Close Enough For Remand: Hood v. Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., 2015 WL 328499 (W.D. Mo., Jan 26, 2015)
How does one prove the citizenship of members of the putative class for purposes of applying CAFA’s jurisdictional exceptions? For instance, the Local Controversy Exception under 28 U.S.C. Section 1332(d)(4) requires the federal district court to decline to exercise CAFA jurisdiction if (among other requirements) two-thirds of the putative class members are citizens of the state in which the action was originally filed. But since absent class members are typically absent, how do you know?
This issue popped up before Judge Harpool when the defendant which operated a microwave popcorn packaging plant in Jasper Missouri used CAFA to remove yet another diacetyl class. While it is well-settled that the party seeking remand must prove the application of one of CAFA’s exceptions, this is easier said than done.
Rather than apply strict proof, the district court elected to rely on “common sense” and “logic.” Although only 41% of the class actually confirmed Missouri citizenship, the district court found more than a kernel of truth in caselaw creating a rebuttable presumption that the state of residency is also the state of citizenship for absent class members. And although the putative class stretched back to workers from 2008 forward, plaintiffs had it in the bag once they produced “representative data” indicating that the vast majority of putative class members had last-known addresses in Missouri. Because actual proof of citizenship would be “impossible,” the district court settled for representative data.
In deciding to remand the case, the district court specifically rejected cases from other jurisdictions declining to base citizenship analysis on last known address data, and distinguished this type of industrial exposure case from other cases, such as cell phone cases, where mailing addresses and phone numbers may not be representative of citizenship. Between this and the Cape Cod Potato Chip decision, it’s been a starchy salty week for the Western District.