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Public Statements

Class Action Fairness Act of 2005

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


CLASS ACTION FAIRNESS ACT OF 2005 -- (House of Representatives - February 17, 2005)

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Mr. GOODLATTE. Madam Speaker, I thank the chairman very much for yielding.

Madam Speaker, the general principles behind S. 5 and many of the provisions in the legislation are similar to those in H.R. 1115, which the House passed in 2003, and S. 274, which was voted out of committee in the Senate in 2003 but did not ultimately pass.

To the extent these provisions are the same, the House Committee on the Judiciary's report on H.R. 1115 and the Senate Committee on the Judiciary's report on S. 274 reflect the intent and understanding of the committee and the sponsors as to the import of these provisions. However, there are several new provisions in S. 5 regarding Federal jurisdiction over class actions that were not included in prior versions of the legislation.

I would like to ask my colleague, the chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, to provide an overview of the jurisdictional provisions in the legislation, and I would like to discuss the various exceptions included in the legislation and the intent of the sponsors with regard to these exceptions.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. Madam Speaker, will the gentleman yield?

Mr. SENSENBRENNER. I yield to the gentleman from Virginia.

Mr. GOODLATTE. Madam Speaker, I would also like to discuss the home State exception in the legislation.
New subsections 1332(d)(3) and (d)(4)(B) address the jurisdictional principles that will apply to class actions filed against the defendant in its home State, dividing such cases into three categories.

First, for cases in which two-thirds or more of the members of the plaintiff class and the primary defendants are citizens of the State in which the suit was filed, section 1332(d)(4)(B) states that Federal jurisdiction will not be extended by S. 5. Such cases will remain in State courts.

Second, cases in which more than two-thirds of the members of the plaintiff class are not citizens of the State in which the action was filed will be subject to Federal jurisdiction. Federal courts should be able to hear such lawsuits because they have a predominantly interstate component. They affect people in many jurisdictions, and the laws of many States will be at issue.

Finally, there is a middle category of class actions in which more than one-third, but fewer than two-thirds, of the members of the plaintiff class and the primary defendants are all citizens of the State in which the action was filed. In such cases, the numbers alone may not always confirm that the litigation is more fairly characterized as predominantly interstate in character. New subsection 1332(d)(3), therefore, gives Federal courts discretion in the interests of justice to decline to exercise jurisdiction over such cases based on the consideration of five factors.

Madam Speaker, I would ask the chairman to explain these factors.

Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Reclaiming my time, Madam Speaker, I am pleased to answer the gentleman.

The first factor is whether the claims asserted are of significant national or interstate interest. Under this factor, if a case presents issues of national or interstate significance that argues in favor of the matter being handled in Federal Court, for example, if a class action alleges a nationally distributed pharmaceutical product caused side effects, those cases presumably should be heard in Federal court because of the nationwide ramifications of the dispute and the potential interface with Federal drug laws.

Under this factor, the Federal court should inquire whether the case does present issues of national or interstate significance of this sort. If such issues are identified, that point favors the exercise of the Federal jurisdiction.

The second factor is whether the claims asserted will be governed by laws other than those of the forum State. The sponsors believe that one of the significant problems posed by multistate class actions in State court is the tendency of some State courts to be less than respectful of the laws of other jurisdictions, applying the law of one State to an entire nationwide controversy and thereby ignoring the distinct and varying State laws that should apply to various claims included in the class, depending upon where they arose.

Under this factor, if the Federal court determines that multiple State laws will apply to aspects of the class action, the determination would favor having the matter handled in the Federal court system, which has a record of being more respectful of the laws of various States in the class action controversy. Conversely, if the court concludes that the laws of the State to which the action was filed will apply to the entire controversy, that factor will favor keeping the case in State court.

The third factor is whether the class action has been pleaded in a manner that seeks to avoid Federal jurisdiction. The purpose of this inquiry is to determine whether the plaintiffs have proposed a natural class, a class that encompasses all the people and claims that one would expect to include in a class action, as opposed to proposing a class that appears to be gerrymandered solely to avoid Federal jurisdiction by leaving out certain potential class members or claims.

