In re: General Motors Corp. Dex-Cool Products Liability Litigation, Civ. No. 05-10007, 2006 WL 644793 (S.D.Ill. Mar. 9, 2006).
If only Maybelline could have been true — or maybe, if Chuck Berry had had Dex-Cool in his V-8 Ford, he could have caught her before the top of the hill and the song’s ending would have been different. This road trip began in Massachusetts state court one week before the effective date of the Class Action Fairness Act, made a pit stop in Massachusetts federal district court, and, as a result of the navigation provided by the Judicial Panel on Multi District Litigation, ran off the road – at least as far as the plaintiffs were concerned, and at least for that moment — in the Southern District of Illinois, where other actions involving Dex-Cool engine coolant were consolidated in that MDL. During the case’s detour in Massachusetts federal court, the defendant filed a discovery-related motion and a motion to dismiss, and the plaintiffs filed a motion to remand and an opposition of the MDL panel’s transfer order – all of which were denied without prejudice by the Massachusetts district court – leaving the parties bumper to bumper, movin’ side to side. Chief Judge Patrick Murphy of the Southern District of Illinois, upon receipt of the case, then considered the issue of federal jurisdiction sua sponte, effectively ruling on the parties’ previous motions.
General Motors had initially removed this class action, asserting federal jurisdiction under CAFA, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, and complete diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Judge Murphy first addressed GM’s claim that the action was “commenced” after CAFA had taken effect, despite the case having been filed in state court on February 11, 2005, a week prior to CAFA’s effective date. In support of its argument, GM pointed out that it was not served with the original complaint until May 6, 2005 and the original named plaintiff did not have a valid claim, so therefore, the post-CAFA amended complaint “commenced” the action since it substituted the named plaintiffs with real claims for the former plaintiff with none. Taking some guidance from the Seventh Circuit in Phillips v. Ford Motor Co. (Editor’s Note: See CAFA Law Blog summary posted on February 6, 2006), and Knudsen v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co. (Knudsen I) (Editor’s Note: See CAFA Law Blog summary posted on September 3, 2005), Judge Murphy quickly disposed of GM’s argument. The court tersely opined, “[t]he question whether amending a complaint to add or substitute a named plaintiff (class representative) ‘commences’ a new suit for purposes of removal under the CAFA was addressed in Phillips, and the answer is no.” The validity of the initial named plaintiff’s claim was irrelevant for commencement purposes, Judge Murphy decided, and since the substituted named plaintiff complained of the same conduct as the former, the amended complaint was determined to relate back to the pre-CAFA complaint. Judge Murphy thus concluded that CAFA was not a proper basis for removal, since the action had commenced before CAFA became law.
The court also ruled against GM on its two remaining asserted grounds for jurisdiction, finding that the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act did not apply to class actions such as this with less than 100 plaintiffs, and that GM had failed to establish that at least $75,000 was in controversy to satisfy 28 U.S.C § 1332’s requisite minimum amount in controversy threshold for complete diversity jurisdiction. Thus, the road trip headed towards home in Massachusetts state court.