In Lewis v. Verizon Communications, Inc., Ninth Circuit offers guidance on burden of proof showing required in CAFA-based removals

In Abrego Abrego v. Dow Chemical Co., 443 F.3d 676, 685 (9th Cir. 2006), the Ninth Circuit held that, under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”), Pub. L. No. 109-2, 119 Stat. 4 (2005) (codified in scattered sections of 28 U.S.C.), the burden of establishing removal jurisdiction is, as it was before CAFA, on the party asserting jurisdiction in federal court.  CAFA authorizes removal to federal court of class actions where the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million (excluding interest and costs).  In the Ninth Circuit, when the complaint does not allege a specific amount of damages, the party attempting removal under diversity bears the burden of showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy exceeds the statutory amount. Guglielmino v. McKee Foods Corp., 506 F.3d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 2007); see also Lowdermilk v. U.S. Bank Nat’l Ass’n., 479 F.3d 994 (9th Cir. 2007).  In Lewis v. Verizon Communications, Inc. (November 18, 2010), the Ninth Circuit considered whether the defendant's unrebutted affidavit showing a potential amount in controversy was sufficient to meet the burden of showing the amount in controversy.

The Ninth Circuit held that, on the uncontested showing by Verizon, the amount in controversy was sufficiently demonstrated:

The amount in controversy is simply an estimate of the total amount in dispute, not a prospective assessment of defendant’s liability. See McPhail v. Deere & Co., 529 F.3d 947, 956 (10th Cir. 2008) (“The amount in controversy is not proof of the amount the plaintiff will recover. Rather, it is an estimate of the amount that will be put at issue in the course of the litigation.”). To establish the jurisdictional amount, Verizon need not concede liability for the entire amount, which is what the district court was in essence demanding by effectively asking Verizon to admit that at least $5 million of the billings were “unauthorized” within the meaning of the complaint.

Slip op., at 11.  The Ninth Circuit noted that its standard of proof is higher than some Circuits:

The law in our circuit is articulated a little differently from that of others, in that we expressly contemplate the district court’s consideration of some evidentiary record. See generally Diane B. Bratvold & Daniel J. Supalla, Standard of Proof to Establish Amount in Controversy When Defending Removal Under the Class Action Fairness Act, 36 WM. MITCHELL L. REV. 1397 (2010). We employ a preponderance of the evidence standard when the complaint does not allege a specific amount in controversy. Guglielmino, 506 F.3d at 699. The Seventh Circuit, along with the First and Second Circuits, apply what may be a lower standard of proof: a “reasonable probability” standard. See, e.g., Brill v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 427 F.3d 446, 449 (7th Cir. 2005) (when the complaint is “silent or ambiguous on one or more of the ingredients needed to calculate the amount in controversy . . . the removing litigant must show a reasonable probability that the stakes exceed the minimum.”); see also Amoche v. Guarantee Trust Life Ins. Co., 556 F.3d 41, 48 (1st Cir. 2009); DiTolla v. Doral Dental IPA of New York, 469 F.3d 271, 277 (2nd Cir. 2006). The Fourth Circuit has not adopted a specific standard of proof, although “several district courts within the Fourth Circuit have concluded that the appropriate standard of proof is preponderance of the evidence.” Laws v. Priority Trustee Services of N.C., L.L.C., 2008 WL 3539512 at * 2 (W.D.N.C. Aug. 11, 2008). Both the Seventh Circuit in Spivey and the Fourth Circuit in Strawn have looked to evidence outside the complaint when the complaint is silent as to the amount. Regardless of the label applied to the standard of proof, the result in this case should be the same as that in the Seventh and Fourth Circuits’ decisions in Spivey and Strawn.

Slip op., at 12.  The Ninth Circuit then observed that Spivey was closest to the case before it and approvingly followed the same analysis.