Bartnikowski v. NVR, Inc., 2009 WL 106378, (4th Cir. Jan. 16, 2009)

Plaintiffs brought a state-law based class action for unpaid overtime. Not surprisingly, plaintiffs did not specify the amount they were seeking in damages. 

Defendant attempted to remove the action to federal court pursuant to CAFA, which permits removal if the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million. In support, defendant filed an expert report concluding that damages would exceed this threshold.

The Fourth Circuit, affirming the district court’s decision to remand, held that the defendant’s estimates of the amount in controversy were too speculative to support removal jurisdiction under CAFA. The Fourth Circuit maintained that the defendants must establish CAFA jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence.

Because plaintiffs did not allege an average amount of overtime worked or any specific damage amount, defendant was forced to estimate the amount of overtime hours worked for each plaintiff to prove that the amount in controversy was met. 

Defendant was unable to meet its burden of proof for removal under CAFA. The moral to the story- plaintiffs wanting to keep their case in state court, should not give specifics about their claim or the amount of damages they seek.