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Eleventh Circuit Holds that District Courts Retain Original Jurisdiction Over State Law CAFA Claims Even After Class Claims Are Dismissed

In a case of first impression for the Court, the Eleventh Circuit recently addressed whether federal district courts retain original subject matter jurisdiction over state law claims included in a class action filed pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”) even after all class claims have been dismissed.  In Wright Transportation, Inc. v. Pilot Corporation, No. 15-15184, ___ F.3d ___ (Nov. 22, 2016), the Court sided with the other Circuits that have addressed this question, holding that CAFA confers original jurisdiction over state law claims that qualify as CAFA claims, and that this jurisdiction survives the dismissal of class claims.

Pilot Corporation contracts with long-haul trucking companies to sell diesel fuel at discounted rates. In 2013, Wright Transportation, Inc., an Alabama company and Pilot customer, filed a putative class action in the Southern District of Alabama, alleging that Pilot employees withheld discounts without their customers’ knowledge or approval. Wright asserted claims under the federal RICO statute, as well as various state law claims which, Wright alleged, qualified as CAFA claims, thereby vesting the district court with subject matter jurisdiction.

The district court eventually dismissed several of Wright’s claims, including the RICO claims and the class claims. Specifically, the district court dismissed the class claims because, while the case was pending, a rival class-action in the Eastern District of Arkansas reached a court-approved settlement.  Both Wright and Pilot acknowledged that judicial approval of the settlement would divest Wright of standing to pursue the class claims. However, state law claims for breach of contract and unjust enrichment, both of which originally qualified as CAFA claims, survived for Wright individually.

The case was then consolidated with six similar lawsuits into one multidistrict-litigation proceeding in the Eastern District of Kentucky. However, soon thereafter, the MDL court discovered information showing that Pilot was an Alabama citizen, therefore depriving the court of diversity jurisdiction as to Wright’s claims. Without deciding the question of whether original jurisdiction still existed over those claims pursuant to CAFA, the MDL court remanded the case to the Southern District of Alabama.

On remand, Wright asked the district court to dismiss the remaining claims without prejudice so that it could re-file them in Alabama state court. Pilot opposed Wright’s motion, asserting that the district court retained CAFA jurisdiction over Wright’s state law claims notwithstanding the dismissal of all class claims. Ultimately, the district court granted Wright’s motion, holding that the dismissal of the class claims (and the RICO claims) had stripped it of original jurisdiction, and declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims.

Pilot appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, arguing that CAFA conferred original jurisdiction over all of Wright’s claims, including the state law claims, at the time that Wright actually filed them such that jurisdiction could not have divested when the class claims were dismissed. The Court agreed with Pilot, concluding that CAFA effectively serves as an extension of diversity jurisdiction, which is not destroyed by post-filing changes to a party’s citizenship. Thus, a post-filing change in circumstances does not remove subject matter jurisdiction under CAFA, even when the class claims are dismissed. In other words, original subject matter jurisdiction for claims brought under CAFA cannot be divested unless the trial court determines that it did not actually possess original subject matter jurisdiction at the time of the initial filing. Because there was no allegation that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction at the time Wright’s claims were originally filed, the Court concluded that CAFA continued to confer original federal jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims despite the dismissal of Wright’s class claims.

Although Wright provides support for class action defendants who wish to remain in federal court following the dismissal of CAFA claims, it is important to note that this ruling is relatively narrow. First, and most importantly, the Court suggests that, although a plaintiff who originally filed its class action in state court cannot amend its complaint after removal to federal court in order to divest the federal court of CAFA jurisdiction, a plaintiff who originally filed its lawsuit in federal court is free to amend its complaint in order to remove claims upon which the court’s original jurisdiction is based. Second, in Wright, all of the remaining state law claims qualified for CAFA jurisdiction; therefore, the Court did not have to analyze the issue of supplemental jurisdiction. Litigants who wish to remain in federal court following the dismissal of class claims will still have to establish the district court’s jurisdiction over any remaining non-CAFA claims.