Eighth Circuit Ruling Deepens Circuit Split on Class Action Fairness Act Circumvention Tactic

8th CircuitCross-posted at WLF’s Forbes.com contributor page

Twice in the last six weeks, we have addressed an increasingly popular trial lawyer tactic aimed at keeping class action lawsuits in state court (see here and here). The lawyers strategically break large numbers of plaintiffs with identical claims into groups less than 100 with the unstated goal of consolidation for trial. Why less than 100? Because the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) allows defendants to seek removal of certain class actions, including “mass actions,” which are “monetary relief claims of 100 or more persons . . . proposed to be tried jointly.”

Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit construed the most contested phrase in cases involving this CAFA provision—”proposed to be tried jointly”—in a way that allowed the defendant to removed the suits to federal court. The opinion embraced the Seventh Circuit’s approach in a 2012 ruling (In re Abbott Labs) and rejected a Ninth Circuit decision from September 24, 2013 (Romo v. Teva).

Atwell v. Boston Scientific involved three groups of less than 100 plaintiffs suing Boston Scientific in a state court in St. Louis. The suits alleged common facts and issues. After the defendant removed the three cases to federal court, two federal trial judges remanded two of the suits back to state court. Boston Scientific invoked the CAFA provision which allows immediate appeal of such decisions. Even though the plaintiffs never explicitly proposed that the state court jointly try the remanded cases, the Eighth Circuit concluded that was their goal. The court looked at “the necessary consequence of their request” along with “plaintiffs’ candid explanation of their objectives” in reaching that conclusion. Continue reading “Eighth Circuit Ruling Deepens Circuit Split on Class Action Fairness Act Circumvention Tactic”