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Plaintiffs Fumble Attempt to Defeat Diversity by Amending Complaint | Missouri & Kansas Class Action Law

Plaintiffs may not avoid removal under CAFA by amending their complaint after removal to restrict the class to nondiverse individuals, held the court in american-football-1449302_640Pudlowski v. The St. Louis Rams, LLC, No. 4:16-CV-189-RLW, 2016 WL 5660237 (E.D. Mo. Sep. 29, 2016).

In Pudlowski, Plaintiffs sued the Rams in a Missouri state court under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (“MMPA”), alleging that the Rams mislead them about the team’s future location and thus caused them to buy tickets, merchandise, and concessions. Id. at *1. Defendants removed the case to federal court under CAFA, the District Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion to remand back to state court, and Defendants then appealed to the Eighth Circuit, which remanded to the Eastern District of Missouri, instructing the District Court to weigh two declarations from alleged class members. Id. at *2.

Under CAFA, federal district courts have jurisdiction over class actions only if (among other requirements) there is minimal diversity of citizenship—i.e., only if “any class member and any defendant are citizens of different states.” Id. In Pudlowski, Plaintiffs originally defined the class as “[a]ll Missouri residents who purchased Rams tickets and/or merchandise and/or concession from Defendants between April 21, 2010 and January 4, 2016, in the State of Missouri for personal, family or household purposes.” Id. at *1. Defendants were citizens of Missouri and Delaware, but two declarations showed that two class members were former Missouri citizens who bought items from the Rams while Missouri residents and then moved to Connecticut and Florida. Id. at *2. In other words, Defendants and at least two class members were citizens of different states (Missouri and Delaware versus Connecticut or Florida). Defendants thus argued that minimal diversity existed under CAFA. Id.

In response, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint that attempted to reshape the class to exclude those two class members, adding the requirement that class members be “Missouri residents who were Missouri citizens and remained Missouri citizens when this action was commenced.” Id. (emphasis added). The District Court rejected Plaintiffs’ bid to recast the class to defeat minimal diversity, reasoning that “[t]he original, pre-removal Complaint is the relevant complaint to determine whether removal was appropriate.” Id. at *3.

In sum, the Pudlowski case reaffirms that Plaintiffs “may not manipulate their pleadings post-removal in order to avoid federal jurisdiction.” Id. And the case highlights an argument that defendants can use to stomp out misguided attempts to defeat minimal diversity: after removal, class redefinitions are too little, too late.

 

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