Leathermon v. Grandview Memorial Gardens, Inc., No. 4:07-CV-137-SEB-WGH, 2009 WL 301923 (S.D. Ind. Jan. 22, 2009).
One important thing to keep in mind before you try to prove that greater than two-thirds of your plaintiff class are citizens of the State in which you filed: don’t use addresses that are forty years old! Common sense, I know, but the plaintiffs in Leathermon attempted to use the addresses of their plaintiff class members that were on file at the time the underlying contracts to the suit were entered into – twenty, thirty, and forty years prior.
Leathermon involved a class action suit brought by persons who had purchased “burial, final disposition, and internment services, and cemetery goods and merchandise, including vaults, crypts, markers, bases and monuments” at the defendant’s cemetery. Ghoulish, I know.
The complaint, without much detail, alleged that operators of the cemetery “failed to perform burials in accordance with the terms and conditions of the cemetery contracts to *and I quote* ensure proper preservation of the remains.” Alrighty, then.
Now, because the court didn’t explain exactly what had gone wrong, allow me to give an illustration via an old joke:
A grieving widow is at the funeral home, waiting to see her deceased husband presented in his casket.
Upon sight, she immediately breaks down in tears.
Asked what could be done to console her, she sobbed “He’s wearing a black suit; it was his dying wish to be buried in a blue suit.”
Wanting to accommodate the grief-stricken woman, the funeral home director promised to fix the problem.
The next day, the day of the funeral, the widow saw her husband adorned in a smart, navy blue suit.
She was overjoyed.
Asked how he was able to find such a nice suit so quickly, the funeral director xplained that another widow had complained that her deceased husband was clad in a blue suit, when he had requested black.
“After that”, continued the director, “it was a simple matter of switching the heads.”
Now that I think about it, that would be at least marginally upsetting.
Imagine Donnie from The Big Lebowski suing Walter and The Dude for spreading his ashes, not in the Pacific Ocean, but all over The Dude’s shirt/beard. Well that would have to be Donnie’s relatives, but I digress…
The problem for the plaintiffs in Leathermon came after the case was removed to federal court under CAFA, when they attempted to remand to state court under the “local controversy exception”. This exception only applies when greater than two-thirds of all the proposed plaintiff class members are citizens of the State in which the action was originally filed. Now, it seems obvious that most people suing a funeral home would be closely related to the people that had died and were subsequently “improperly preserved”, whatever that means. Because people are usually buried where they lived, it seems like a relatively low burden to overcome for the plaintiffs.
However, with the burden of proof squarely on their shoulders, the plaintiff’s attorneys presented evidence at the remand hearing of the addresses of the plaintiff class members, which all turned out to be at least 20 years old. So, despite the fact that 94.87% of the addresses were local (state of Indiana), the court explained that this was insufficient evidence because they could not “assum[e] the class members’ residence[s] remained the same.”
The court even goes as far as admitting that “this class action lawsuit indisputably appears to be local in character”, but CAFA has strict and clear guidelines that must be met before an action can be remanded back to state court. The plaintiffs had to prove that this was a local controversy; all they had to do was dig up the updated addresses from their plaintiff class. Epic fail. Plaintiff’s motion
By: Caleb Trotter