Jones v. Fort Dodge Animal Health, No. 1:06-cv-47-SPM/AK, 2006 WL 1877103 (N.D. Fla. July 5, 2006).

This plaintiff squeezed (like an orange) into Florida state court on February 17, 2005, the day before the Class Action Fairness Act became law.   Three court extensions and more than one year later, she got around to serving the defendant, who wasted no time and immediately juiced the case by removing it to federal court.  By then, however, the orange juice was no longer fresh.   Plaintiff’s slo-mo and defendant’s speed did not impress the federal district judge.  He bounced the case back to Alachua County, Florida, declaring that the Class Action Fairness Act did not apply.   Don’t you hate it when the pulp gets caught in your teeth?

The battle was over time and money.  Isn’t it always?  If the delay in service pushed commencement of the action beyond CAFA’s February 18, 2005 effective date, then the defendant could avail itself of CAFA’s $5 million amount in controversy, tallied by aggregating claims.  If, however, CAFA was not applicable, then the traditional diversity jurisdiction principles of  $75,000 amount in controversy requirement, which do not, the court observed, permit aggregation, would be in play.  Naturally, the defendant asserted CAFA applied because it needed to aggregate to satisfy the amount in controversy.  Not surprisingly, the plaintiff countered that traditional diversity jurisdiction applied.  The court noted that plaintiff made no claim in excess of $50,000.

Whether CAFA was applicable or not came down to the issue of commencement.  The delay in service did not affect the commencement date of the action because Florida’s Rules of Civil Procedure dictate that a case commences when filed, regardless of when service occurs. Defendants have a vehicle to punish sluggish plaintiffs, the court pointed out, noting that Florida law provides for dismissal without prejudice if a plaintiff cannot demonstrate good cause for untimely service.

The defense had some ammunition for its anti-slowpoke argument: federal court rulings from Maine and Alabama declaring that untimely service delays commencement of an action. Judge Stephan P. Mickle was unmoved. The onus of proving federal jurisdiction under CAFA is on the defendant, said Judge Mickle, pointing to the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling in Miedema v. Maytag Corp., No. 06-12430, 2006 WL 1519630 (11th Cir. Jun. 5, 2006) (Editors’ Note:  the CAFA Law Blog analysis of Miedema posted on August 22, 2006).

Judge Mickle wasn’t swayed by Main Drug, Inc. v. Aetna U.S. Healthcare, Inc., where the court found that delay in pursuing service had the effect of commencing the action after CAFA became law. (Editors’ Note:  See the CAFA Law Blog analysis of Main Drug I posted on March 14, 2005).  Though both Alabama and Florida procedural law provides that an action commences upon filing, the likeness dissolved there. Judge Mickle drilled down, noting that Alabama breaks company with Florida because Alabama’s Supreme Court has held that commencement also hinges on a plaintiff’s bona fide intention to serve the complaint immediately.

The Maine case, Dinkel v. General Motors Corp., 400 F.Supp.2d 289 (D. Me. 2005), which actually turned on Kansas’ procedural rules, differs because Kansas’ commencement statute provides that an action is considered to be commenced at the time of service if it is not served within 90 days of filing, Judge Mickle explained. (Editors’ Note:  See the CAFA Law Blog analysis of Dinkel posted on December 1, 2005).

The plaintiff also urged that defendants violated the one-year limit on removal under 28 U.S.C. 1446(b). The court did not need to get that far, declaring that resolution of the case hinged on whether CAFA applied, given that the amount in controversy was the same and would bar removal under traditional diversity, regardless of the one-year limit on removal. Having found that CAFA did not apply, the court concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the traditional diversity jurisdiction statute, 28 U.S.C. §1332(a), and it remanded the case back to state court.