Arrington, et al v. Ana P. Hall Construction, L.L.C., et al

Filing 53

OPINION. Signed by Honorable Judge Paul C. Huck on 8/12/16. (djy, )

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IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA, NORTHERN DIVISION WALTER ARRINGTON, III, An Individual, et al., ) ) ) Plaintiffs, ) CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:15cv711-PCH ) v. ) ) ANA P. HALL CONSTRUCTION, L.L.C., an unregistered foreign limited liability corporation; et al., ) ) ) ) ) Defendants. ) OPINION The approximately brought a 200 plaintiffs number of contract and tort in this case claims against the corporate and individual defendants in state court. The plaintiffs apartment defendants, the alleged complex owned, that they operated, all lived failure to an or managed by the and suffered various harms as a defendants' in maintain the result of premises; according to the complaint, the complex was dilapidated and infested, and suffered from frequent interruptions in utility services. The defendants removed this case to federal court on the basis of the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA), 28 u.s.c. § 1332(d), which creates an exception to the ordinary requirement of complete diversity for certain large class and mass actions. The case is now before the court on the plaintiffs' motion to remand. CAFA gives federal jurisdiction over a action or a controversy mass case which is action, exceeds district $ 5 (2) courts (1) original either a class in which the amount million, and (3) in which in a minimal diversity requirement--as pertinent here, that any plaintiff is a citizen of a from any met. defendant--is 1332 (d) (11). u.s.c. 28 Additionally, State different CAFA §§ 1332 (d) (2), includes exceptions that require courts to decline to exercise jurisdiction over two categories of cases that otherwise meet these three requirements. 28 U.S.C. 2 § 1332(d) (4). In the plaintiffs' motion to remand, they admit that the minimal diversity requirement is met, but they argue that this case is not a umass action" within the meaning of the statute, requirement is not that the amount-in-controversy satisfied, and that exceptions to CAFA jurisdiction apply. previously ordered discovery, and the two The court has to conduct limited supplemental submit parties the briefs, on the amount-in-controversy question. That discovery is on- going. the This plaintiffs' opinion resolves arguments for remand, remainder on the of the basis of representations made during a telephone conference held on the record on June 17, 2016. First, conference u.s.c. § plaintiffs' that the two the deems Tr. {doc. no. the 3 set during forth ulocal exceptions- -were not would be entitled to." therefore conceded exceptions 1332{d) {4)--known as and uhome state" court counsel plaintiffs' in 28 controversy" none [s] 52) that that we at 21. The arguments regarding the applicability of those exceptions abandoned, and will not address them further. The plaintiffs' argument that this case does not qualify as a mass action warrants closer consideration. CAFA applies both to class actions and to mass actions, which are defined generally as ucivil action[s] .... in which monetary relief claims of 100 or more persons are proposed to be plaintiffs' tried claims 18 U.S.C. fact." jointly on the ground that the involve common questions of law or § 1332 (d) (11) (B) (i). However, cases in which uall of the claims in the action arise from an event or occurrence in the State in which the action was filed, and that allegedly results in injuries in that State or in States contiguous to that State," are excluded U.S.C. § from the definition of 1332(d)(ll)(B)(ii)(I). mass action by 18 (This is known as the ulocal occurrence" exclusion.) The plaintiffs number more than 100, and their claims clearly raise common questions of law and fact, but they argue that the local 4 occurrence exclusion applies. The rub is this: plaintiffs acknowledged during the June 17 conference that their case involves not a single injury-causing event or occurrence, but rather "a series of events and occurrences"--"numerous" "failure[s] to maintain," "over several years," each of which caused harm to the plaintiffs. Tr . (doc . no . 