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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Coleman v. Estes Express Lines: Ninth Circuit Gives Guidelines for Discretionary Appeals of CAFA Issues

In Coleman v. Estes Express Lines, --- F.3d ----, 2010 WL 4925407 (9th Cir. November 30, 2010), the Ninth Circuit addressed an issue that seems to have grown in prominence over just the last month, as the Court has issued a number of Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) remand cases.

The plaintiff filed a putative class action in state court, and the defendants removed. The district court remanded the case as a "local controversy," and defendant appealed. The Ninth Circuit used the case as an opportunity to articulate rules for determining when it is appropriate to hear a discretionary appeal under CAFA.

The Court adopted guidelines set forth by the First Circuit and adopted by the Tenth Circuit:
In Dental Surgeons, the First Circuit held that a key factor in determining whether to accept an appeal is “the presence of an important CAFA-related question” in the case. Coll. of Dental Surgeons, 585 F.3d at 38. Because discretion to hear appeals exists in part to develop a body of appellate law interpreting CAFA, “[t]he presence of a non-CAFA issue (even an important one) is generally not thought to be entitled to the same weight.” Id. If the CAFA-related question is unsettled, immediate appeal is more likely to be appropriate, particularly when the question “appears to be either incorrectly decided [by the court below] or at least fairly debatable.” Id.
The First Circuit also enumerated several case-specific factors, including the importance of the CAFA-related question to the case at hand and the likelihood that the question will “evade effective review if left for consideration only after final judgment.” Id. The appellate court should also consider whether the record is sufficiently developed and the order sufficiently final to permit “intelligent review.” Id. Finally, the First Circuit observed that the court should conduct the familiar inquiry into the balance of the harms. Id. at 39.
The First Circuit explained, and we agree, that whether to permit appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1453(c)(1) is ultimately “committed to the informed discretion” of the appellate court. Id. The foregoing criteria are guides, not a series of bright-line rules.
Slip op. at 3. Having adopted these guidelines, the Court granted the application for leave to appeal:
Although the local controversy exception to CAFA jurisdiction is “narrow,” it is nonetheless an enumerated exception to a federal court's CAFA removal jurisdiction. It is intended to “identify ... a controversy that uniquely affects a particular locality” and to ensure that it is decided by a state rather than a federal court. See Evans v. Walter Indus., Inc., 449 F.3d 1159, 1163-64 (11th Cir.2006) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The question whether the district court must rely only on the pleadings or should look to extrinsic evidence will often determine whether a case will be remanded under the local controversy exception. This case thus raises an important issue of CAFA law. As the district court recognized, this is an unsettled question in this Circuit. We do not say that district court's decision “appears to be incorrectly decided,” but the array of courts on both sides of the question indicates that it is at least “fairly debatable” and that appellate review would be useful.
Ibid. The opinion is available here.

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