Martin v. Lafon Nursing Facility of the Holy Family, Inc., 2007 WL 162813, No. 06-5108 (E.D. La. January 18, 2007).

While the Courts have not gotten the jurisdictional burden of proof right, they have gotten the burden of proof of exceptions right.  In this case from the Eastern District of Louisiana, the Court held that the plaintiff bears the burden of proof to prove the applicability of one of CAFA’s exceptions.

On January 18, 2007, United States District Judge Lance M. Africk handed down a decision for the Eastern District of Louisiana denying a plaintiff’s Motion to Remand. The class action was originally filed in Louisiana state court alleging that the defendant, Lafon Nursing Facility, had failed to take the necessary precaution to protect the plaintiff’s mother and other residents of the nursing home from the effects of Hurricane Katrina. The plaintiff alleged that because of the defendant’s negligence, her mother suffered mentally and physically during the storm and died on the defendant’s premises. 

On August 28, 2006, Lafon Nursing removed the case to federal court arguing that federal jurisdiction existed pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act, the Federal Officer Removal Statute, and the Multiparty, Multiforum Trial Jurisdiction Act. Thereafter, the plaintiff filed her motion to remand on September 27, 2006.

Judge Africk went straight to the jurisdictional provisions of CAFA. After a quick discussion of the provisional requirements, the Court cited Hart v. Fed Ex Ground, for its explanation of CAFA’s local controversy exception. (Editors’ Note:  See the CAFA Law Blog analysis of the Hart case posted on August 21, 2006). 

The plaintiff did not contest CAFA jurisdiction, but instead argued that the case fell within the local controversy exception. The plaintiff argued that more than two-thirds of the members of the class were Louisiana citizens. She offered no support for her assertion, but instead stated that she believed that the majority of the members of the class were from Louisiana. She argued that the defendant was in possession of information regarding the citizenship and/or domicile of the members of the class and should be forced to produce evidence of the citizenship of the plaintiffs. It was her position that the defendant should be required to produce such evidence because the defendant bore the burden of persuasion in establishing federal jurisdiction. Lafon Nursing, however, argued that the burden of proving the citizenship of the putative class rested with the plaintiff and that the plaintiff had failed to carry this burden.

Lafon Nursing cited Frazier v. Pioneer Americas for the proposition that the burden of proving an exception to CAFA fell to the plaintiff. The court noted related CAFA decisions in Hart, Frazier and Evans all of which mentioned the Senate Judiciary Committee’s unambiguous statement that the burden of proving an exception in CAFA should lie with the plaintiff objecting to federal jurisdiction.  (Editors’ Note:  See the CAFA Law Blog analysis of Frazier posted on August 17, 2006 and the CAFA Law Blog analyses of Evans posted on May 25, 2006 and May 26, 2006). In both Frazier and Evans, the Courts noted that the plaintiffs were better positioned to produce the information necessary to carry the burden of proving the exceptions in CAFA.

The plaintiff urged the court to consider the recent decision in Preston v. Tenet Health System. ([Editors’ Note:  See the CAFA Law Blog analysis of Preston posted on January 24, 2007).   In Preston, United States District Judge Eldon E. Fallon writing for the Eastern District of Louisiana, the same district as this matter, found that information relevant to the citizenship of the proposed class was most likely in the hands of the defendants and ordered the defendants to produce this information. Unlike the case of Preston, Judge Africk noted that the Court was not presented with a fully developed record that would allow the court to make such a determination as to the applicability of the local controversy exception.

The court concluded that the burden of proving the local controversy exception in CAFA clearly rests with the plaintiff. The Court found no need to require the production of any information from the defendant or to expedite the discovery process. The court did note, however, that the plaintiff was free to move for remand if and when the appropriate information relevant to subject matter jurisdiction became available.