The Defendants' Evidentiary Burden To Avoid CAFA Jurisdiction


[author: Avi Kaufman]

In Stillion v. United Bank, Inc., Nos. 09-MD-02036-JLK, 1:11-CV-21472-JLK (S.D. Fla. July 25, 2012), a case filed in the Southern District of West Virginia before being transferred to the Multi District Litigation in Florida, the court evaluated the sufficiency of the defendants’ evidence establishing the applicability of three possible exceptions to subject matter jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.  The defendants, a bank and a bank holding company, were both West Virginia corporations with branches in West Virginia, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Ohio.  The plaintiffs were seeking to represent a class of all of the defendants’ customers nationally.

In support of the two mandatory exceptions—Home State and Local Controversy—and one discretionary exception to CAFA, the defendants submitted two declarations, providing information about the defendants’ organization and activities in West Virginia, and census data, indicating that the majority of West Virginia residents intended to remain in West Virginia indefinitely. 

The plaintiffs, in turn, argued that the exceptions to CAFA required the defendants to establish the putative class members’ citizenship, and that the defendants’ evidence, which provided information about its customers banking in West Virginia only, was indicative of those customers’ residence and not their citizenship.  The court agreed and found that the defendants’ evidence was insufficient to establish the percentage of class members who were citizens of West Virginia.  And, in accordance with the Eleventh Circuit’s holding “that any doubts regarding applicability of a CAFA exception are to be resolved in favor of exercising federal jurisdiction,” the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss. 


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