Bryan v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2009 WL 440485 (N.D.Cal. Feb. 23, 2009)

In Bryan, a class of Wal-Mart truck drivers brought claims in California state court based on Wal-Mart’s alleged violations of California labor laws, and Wal-Mart removed under CAFA. Plaintiffs moved to remand based in part on Wal-Mart’s failure to establish the requisite amount in controversy.

Wal-Mart estimated the amount at over $11 million, based on one of the claims in the complaint (failure to pay 2.5 hours of overtime per week to each class member), its estimate that at least 500 individuals worked 2.5 hours of overtime per week during the four-year class period, and its estimate that most of the individuals in the class earned salaries of over $60,000.

            First, the ice cream. Two scoops, please.

The court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that Wal-Mart’s calculation of the amount in controversy was “speculation and conjecture” under the standard set by the Ninth Circuit in Lowdermilk v. U.S. Bank Nat’l Ass’n. (Editors’ Note: See the CAFA Law Blog analysis of Lowdermilk posted on July 30, 2007).

Whereas Lowdermilk required the defendant to prove with “legal certainty” that the amount in controversy exceed $5 million because the plaintiff’s complaint alleged less than $5 million, in Bryan, the court held that Wal-Mart only had to establish the amount in controversy by a preponderance of the evidence because the plaintiffs’ complaint did not allege that the amount was less than $5 million. 

           Now the hot fudge. No holding out, gob it on there, brother

The court then agreed with the plaintiffs that Wal-Mart’s calculations relied on assumptions that did not necessarily hold water (annual salary, for example), but performed its own calculations which showed that even at the lowest salary range that would qualify for class membership, the amount in controversy still exceeded $6 million. The court also relied on the fact that Wal-Mart’s estimates were only based on one of the claims in the complaint, and that the other claims would “significantly amplif[y] the amount in controversy for each prospective class member.”

            And the cherry on top…Nuts, too? Damn skippy.

Finally, the court observed that the type of detailed analysis the plaintiffs demanded would “render removal under CAFA unworkable in many cases.” By asking Wal-Mart to fully investigate the potential claims and recovery of all class members, plaintiffs were in effect asking Wal-Mart to reach “the ultimate question the litigation presents, and defendants cannot be expected to try the case themselves for purposes of establishing jurisdiction, and then admit to the opposing party and to the Court that a certain number of wage and hour violations did indeed occur.” I mean really, how mean would that be.

            Hey Judge, I’ll have what they’re having.