January 7, 2013
After suffering property damage in a 2010 hailstorm, Greg Knowles filed a class action lawsuit in Miller County, Arkansas, against the Standard Fire Insurance Company ("Standard Fire") for failure to pay a contractor's retention fee. Standard Fire tried to remove the case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (“CAFA”), alleging that the amount in controversy exceeded $5,000,000. Pursuant to CAFA, a federal court has jurisdiction over a class action only if the amount in controversy exceeds $5,000,000. The district court remanded the case to state court because Knowles's complaint stipulated that he would not seek more than $5,000,000 in damages for the class. Standard Fire argues that Knowles cannot defeat removal under CAFA by using a stipulation because it would bind absent class members before class certification and before Knowles could be declared an adequate class representative. Knowles argues that as master of his complaint, he is free to limit his claims, and that class members are not adversely affected by the stipulation. The Supreme Court will determine whether a named plaintiff in a class action, before being declared an adequate class representative, can limit the entire class's claims to $5,000,000 in damages in order to defeat an attempt to remove the case to federal court.
When a named plaintiff attempts to defeat a defendant's right of removal under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 by filing with a class action complaint a “stipulation” that attempts to limit the damages he “seeks” for the absent putative class members to less than the $5,000,000 threshold for federal jurisdiction, and the defendant establishes that the actual amount in controversy, absent the “stipulation,” exceeds $5,000,000, is the "stipulation" binding on absent class members so as to destroy federal jurisdiction?
Whether a named plaintiff in a class action lawsuit can defeat a defendant’s attempt to remove the action to federal court, by stipulating for the named plaintiff and absent potential class members that the class will not seek damages above the $5,000,000 threshold for federal jurisdiction, even where the defendant establishe