Swearingen v Yucatan Foods LP, 2014 WL 553537 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 7, 2014).

In an action brought by the consumers of nationwide class, the district court denied the defendant’s challenge of the federal jurisdiction based on home state exception finding that the choice of law analysis was inappropriate at the pleadings stage, and refused to dismiss the complaint.

These consumers purchased food products from the defendant Yucatan Foods, a food seller, and brought a putative class action contending that the defendant misbranded its guacamole products by using the term “evaporated cane juice” in violation of California’s Sherman Food, Drug and Cosmetics Law and Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”). The defendant moved to dismiss the complaint contending among other things that the plaintiffs cannot plead federal jurisdiction based on class action status.

The defendant argued that plaintiffs failed to plead a claim invoking federal jurisdiction. The plaintiffs had asserted federal jurisdiction pursuant to CAFA, which vests the district courts with jurisdiction over class actions in which the amount-in-controversy exceeds $5 million so long as there is minimal diversity between the parties. The defendant nevertheless, argued that the home state exception should apply, under which the court shall decline jurisdiction when both the primary defendants and 2/3rds of the proposed plaintiff class members are citizens of the forum state.

The district court remarked that ordinarily, the party seeking to invoke federal diversity jurisdiction must bear the burden of establishing that the court may properly exercise such jurisdiction. However, the home state provision i.e., U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4), is an exception to jurisdiction under CAFA and therefore, not part of the prima facie case establishing minimal diversity jurisdiction.

The district court found that on its face, the plaintiffs’ complaint met the jurisdictional requirements of § 1332(d)(2). First, the defendant was a Delaware Corporation with is headquarters in Los Angeles, California. Second, the plaintiffs asserted claims on behalf of over 100 members of a proposed class of consumers throughout the United States, including class members from states other than Delaware or California. The amount-in-controversy was in excess of $5 million in the aggregate. These assertions were unchallenged by the defendant, therefore, were sufficient to establish a prima facie case of minimal diversity jurisdiction under CAFA.

With this established, the district court remarked that the burden was on the defendant to show the home state exception. The defendant pointed to a California appellate decision in Norwest Mortgage, Inc. v. Superior Court, 72 Cal. App. 214 (1999) reversing the trial court’s certification on a nationwide UCL consumer class on the ground that the UCL was not intended to regulate conduct unconnected to California. The Court, however, noted that in Nat’l Notary Ass’n v. U.S. Notart, No. D038278, 2002 WL 1265555 (Cal. Ct. App. June 7, 2002) which distinguished Norwest on the grounds that the class in Nat’l Notary sought injunctive, not monetary, relief to enforce compliance by the resident defendant for conduct directed from its California headquarters. Irrespective of the holdings in the two cases, the district court remarked that whatever the merits of the defendant’s argument in this case as to the ultimate propriety of a nationwide class, resolution of the question would require detailed choice-of-law analysis not appropriate at the pleadings stage. Accordingly, the district court rejected the defendant’s challenge of the federal jurisdiction based on the CAFA’s home state exception.

Similarly, the district court denied the defendant’s other arguments based on preemption, standing, and for failure to state a claim, and rejected the motion to dismiss. –JR