Musgrave v. The Aluminum Company of America, No.: 3:06-cv-0029, 2006 WL 1994840 (S.D. Ind. July 14, 2006).
In this class action filed in an Indiana Circuit Court, the plaintiffs alleged The Aluminum Company of America, owned by Alcoa Inc. and a producer of – you guessed it – aluminum products, negligently exposed them to toxic waste at a dump site known as the Squaw Creek Mine. Although the Squaw Creek Mine sounds like a place where the indomitable Lucas McCain, played by Chuck Connors, might iron out a misunderstanding with some frontier justice, all the while teaching young Mark, his son, a valuable moral lesson, such excitement was not to be found. Instead, District Judge Richard L. Young concisely denied the plaintiffs’ motion to remand concluding the defendants satisfied CAFA’s disputed amount in controversy and no exceptions applied to rob the defendants of federal jurisdiction.
While not going so far as to call Alcoa a cheat or coward, the plaintiffs called Alcoa out on the amount in controversy issue. However, Judge Young settled the matter before guns were drawn by finding Alcoa demonstrated a reasonable probability CAFA’s $5 million amount in controversy was satisfied. Relying in part on Fiore v. First American Title Insurance for the proper burden of proof (Editors’ Note: See the CAFA Law Blog’s analysis of Fiore posted June 19, 2006), Judge Young considered the size of the class, the plaintiffs’ request for compensatory damages including lifetime healthcare and medication, and the plaintiffs’ demand for punitive damages, in arriving at the conclusion that “a reasonable probability exists that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional amount of $5,000,000.” Because the plaintiffs did not dispute minimal diversity existed, the court determined CAFA provided federal jurisdiction over the case.
To wrap up the episode, Judge Young quickly shot down any notion that either CAFA’s Local Controversy exception or the Home State exception applied. First, the Judge dismissed the Local Controversy exception since the plaintiffs’ class definition did not allow the court to conclude whether two-thirds or more of the class members were Indiana citizens. Thus, the chief requirement for the exception was not met, as the court, citing, Schwartz v. Comcast, bound the plaintiffs to the class definition in the complaint. (Editors’ Note: See the CAFA Law Blog’s analysis of Schwartz posted March 30, 2006).
Judge Young then turned his sights toward the Home State exception. This exception was also shot down due to the plaintiffs’ ambiguous class definition as the court could not determine whether two-thirds or more of the class members were citizens of the state of filing, Indiana. Although the Judge conditioned his findings on pending discovery, he concluded neither exception applied and the case settled into Indiana District Court. And all was well…until next time on The Rifleman!