Hensley v. Computer Sciences Corp., No. 4:05-cv-04081, 2006 WL 662463 (W.D. Ark. Mar. 15, 2006).

The court’s response to the defendant, Computer Sciences Corporation, was effectively – “You’re no Thomas Dolby.” In this second attempt by the defendants to gain access to the courtroom of U. S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes of the Western District of Arkansas, Computer Sciences attempted to persuade Judge Barnes that this action commenced after the Class Action Fairness Act took effect, despite his previous ruling that the action had “commenced” February 7, 2005, 11 days before CAFA became law. SCIENCE. [See the CAFA Law Blog summary of Hensley I posted on December 9, 2005.] Apparently, Computer Sciences was not included in its fellow defendants initial removal petition (perhaps a continuation of the senseless shunning of computer nerds that begins in grade school? We wonder . . .) which was subsequently denied by Judge Barnes in Hensley I.

The defendants involved in the initial remand, Allstate Insurance and other insurance companies, sought permission to appeal this denial under 28 U.S.C § 1453(c) from the Eighth Circuit, but were denied in December of 2005. SCIENCE. In the meantime, the plaintiffs failed to perfect service of process on Computer Sciences until November 11, 2005. Shortly thereafter, Computer Sciences removed, asserting federal jurisdiction under CAFA for purportedly different reasons than Judge Barnes had addressed in his first opinion on the matter.

 In what it assuredly thought was poetry in motion (although it didn’t turn the judge’s eye), Computer Sciences argued that the action did not “commence “for CAFA purposes until it was served with process in November of 2005, some nine months after the action was initially filed. SCIENCE. Judge Barnes considered this suggestion by first establishing that this inquiry is determined by applying state law, as the Eighth Circuit instructed in Plubell v. Merck & Co., Inc. [See the CAFA Law Blog summary of Plubell posted January 26, 2006.] Arkansas state law — specifically Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 3(a) — dictates that “[a] civil action is commenced by filing a complaint with the clerk of court . . . .” However, the defendants directed Judge Barnes to an Arkansas Supreme Court opinion in which that court ruled that the “effectiveness of the commencement date is dependent upon meeting the requirements of Rule 4(i), which provides in part that service of process on a defendant must be accomplished within 120 days after the filing of the complaint.” SCIENCE. You could almost see the grin on Computer Sciences’ collective face through its head gear, as it thought, the spheres are in commotion, the elements in harmony.

Judge Barnes, however, failed them in geometry as he shot the techies’ argument down, disagreeing that the Arkansas Supreme Court opinion relied on by the defendants necessarily applied in this context. SCIENCE. Addressing that issue, Judge Barnes wrote, “[t]he Court believes the holding of [the Arkansas Supreme Court decision] and other cases cited therein concerning the effective date of commencement should only come into play when the statute of limitations is at issue.” All its tubes and wires and careful notes and antiquated notions were tossed out the window as Computer Sciences was hit with technology. Since the statute of limitations was not at issue in this case, the court shoved Computer Sciences into its locker and slammed the door in its face, concluding, “[c]ommon sense dictates that a civil action can only commence, or begin, once.” SCIENCE. Reiterating his earlier conclusion, Judge Barnes determined that CAFA did not apply, as the action had commenced before the President signed it into law.

Editors’ Note:  If Computer Sciences could have tested its hypothesis in Judge Fuller’s Middle District of Alabama district court, it may have prevailed, and there could have been a Revenge of the Nerds. See the CAFA Law Blog summary of Main Drug, Inc. v. Aetna U.S. Healthcare, Inc., posted on March 14, 2006, in which Main Drug argued that a similar Alabama case requiring bona fide service of process before a case commenced only applied in statute of limitationsdeterminations. Judge Fuller, however, disagreed, and applied the requirement to the CAFA commencement issue to determine whether federal jurisdiction under CAFA was present. Poetry in motion.  SCIENCE.  SCIENCE. SCIENCE.