0005, 2006 WL 468820, (W.D. La. Feb. 27, 2006).
In this Western District of Louisiana case, the plaintiff, Betty Robinson, attempted to seduce the court into applying the rarely used (to date) “local controversy” exception to federal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act. However, United States Magistrate Judge Karen L. Hayes wasn’t in the mood, and after careful consideration of the exception, including an excursion into CAFA’s legislative history, she denied Robinson’s motion to remand.
Ms. Robinson filed her original class action complaint in Louisiana state court on November 28, 2005, on behalf of all persons and businesses in Caldwell Parish that were affected by the closure of the Columbia bridge on October 7, 2004. The bridge, apparently the life line of the community, was closed due to an accident that occurred when John Gaston, a truck driver with Cheetah Transportation, struck the bridge, effectively destroying one of the main support beams and damaging several others. The damage was sufficiently extensive that the bridge was closed for almost a week, resulting in the cancellation of the Louisiana Art & Folk Festival and shutting down the school in the small town, among other disruptions. Cheetah and its co-defendants removed the case to Louisiana federal court on January 6, 2006, claiming federal jurisdiction under CAFA. Ms. Robinson acknowledged that CAFA’s jurisdictional requirements were satisfied, but subsequently filed a motion to remand, attempting to persuade Judge Hayes to invoke CAFA’s “local controversy” exception.
After establishing that federal jurisdiction did exist under CAFA, Judge Hayes declared that the exception would not apply unless the plaintiff demonstrated the following four elements: ” (1) greater than two thirds of the members of the putative class are citizens of the state in which the action was filed; (2) at least one defendant is a defendant from whom members of the putative class seek significant relief, whose alleged conduct forms a significant basis of the asserted claims, and who is a citizen in which the action was filed; (3) the principal injuries resulting from the alleged conduct of each defendant were incurred in the state in which the action was filed; and (4) no other class action asserting the same or similar factual allegations has been filed against any of the defendants within the three years preceding the filing of the instant class action.” Relying on CAFA’s Senate Report and Berry v. American Express Publishing Corp., 381 F. Supp. 2d 118 (C.D. Cal. 2005) (Editor’s Note: See the CAFA Law Blog case summary of Berry posted on September 5, 2005), Judge Hayes concluded that “the burden of proving the application of CAFA’s exceptions rests with the party opposing removal.”
Judge Hayes took exception with Robinson’s claim that the second requirement of the local controversy exception was satisfied, particularly the “significant relief” language. Finding no case law to assist in defining what constitutes significant relief, the judge was directed to CAFA’s legislative history by the defendants. Judge Hayes took instruction on the significant relief issue from an example in the Senate Report comparing a suit against auto manufacturers and local dealers. The Report implied that a “comparison of the relief sought between all defendants and each defendant’s ability to pay a potential judgment” should be conducted to determine whether significant relief is being sought. After examining the dynamic of the defendants in the case and concluding that Gaston was the only individual defendant joined with all corporate co-defendants, Judge Hayes concluded that the plaintiffs were not seeking significant relief from Gaston, but rather from the corporate defendants who were capable of paying. Therefore, the judge concluded that Ms. Robinson failed to carry her burden by providing evidence that significant relief was sought from Gaston and thus, the narrow local controversy exception to CAFA jurisdiction did not apply, and the motion for remand was denied.