Class Action Improperly Removed to Federal Court under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act) because Declaration of Plaintiff’s Counsel in Unrelated Lawsuit Against Different Defendant was Insufficient to Establish $5 Million Amount in Controversy and, in Any Event, did not Constitute an “Other Paper” within Meaning of Removal Statute, Warranting Remand of Class Action and Award of Attorney Fees and Costs for Frivolous Removal Washington Federal Court Holds
Plaintiff filed a putative class action in Washington state court against Motricity alleging violations of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendant “facilitated placing unauthorized charges for mobile content on customers’ bills.” Rynearson v. Motricity, Inc., 626 F.Supp.2d 1093, 1095 (W.D. Wash. 2009). Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act); plaintiff moved to remand the class action to state court (Rynearson I). Id., at 1094-95. Defense attorneys argued that “the estimate of the cost of injunctive relief was sufficient to establish the amount in controversy requisite for jurisdiction,” and at oral argument added that “removal would also be appropriate based on the damages sought by Plaintiff because of a declaration filed by Plaintiff’s counsel in a separate case,” id., at 1095. The district court remanded the class action to state court, id. Defense attorneys then removed the class action to federal court again (Rynearson II), this time arguing that while it had removed the class action previously, it now sought “to remove this action based on new and previously unknown grounds.” Id.¸ at 1096. Specifically, the second removal was based on the declaration of plaintiff’s counsel (Edelson) in a different matter that, according to defense counsel, constituted an “other paper” for removal purposes. Id. Plaintiff’s lawyer moved the district court to reassign Rynearson II to the court that had handled Rynearson I, and sought an OSC re contempt and sanctions, in addition to remand. Id. The district court denied the OSC, but remanded the class action and awarded plaintiff fees and costs. Id., at 1094-95.
In order to establish the $5 million threshold of removal jurisdiction under CAFA, defense attorneys argued that the declaration plaintiff’s counsel in an unrelated case showed that the amount in controversy had been met. Rynearson, at 1096. In explaining why that declaration was “new and previously unknown” when it had been relied on in Rynearson I, defense counsel claimed that this was true because Motricity had been unaware of the declaration at the time it had filed its first notice of removal. Id., at 1096-97. The district court was unimpressed. First, the Court held that the “other paper” may not be a pleading filed in an unrelated case “where the litigants are entirely different.” Id., at 1097. Accordingly, it had no bearing on Rynearson II. Id., at 1098. Second, while it was admittedly “perplexed by Motricity’s description of the Edelson declaration as ‘new and previously unknown,’” it found that defendant’s conduct did not rise to the level of civil contempt. Id. However, the federal court did find that defendant’s conduct warranted an award of attorney fees and costs, as there was no legal authority supporting defendant’s broad use of the phrase “other paper” to include documents filed in other actions. Id., at 1098-99. In the district court’s view, “Defendant’s argument in support of removal was frivolous and unsupported by caselaw or a plain reading of the removal statute.” Id., at 1099. Accordingly, the federal court again remanded the class action to state court, and awarded plaintiff attorney fees and costs. Id.