On November 30, 2010, the Ninth Circuit agreed to hear a discretionary appeal in Coleman v. Estes Express Lines, Inc. See prior post. The Ninth Circuit accepted the appeal and provided some guidance in the Ninth Circuit as to whether such appeals should be taken. Today, the Ninth Circuit issued its Opinion on the underlying issue. Coleman v. Estes Express Lines, Inc. (9th Cir. Jan. 25, 2011). Asked to decide whether a federal district court is limited to the complaint in deciding whether two of the criteria for the local controversy exception are satisfied, the Court held that the district court is so limited.
Coleman moved for remand under the local controversy exception. Estes opposed, arguing that two of the criteria for the local controversy exception were not satisfied. "First, Estes argued that Estes West had insufficient funds to satisfy a judgment, and that 'significant relief' therefore had not been 'sought' from it. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4)(A)(i)(II)(aa). Second, Estes argued that Estes Express had almost complete control over the operations of Estes West, and that Estes West’s 'alleged conduct' therefore did not 'form a significant basis for the claims asserted by the proposed plaintiff class.' Id. § 1332(d)(4)(A)(i)(II)(bb)." Slip op., at 5. Estes then supplied a declaration to support its contentions. The District Court refused to consider the declaration, finding that the complaint satisfied the criteria for remand.
Looking at the plain language of the statute, the Court found support for the concept that the pleadings govern the analysis:
The first criterion is whether “significant relief is sought” from a defendant who is a citizen of the state in which the suit is filed. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4)(A)(i)(II)(aa) (emphasis added). The word “sought” focuses attention on the plaintiff’s claim for relief — that is, on what is “sought” in the complaint — rather than on what may or may not be proved by evidence. The second criterion is whether the defendant’s “alleged conduct forms a significant basis for the claims asserted by the proposed plaintiff class.” Id. § 1332(d)(4)(A)(i)(II)(bb) (emphasis added). Like the word “sought,” the word “alleged” makes clear that the second criterion is based on what is alleged in the complaint rather than on what may or may not be proved by evidence.
Slip op., at 8.
The Court then reviewed the legislative history and concluded that it supported the construction applied by the Court. The Court commentd in passing that the declaration supplied by Estes was probably insufficient even if the District Court could have considered it.
The Court ended with a note about variations in pleading standards between state and federal courts:
We are aware of the difficulties that can be created by different pleading requirements in state and federal courts. A plaintiff filing a putative class action in state court need satisfy only the pleading standards of that court. It is therefore possible that if a putative class action is removed from state to federal court under CAFA the complaint, as originally drafted, will not answer the questions that need to be answered before the federal court can determine whether the suit comes within the local controversy exception to CAFA jurisdiction. In that circumstance, the district court may, in its discretion, require or permit the plaintiff to file an amended complaint that addresses any relevant CAFA criteria.
Slip op., at 21-22. The Court then affirmed the remand.