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Hood v. Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southwestern Division

January 26, 2015

PATRICIA HOOD, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
GILSTER-MARY LEE CORPORATION, Defendant.

ORDER

DOUGLAS HARPOOL, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant Gilster-Mary Lee's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 18) and Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand, or, in the Alternative, Stay Proceedings. (Doc. No. 23).[1] On July 8, 2014, after a telephone conference on the pending motions, the Court granted Plaintiffs' Motion to Stay allowing the parties to conduct limited discovery to determine whether a jurisdictional exception under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d) applies to this case. Following the completion of the 90 day stay, the parties have now filed supplemental suggestions in support of their positions on the Motion to Remand. As a result, the Motion to Remand and the Motion to Dismiss have been fully briefed and are ripe for review.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs originally filed this suit in Jasper County, Missouri on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated alleging they are former or current employees of defendant Gilster-Mary Lee which owns and operates a microwave popcorn packaging plant in Jasper, Missouri. Plaintiffs claim they suffer from lung impairment and/or suffer from lung impairment that has not yet fully manifested resulting from exposure to natural and artificial butter flavoring products, compounds and ingredients, including but not limited to diacetyl. Plaintiffs specify the purported class to include all persons who, prior to January 1, 2008, worked for a period of one (1) year or more at the Gilster-Mary Lee plant in Jasper, Missouri.

Plaintiffs' petition alleges claims for premises liability, negligence, fraudulent concealment, prima facie tort, and medical monitoring, and seeks to recover compensatory damages to establish a medical monitoring program, establishment of a trust fund to pay claims for medical monitoring, an injunction for medical monitoring and costs and attorney fees.

Former defendants Sigma-Aldrich and International Flavors & Fragrances, who have subsequently been dismissed, removed the case based on provisions of the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1332, 1441(a)-(b), and 1453.[2]

DISCUSSION

"In every federal case the court must be satisfied that it has jurisdiction before it turns to the merits of other legal arguments." Carlson v. Arrowhead Concrete Works, Inc., 445 F.3d 1046, 1050 (8th Cir. 2006). Plaintiffs' motion for remand challenges the Court's jurisdiction; therefore, the Court must address that issue first. See Warner v. Chase Home Fin. LLC, 530 F.Appx. 614, 615 (8th Cir. 2013).

This case was originally removed to federal court under CAFA. CAFA grants a district court jurisdiction over class actions in which (1) the class consists of more than one hundred members; (2) the amount in controversy in the aggregate exceeds $5 million, and (3) there is diversity of citizenship between any member of the class and any defendant. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2)(A) and § 1332(d)(5)(B); Elsea v. Jackson County, Missouri, 2010 WL 4386538 *1 (October 28, 2010). The party seeking to remove the case to federal court bears the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction under CAFA. Id., citing Westerfeld v. Independent Processing, LLC., 621 F.3d 819, (8th Cir. Sept. 20, 2010). Here, the parties have indicated the elements for establishing removal under CAFA were met for purposes of the initial removal.

Plaintiffs now seek to remand the case to Jasper County, Mo under an exception to CAFA. Therefore, the first issue before the Court is whether an exception to removal under CAFA exists. Once the initial jurisdiction requirements have been met by the party seeking removal, the burden then shifts to the party seeking remand to establish that one of the CAFA exceptions applies. Id., see, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d).

28 U.S.C. § 1332 provides two exceptions that would allow a case to be remanded to state court. First, under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(3) "a district court may, in the interests of justice and looking at the totality of the circumstances, decline to exercise jurisdiction under paragraph (2) over a class action in which greater than one-third but less than twothirds of the members of all proposed plaintiff classes in the aggregate and the primary defendants are citizens of the State in which the action was originally filed based on consideration of -

(A) whether the claims asserted involve matters of national or interstate interest;
(B) whether the claims asserted will be governed by laws of the State in which the action was originally filed or ...

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