Court Retains CAFA Jurisdiction over All Claims after Denying Class Certification and Even after Severance Produces Multiple New Cases over Which No Independent Jurisdiction Exists

From Helm v. Alderwoods Grp., Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 77370 (N.D. Cal. July 18, 2011):

The subject of this litigation is a wage and hour dispute brought by current and former employees of Alderwoods Group, Inc. ("Alderwoods"), a provider of funerary services.*** On February 27, 2008, defendants removed the action to federal court, invoking this Court's diversity jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA"). See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d).

On December 29, 2009, the Court denied plaintiffs' first motion for class certification.... [T]hereafter, defendant filed a motion to sever, arguing that the dozens of named plaintiffs in the case were improperly joined. ***

The parties agree that severance is appropriate in this case, and the Court agrees. The question presented by this motion is what it means to sever the claims of each plaintiff in this case, and what should happen to those severed claims. Defendant argues that the Court should dismiss all claims except for those of the first named plaintiff, William Helm. Defendant argues that there is no other permissible course of action for the Court, because the severed plaintiffs' claims constitute new civil actions, this Court and all other federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over them, and they were not removed from state court and therefore cannot be remanded. Plaintiff argues that the Court retains CAFA jurisdiction over not just plaintiff Helm's claims, but over all of the claims***.

The parties agree that the only basis for subject matter jurisdiction over the case prior to severance is CAFA, and that the only possible basis for subject matter jurisdiction after severance is also CAFA. In United Steel v. Shell Oil Co., 602 F.3d 1087, 1089 (9th Cir. 2010), the Ninth Circuit held that where a district court has subject matter jurisdiction under CAFA, subsequent denial of class certification does not divest district court jurisdiction. The question for the Court is whether the Court retains CAFA jurisdiction over the severed claims. This is a matter of first impression.

Plaintiffs argue that if the Court retains CAFA jurisdiction over plaintiff Helm's claims, then it retains CAFA jurisdiction over the claims of the 85 other named plaintiffs. The Court agrees. There is a "usual and long-standing principle[]" that "post-filing developments do not defeat [subject matter] jurisdiction if jurisdiction was properly invoked as of the time of filing." United Steel, 602 F.3d at 1091-92. The Ninth Circuit explained in United Steel that this principle applies where a CAFA class is not certified. Here, the Court's CAFA jurisdiction was not merely over plaintiff Helm's claims, but, independently, over all named plaintiffs' claims. After denying plaintiffs' renewed motion for class certification, the Court retained CAFA jurisdiction over the claims of each of the named plaintiffs in this action. The severance of those claims does not now defeat the Court's jurisdiction.

Defendant cites Honeywell Intern., Inc. v. Phillips Petroleum Co., 415 F.3d 429 (5th Cir. 2005), to argue that the Court must treat the severed claims as though they are new lawsuits first filed at the time of severance, and assess its subject matter jurisdiction over the claims in isolation both from each other and from the case's history. However, Honeywell stands for the proposition that where subject matter jurisdiction over some of the claims pled in the original suit was dependent on the presence of other parties or claims in the suit, such as when a district court exercised supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims or counterclaims, the district court might no longer have subject matter jurisdiction over those dependent claims once they are severed. See United States v. O'Neil, 709 F.2d 361, 375 (5th Cir. 1983) (looking for "an independent jurisdictional basis" over severed counterclaims); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1367 (providing that "the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy" (emphasis added)).

Here, the Court had CAFA jurisdiction not only over plaintiff Helm's claim, but over the claims of all of the individual named plaintiffs. Although the amount in controversy in this case was determined as of the time of the filing of the suit and on the basis of the value of the suit if certified as a class action, the fact that no class was certified and that the individual claims are worth less than $5 million did not subsequently defeat the Court's subject matter jurisdiction over any of the individual plaintiffs' claims. This is the holding of United Steel. The Court's CAFA jurisdiction over the claims of each plaintiff was independent of its jurisdiction over the claims of each other plaintiff, and there is no need for the Court to look for a new basis for subject matter jurisdiction over the claims once severed.

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