Ninth Circuit issues its first opinion on criteria that appellate courts should consider when deciding whether to accept an appeal of a remand order under CAFA

Under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (“CAFA”), a party may seek leave to appeal a remand order to the court of appeals, which has discretion whether to accept the appeal. 28 U.S.C. § 1453(c)(1).  While other Circuits have discussed the criteria that an appellate court should consider when deciding whether it is appropriate to hear such a discretionary appeal, the Ninth Circuit, until today, had not set forth its own set of such criteria.  In Coleman v. Estes Express Lines (9th Cir. Nov. 30, 2010), the Ninth Circuit set forth criteria to guide a reviewing court.

Coleman sued both Estes West and Estes Express Lines for wage and hour violations.  After its acquisition, Estes West was an internal regional division of Estes Express Lines.  After removal, Coleman moved to remand under the local controversy exception to CAFA jurisdiction.  Estes Express Lines argued that, as a Virginia-based company from which any relief would be obtained, the local controversy exception did not apply.  The district court granted the motion to remand, noting that courts are divided as to whether to look beyond the complaint to determine whether the local controversy exception applies.

The Ninth Circuit used this petition as an opportunity to adopt the First Circuit's list of criteria to use in evaluating applications for leave to appeal under section 1453(c)(1):

In Dental Surgeons, the First Circuit held that a key factor in determining whether to accept an appeal is “the presence of an important CAFA-related question” in the case. Coll. of Dental Surgeons, 585 F.3d at 38. Because discretion to hear appeals exists in part to develop a body of appellate law interpreting CAFA, “[t]he presence of a non-CAFA issue (even an important one) is generally not thought to be entitled to the same weight.” Id. If the CAFA-related question is unsettled, immediate appeal is more likely to be appropriate, particularly when the question “appears to be either incorrectly decided [by the court below] or at least fairly debatable.” Id.

The First Circuit also enumerated several case-specific factors, including the importance of the CAFA-related question to the case at hand and the likelihood that the question will “evade effective review if left for consideration only after final judgment.” Id. The appellate court should also consider whether the record is sufficiently developed and the order sufficiently final to permit “intelligent review.” Id. Finally, the First Circuit observed that the court should conduct the familiar inquiry into the balance of the harms. Id. at 39.

Slip op., at 19025-26.  Applied to the case before it, the Court concluded that leave to appeal was appropriate because it would advance CAFA jursiprudence:

Applying these criteria, we grant Estes Express’ application for leave to appeal. Although the local controversy exception to CAFA jurisdiction is “narrow,” it is nonetheless an enumerated exception to a federal court’s CAFA removal jurisdiction. It is intended to “identify . . . a controversy that uniquely affects a particular locality” and to ensure that it is decided by a state rather than a federal court. See Evans v. Walter Indus., Inc., 449 F.3d 1159, 1163-64 (11th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The question whether the district court must rely only on the pleadings or should look to extrinsic evidence will often determine whether a case will be remanded under the local controversy exception. This case thus raises an important issue of CAFA law. As the district court recognized, this is an unsettled question in this Circuit. We do not say that district court’s decision “appears to be incorrectly decided,” but the array of courts on both sides of the question indicates that it is at least “fairly debatable” and that appellate review would be useful.

Slip op., at 19026.  The Court concluded that the issue would escape appellate review if not taken now and that no harm other than delay would be suffered by the plaintiff.  It follows that we can expect guidance from the Ninth Circuit in the next year or so on this issue.