Gavron v. Weather Shield MFG., Inc., 2010 WL 3835115 (S.D. Fl. Sep 29, 2010).

In this case, the defendants got the last laugh as a District Court in Florida declined to remand the action to state court under CAFA’s local controversy exception holding that given the loosely-defined class, it cannot intuit class citizenship from property ownership. 

Gavron, the plaintiff and a resident of Florida, brought a class action against Weather Shield Manufacturing, Inc. and S & S Craftsmen, Inc., claiming damages for allegedly defective LifeGuard Legacy Series of windows and doors. 

Weather Shield designs, manufactures, and sells the LifeGuard Legacy Series of windows and doors, which it advertises as offering “solid hurricane protection.” Weather Shield is a Wisconsin corporation that has a network of more than 2,000 authorized dealers worldwide. The defendant S & S is one of the Florida dealers.         

Gavron alleged that he purchased from S & S more than $300,000 of LifeGuard Legacy Series products. On behalf of himself and on behalf of “all owners of property in Florida in which Weather Shield LifeGuard Legacy windows and doors are installed, and which were sold by S & S,” Gavron alleged claims based on strict product liability, breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty, violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, fraudulent concealment and nondisclosure, unjust enrichment, and equitable relief. Gavron estimated that the defendants’ “false and misleading statements” induced putative class members to purchase at least $100 million of defective Weather Shield products. 

Weather Shield removed the case to the District Court under CAFA. Although the parties agreed that Weather Shield properly removed that case under CAFA, Gavron sought to remand the case to state court contending that this case fell under CAFA’s local controversy exception–28 U.S.C. §1332(d)(4)(A), because greater than two-thirds of the class members were Florida citizens, and the local defendant–S&S was a significant defendant.  

Not so fast Gavron . . . because the District Court denied the motion. 

First, the Court stated that unless citizenship is certain based on the class definition, a plaintiff must provide some proof of putative class member’ citizenship to satisfy his burden. Citizenship of a state cannot be presumed from property ownership in that state. The Court found that Gavron did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that two-thirds of the putative class were Florida citizens because he failed to provide any evidence of citizenship, and it was not self-evident from the class definition that the class satisfied the citizenship requirement. 

Gavron argued that he could not be expected to account for the citizenship of all class members, and that “common sense deductions” from the class definition suggested that the putative class met the citizenship requirement. 

The Court remarked that Gavron was not expected to account for all class members, but must put forth some evidence in order to satisfy his burden of proof. Gavron’s requested presumption that two-thirds of owners of Florida property were citizens of Florida would require the Court to engage in guesswork that was impermissible under the framework in Evans v. Walter Industries, Inc., 449 F.3d 1159 (11th Cir.2006). (Editors’ Note: See the CAFA Law Blog analysis of Evans posted on May 25, 2006 and our special analysis of Evans posted on May 26, 2006).  

Evansrefused to intuit citizenship from a loosely-defined class, such as the one proposed here. Although some courts have presumed citizenship of the putative class based on a class defined in terms of property ownership or residency, the Court declined to intuit class citizenship from property ownership, given the Evans clear statements regarding a plaintiff’s burden of proof. 

Next, the Court found that Gavron failed to prove that S & S was a defendant from whom the class sought significant relief because there was no indication that relief sought against S & S was significant when compared to the relief sought by the class as a whole. The Court pointed out that under Evans, the assessment of whether a class seeks significant relief against a defendant involves examination of how many members of the class were harmed by the local defendant’s actions and evaluation of whether “the relief against that defendant is a significant portion of the entire relief sought by the class.” The local defendant is not one from whom significant relief is sought if the local defendant is just “small change” compared to what is sought from other defendants.

The Court found that Gavron’s argument failed because he did not provide any evidence regarding the significance of the relief sought against S & S, or its comparative significance to the relief sought from Weather Shield. Moreover, the pleadings indicated only that Gavron, individually, purchased $300,000 of Weather Shield products from S & S. 

Gavron did not allege how many other plaintiffs alleged similar actions by S & S, or how much of the more than $100 million of Weather Shield products in controversy were sold by S & S. Although the $300,000 attributed to S & S undoubtedly was significant to Gavron, individually, that amount of sales was not significant when compared to the $100 million at issue. Although Gavron alleged that S & S claims to be the premier dealer of Weather Shield products in the Tampa and Naples/Ft. Myers area, this was not evidence regarding the quantity of LifeGuard Legacy Series windows and doors sold by S & S. Without presenting some information about the putative class members harmed by S & S or the amount of damages alleged against S & S, Gavron could not meet his burden of proving that the relief against S & S was a significant portion of the entire relief sought by the class, the Court observed.

Finally, the Court stated that Gavron failed to prove that the conduct of S & S formed a significant basis of the claims asserted by the putative class because Gavron failed to produce evidence of what percentage of putative class members had claims against the local defendant S&S. The Court maintained that the local defendant’s alleged conduct must be compared to the conduct of the other alleged defendants.

The Court remarked that even the pleadings did not provide light on the issue because Gavron’s pleadings noted that “Weather Shield dealers and sales representatives are located throughout the state of Florida ….S & S is only one of those dealers.” The Court observed that although Gavron stated that S & S claimed to be the premier dealer of Weather Shield products in the Tampa and Naples/Ft. Myers area, it was important to remember that “the fact that the local defendant is a major player in a particular market is not determinative” because of the Court’s responsibility to compare the alleged conduct of all the defendants