If the Federal court concludes that evasive pleading is involved, that factor would favor the exercise of Federal jurisdiction. On the other hand, if the class definition and claims appear to follow a natural pattern, that consideration would favor allowing the matter to be handled by a State court.

The fourth factor is whether there is a distinct nexus between, A, the forum where the action was brought, and, B, the class members, the alleged harm or the defendants. This factor is intended to take account of a major concern that led to this legislation, the filing of lawsuits in the out-of-the-way magnet State courts that have no real relationship to the controversy at hand.

Thus, if a majority of the proposed class action members and the defendants reside in the county where the suit is brought, the court might find a distinct nexus exists. The key to this factor is the notion of there being a distinct nexus. If the allegedly injured parties live in many other localities, the nexus is not distinct, and this factor would weigh heavily in favor of the exercise of Federal jurisdiction over the matter.

The fifth factor is whether the number of citizens in the forum State in the proposed plaintiff class is substantially larger than the number of citizens from any other State, and the citizens of the other members of the proposed class is dispersed among a substantial number of States.

This factor is intended to look at the geographic distribution of class members in an effort to determine the forum State's interest in handling the litigation. If all of the out-of-State class members are widely dispersed among many other States, that point would suggest that the interest of the forum State in litigating the controversy are preeminent.

The sponsors intend that such a conclusion would favor allowing the State court in which the action was originally filed to handle the litigation. However, if a court finds that the citizenship of the other class members is not widely dispersed, then a Federal forum would be more appropriate because several States other than the forum State would have a strong interest in the controversy.

The final factor is whether one or more class actions asserting the same or similar claims on behalf of the same or other persons have been filed in the last 3 years. The purpose of this factor is to determine whether a matter should be subject to Federal jurisdiction so that it can be coordinated with other overlapping or parallel class actions.

If the other class actions on the same subject have been or are likely to be filed elsewhere, the sponsors intend that this consideration would strongly favor the exercise of Federal jurisdiction. It is the sponsors' intention that this factor be broadly interpreted and that plaintiffs not be able to plead around it with creative legal theories.

If a plaintiff brings a product liability suit alleging consumer fraud or unjust enrichment, and another suit was previously brought against some of the same defendants alleging negligence with regard to the same product, this factor would favor the exercise of Federal jurisdiction over the later-filed claim.

Madam Speaker, I now yield to my colleague, the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Boucher), to provide some examples that illustrate how these six factors would work in litigation.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. Madam Speaker, if the chairman would continue to yield.

Mr. SENSENBRENNER. I yield to the other gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Goodlatte).

Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the chairman for yielding to me. I think those examples really reflect the intent of the legislation.

Madam Speaker, the legislation also includes a local controversy exception which is intended to ensure that truly local class actions can remain in State court under the legislation. Under this provision, Federal courts are instructed not to exercise jurisdiction over cases that meet all of the following four criteria:

First, more than two-thirds of the class members must be the citizens of the State where the suit is brought; second, there must be at least one in-State defendant from whom significant relief is sought by members of the class and whose conduct forms a significant basis of plaintiffs' claims; third, the principal injuries resulting from the alleged conduct or related conduct of each defendant must have occurred in the State where the action was originally filed; and, fourth, no other class action has been filed during the preceding 3 years asserting the same or similar factual allegations against any of the defendants.

Madam Speaker, I would ask that the chairman elaborate on these criteria.

Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Madam Speaker, reclaiming my time, yes, this provision is intended to respond to concerns that class actions with a truly local focus should not be moved to Federal court under this legislation because State courts have a strong interest in adjudicating such disputes. At the same time, this is a narrow exception that was carefully drafted to ensure that it does not become a jurisdictional loophole. Thus, each of the criteria is intended to identify a truly local class action.

First, there must be a primarily local class. Secondly, there must be at least one real local defendant. And by that the drafters meant that the local defendant must be a primary focus of the plaintiffs' claims, not just a retailer or other peripheral defendant. The defendant must be a target from whom significant relief is sought by the class, as opposed to just a subset of the class membership, as well as being a defendant whose alleged conduct forms a significant basis for the claims asserted by the class.

