Anderson v. Hackett, 09-227 (S.D. Ill. July 30, 2009)

Unlike Love Canal, the plaintiffs in Anderson don’t have a President Carter to evacuate their toxic village . . . but at least they can rely on the “local controversy” exception to CAFA

In Anderson, the plaintiffs filed a putative class action in Illinois state court alleging that the defendants had released toxic substances from various sites in St. Clair County, Illinois which leached into the environment in and around the Village of Sauget. The plaintiffs sought several forms of relief including: medical monitoring for themselves and “tens of thousands” of class members; monetary relief in the amount needed to “cover investigation, assessment, remediation and removal of all traces of hazardous substances released into the environment”; as well as injunctive relief. 

Not surprisingly, the defendants removed the action to federal court alleging CAFA jurisdiction, and that the defendants were acting under the color of federal office during the time in question.  

The district court granted the plaintiffs’ motion to remand on grounds that the “local controversy” exception to CAFA applied and the defendants were not allowed to assert federal officer removal.

The Court noted that all named plaintiffs were Illinois citizens, and all purported class members were Illinois citizens. Additionally, all factual allegations regarding the release of hazardous substances occurred at the defendants’ plants and release sites located in Illinois. CAFA’s minimum diversity requirement was, however, satisfied.

The defendants attempted to ward off CAFA jurisdiction by alleging that the amount in controversy was not satisfied. The Court, however, flatly rejected this argument explaining that even without monetary remediation, the medical monitoring relief requested would surpass $5,000,000.00. Accordingly, the district court had CAFA jurisdiction over the case.

The plaintiffs’ argued that the “local controversy” exception to CAFA jurisdiction applied, and the Court agreed. The court explained that the plaintiffs bore the burden to establish the four elements of the “local controversy” exception, and analyzed each in turn. 

First, the plaintiffs proved that the action was a class action in which greater than two-thirds of the members of the proposed class in the aggregate were Illinois citizens. 

Second, the plaintiffs proved that at least one of the non-diverse defendants was a defendant whose alleged conduct formed a significant basis for the classes’ claims, and from who significant relief is sought. The court explained that the proper analysis of this element requires the court to compare the non-diverse defendant’s conduct with the conduct that forms the basis of the complaint as a whole, rather than comparing the non-diverse defendant’s conduct against that of the other defendants. 

Third, the plaintiffs established that the action was “one in which the principal injuries resulting from the alleged conduct were incurred in the State in which the action was alleged” since all class members where exposed to the toxic environment in Illinois. 

Fourth, the plaintiffs established that “during the five year period preceding the filing of [the instant] class action, no other class action has been filed asserting the same of similar factual allegations against any of the defendants on behalf of the same or other persons.” Accordingly, the court granted the motion to remand.