Blogs

Posted: April 23, 2014

Removal Clock For Class Action Fairness Act Does Not Start Until Plaintiff Discloses Facts Showing Removability

On April 17, 2014, the Second Circuit issued a decision in Cutrone v. Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., No. 14-455-CV, holding that the 30-day time windows to remove an action under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”) do not start to run until the plaintiff serves the defendant with a document specifying the damages sought or setting forth facts from which the amount could be ascertained.

In Cutrone, the defendant removed an action to the EDNY under CAFA. The EDNY remanded, holding that the defendant’s notice of removal was untimely because “although the complaint filed on February 20, 2013, did not specify either the total amount of damages sought or an exact number of class members, it provided” the defendant “with all it needed to know in order to enable it to make an intelligent assessment as to CAFA removability” and, because the Notice of Removal was not filed within 30 days of receiving the Complaint, it was untimely. The Second Circuit granted the defendant’s petition for permission to appeal and, on appeal, reversed the EDNY, explaining:

We addressed this issue in Moltner v. Starbucks Coffee Co., 624 F.3d at 36‐38, a personal injury suit initially filed in New York state court. There, the plaintiff allegedly suffered severe burns while drinking tea purchased from the defendant. It was only in response to a letter from the defendant three months after the plaintiff filed suit that the plaintiff disclosed she sought more than $75,000 in damages, the threshold amount for diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The defendant filed a notice of removal within 30 days of receiving the plaintiff’s letter. In determining whether removal was timely under 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3), we rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the defendant should have concluded from the state court complaint that the amount in controversy would exceed $75,000 by applying a reasonable amount of intelligence to the complaint’s general description of the plaintiff’s severe injuries. Instead, we held that the removal clock does not start to run until the plaintiff serves the defendant with a paper that explicitly specifies the amount of monetary damages sought. We stated that a bright line rule is preferable to the approach the plaintiff advocates. Requiring a defendant to read the complaint and guess the amount of damages that the plaintiff seeks will create uncertainty and risks increasing the time and money spent on litigation. Under the Moltner standard, defendants must still apply a reasonable amount of intelligence in ascertaining removability. However, defendants have no independent duty to investigate whether a case is removable. If removability is not apparent from the allegations of an initial pleading or subsequent document, the 30‐day clocks of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1446(b)(1) and (b)(3) are not triggered.

. . .

We . . . hold that, in CAFA cases, the removal clocks of 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b) are not triggered until the plaintiff serves the defendant with an initial pleading or other document that explicitly specifies the amount of monetary damages sought or sets forth facts from which an amount in controversy in excess of $5,000,000 can be ascertained. While a defendant must still apply a reasonable amount of intelligence to its reading of a plaintiff’s complaint, we do not require a defendant to perform an independent investigation into a plaintiff’s indeterminate allegations to determine removability and comply with the 30‐day periods of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1446(b)(1) and (b)(3). Thus, a defendant is not required to consider material outside of the complaint or other applicable documents for facts giving rise to removability, and the removal periods of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1446(b)(1) and (b)(3) are not triggered until the plaintiff provides facts explicitly establishing removability or alleges sufficient information for the defendant to ascertain removability.

(Internal quotations and citations omitted) (emphasis added).

View posts