For example, in a consumer fraud case, alleging that an insurance company incorporated and based in another State misrepresented its policies, the local agent of the company named as a defendant presumably would not fit this criteria. He or she probably would have had contact with only some of the purported class members and, thus, would not be a person from whom significant relief would be sought by the plaintiff class viewed as a whole. And, from a relief standpoint, the real demand of the full class in terms of seeking significant relief would be on the insurance company itself.

Third, the principal injuries resulting from the actions of all the defendants must have occurred in the State where the suit was filed. This criterion means that all or almost all of the damage caused by the defendants' conduct occurred in the State where the suit was brought. If defendants engaged in conduct that allegedly injured consumers throughout the country, the case would not qualify for the local controversy exception, even if it was only brought as a single State class action.

And, fourth, no other class action involving similar allegations has been filed against any of the defendants over the last 3 years. In other words, if we are talking about a situation that results in multiple class actions, those are not the types of cases that this exception is intended to address. I would like to stress that the inquiry under this criterion should not be whether identical or nearly identical class actions have been filed. Rather, the inquiry is whether similar factual allegations have been made against the defendant in multiple class actions, regardless of whether the same causes of action were asserted or whether the proposed plaintiff classes in the prior case was the same.

Madam Speaker, I yield to the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Goodlatte).

Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the chairman for yielding once again.

Madam Speaker, in this regard I think it is important to note that the exceptions in this legislation are just that, exceptions, and they should not be interpreted in ways that turn them into loopholes. For example, the legislation excludes actions against States. Obviously, this does not mean that plaintiffs can simply name a State in every consumer class action and stay out of Federal court. To the contrary, Federal courts should proceed cautiously before declining Federal jurisdiction under the subsection 1332(d)(5)(a) "state action" case exception, and do so only when it is clear that the primary defendants are indeed States, State officials, or other governmental entities against whom the court may be foreclosed from ordering relief.

The sponsors intend that primary defendants be intended to reach those defendants who are the real targets of the lawsuit, i.e. the defendants who would be expected to incur most of the loss if liability is found. Thus, the term "primary defendant" should include any person who has substantial exposure to significant portions of the proposed class in the action, particularly any defendant that is allegedly liable to the vast majority of the members of the proposed classes, as opposed to simply a few individual class members.

It is the sponsors' intention with regard to each of these exceptions that the party opposing Federal jurisdiction shall have the burden of demonstrating the applicability of an exemption. Thus, if a plaintiff seeks to have a class action remanded on the ground that the primary defendants and two-thirds or more of the class members are citizens of the home State, that plaintiff has the burden of demonstrating that these criteria are met.

Similarly, if a plaintiff seeks to have a purported class action remanded because a primary defendant is a State, that plaintiff should have the burden of demonstrating that the exception should apply.

Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, some critics have complained that the legislation removal provisions will result in delay. Can the gentleman explain why that is simply not the case?

Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Mr. Speaker, reclaiming my time, once again, critics of the legislation have it backwards. This legislation will streamline jurisdictional inquiries by putting an end to all of the gaming that takes place under the current system, and the so-called delay refers to procedural rules that already exist under the current system.

Under existing law, diversity of citizenship between the parties must exist, both at the time a complaint is filed and at the time a complaint is removed to Federal court. However, if the plaintiff files an amended complaint in State court that creates jurisdiction, or if subsequent events create jurisdiction, the defendant can then remove the case to Federal court.

Current law is also clear that once a complaint is properly removed to Federal court, the Federal court's jurisdiction cannot be ousted by later events. Thus, for example, changes in the amount of controversy after the complaint has been removed would not subject a lawsuit to be remanded to State court.

Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for his leadership in moving this legislation forward and in working with the Senate to accomplish that as well.

I hope this colloquy will provide guidance on the very important jurisdictional provisions in S. 5 and the sponsor's intent.

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