52) at 21-25. Although squarely there is addressing no Eleventh whether Circuit the local case law occurrence exclusion applies to a series of discrete events over a period of Alabama time, and does not. there Fifth Indeed, identify--and the are recent Circuit Middle decisions District holding that of it the plaintiffs have been unable to court has not found--any case applying the exclusion to a similar set of claims. In Adams v. Macon County Greyhound Park, F. Supp. 2d 1127 concluded, provision's occurrence" (M.D. Ala. Inc., 829 2011), Chief Judge Watkins in light of and in line with the exclusion legislative must be a history, single, 5 that discrete an "event incident, or and not merely similar instances taking place at the same location for which the same defendants are responsible. Id. at 1134-37. In this case, as in Adams (which involved claims by hundreds of people who had gambled at the same casino), claims based on "each of the individual [] [] Plaintiffs brings contracts he or she entered into with one or more of the Defendants." at 1137; v. see also id. at 1135-36 Sunvest Communities USA, Fla. 2009) LLC, (discussing Galstadi 256 F.R.D. 673 (S.D. (Altonaga, J.), in which the court concluded that claims by approximately 180 plaintiffs had Id. been duped into paying for that they units in a pre-conversion luxury condominium development--and were left with worthless, dilapidated, did not fall under the local infested apartments-occurrence exclusion, because these claims were based upon hundreds of sales over a period of more than a year) . In Rainbow Gun L.L.C., 760 F.3d 405 adopted a Club, Inc. v. Denbury Onshore, (5th Cir. 2014), the Fifth Circuit slightly broader understanding of 6 "event or . . . occurrence," plaintiffs but one in this that nonetheless case. does not help Rainbow Gun Club held that "the single event or occurrence may also be constituted by a pattern of conduct in consistent in leading to a culminates in the Id. at 412. basis allegedly harmed uallow[ed] extraneous reservoir, greatly Well." Id. event or number when the at 407. different the flooding, a water case, malfeasance event, or a by did to enter the despite acts that liability." driller, a [a single] productivity the had allegation caused gas of the acts a flooding, rather than from leading the culminate the that claims arose from the singular event, contrast, not asserted is The court recognized this as an the multiple underlying present pattern focused event defendant, explaining that the plaintiffs' eventual the all of the plaintiffs were reducing occurrence of single of In that case, which to defendants' in a In it. single the alleged focused such as the collapse of the apartment building fire or the like. Instead, 7 their claims arise ' ' . directly from failures by the defendants to provide a wide array of maintenance services to plaintiffs in one of numerous different units. Finally, the court recognizes that court appeals has concluded that uan event or occurrence" can be ua continuing set of circumstances" that upersist[s] over a [lengthy] period of time." Renaissance Grp., 2 013} that . L.L.L.P., Abraham v. St. Croix 719 F.3d 270, But even if the Third Circuit's case is correct, of the application plaintiffs injured in by not in this exclusion Abraham what does it the alleged court that 277 (3d Cir. reasoning in support the case. The they ucharacterized had as been the 'continuous release of toxic substances'" from red mud at a former refinery site, where the defendant-owner had failed to undertake appropriate abatement measures. Id. at argument 279. that The court ureject[ed] the plaintiffs' claims [defendant's] arose from multiple events or occurrences," because, it explained, uwe cannot identify separate 8 and discrete incidents . .. causing the emission of the various substances at any precise point contrast, the separate acts in time." Id. plaintiffs' and at 280. complaint omissions by Here, alleges the by numerous defendants that allegedly injured the various plaintiffs in different ways at different points e.g., (doc. no. 1-3) at 26 negligent supervision, Park See, Compl. ("The corporate defendants, by and through their agents, were in time. servants, leasing, concerning maintenance by Apartments and a and/ or employees, repair series of of management, the Cambridge unlawful acts including negligently failing to make repairs necessary for the units to become habitable; negligently renting units to tenants that were not habitable; removing tenants' negligently personal property; negligently [and] failing to provide pest control services The court controversy case therefore exclusion constitutes a concludes does mass not apply, action for 9 . . . . ") . that and the that purposes local this of 18 . .. U.S.C. § 1332 (d) (11) if the Plaintiffs also meet the amount-in-controversy requirements. DONE, this the 12th da~16. Paul C. Huck UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 10

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