Smith v. Collinsworth, No. 4:05-cv-01382, 2005 WL 3533133 (E.D. Ark. Dec. 21, 2005)

Federal judges from the Natural State seem to be reaching conclusions that other district court judges don’t find so natural when it comes to a CAFA commencement analysis. In this Eastern District of Arkansas opinion, Judge William R. Wilson, Jr. agreed with several other Arkansas district court decisions that “in view of the simple directive in §9 of CAFA, whether an amended complaint relates back is irrelevant” in determining when a case commenced for CAFA purposes. In reaching this conclusion, Judge Wilson specifically relied on fellow Eastern District of Arkansas Judge Leon Holmes’s opinion in Weekley v. Guidant Corp., wherein Judge Holmes found the explicit language of §9 renders a relation back analysis irrelevant. (Editors’ Note:  See the CAFA Law Blog summary of Weekley posted October 6, 2005).  Section 9 of CAFA states, “[t]he amendments made by this Act shall apply to any civil action commenced on or after the date of enactment of this Act.” In Weekley, Judge Holmes reasoned, “Congress did not say the Class Action Fairness Act would apply to actions in which the complaint was amended after February 18, 2005, so as to make the action removable, unless the amendment related back to the initial complaint, which is what the statute would need to say for the discussion of whether the amendment relates back to become relevant.” This reasoning apparently appealed to his Arkansas brethren as Judge Howard followed it in Brown v. Lee, Judge Dawson subscribed to it in Hot Spring County Solid Waste Authority v. UnitedHealth Group, and Judge Wilson jumped on the band wagon in this opinion – all Arkansas district court cases.  (Editors’ Note:  See the CAFA Law Blog summary of Brown v. Lee posted on December 7, 2005 and the CAFA Law Blog summary of Hot Springs County Solid Waste Authority posted on March 21, 2006.)

Although Judge Wilson stated he agreed with the reasoning of Weekley, perhaps he is not a true believer, since he ultimately performed a relation back analysis while concurrently decrying its relevancy. Conducting this irrelevant analysis, the court first laid out the prerequisites for an amended complaint to relate back to the original under FRCP 15(c). The court stated, “[i]n order for an amendment to relate back to the date of the original complaint, the original must have provided adequate notice to the defendant, not only of the substantive claims . . . but also of the number and generic identities of the potential plaintiffs . . . .” Judge Wilson concluded that the plaintiffs’ claims of fraud, misrepresentation, and non-disclosure in the original complaint were effectively the same claims asserted in the amended complaint. 

Addressing the plaintiffs’ amendment of the class from containing only Arkansas consumers to now including consumers from across the United States, Judge Wilson reasoned this class amendment “not only rose out of the same conduct recited in the original complaint but could have been foreseen.” Therefore, the court concluded that even if a relation back analysis was relevant, the amended complaint related back to the pre-CAFA filing of the initial complaint. Yet, reaffirming his support for his fellow judges’ hypothesis, Judge Wilson concluded “I agree with the analysis in Weekley, that the relation-back rule should not be applied to defeat the clear intent of Congress – only lawsuits commenced on or after February 18, 2005 are subject to CAFA.”

Therefore, it appears that plaintiffs who managed to file a complaint in Arkansas state court before CAFA took effect can assert entirely new claims not based on the same underlying acts as the original pre-CAFA complaint, and “in order not to defeat the clear intent of Congress,” this crew would remand the action back to state court. Don’t worry – It’s an Arkansas thing.  You wouldn’t understand.