Creating a Circuit split, the Ninth Circuit held that a tort case against a Washington corporation did not fall under the so-called “local event” exception to the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”) and, therefore, had been properly removed to Federal District court.  See Allen v. Boeing, D.C. No. 2:14-cv-00596-RSM (9th Cir. Apr. 27, 2015).The court interpreted the local event exception to apply only to single happenings, not to a continuing activity or action.

Plaintiffs own land near a Washington Boeing manufacturing plant that allegedly had been releasing hazardous chemicals contaminating groundwater in the area. The Plaintiffs claimed that they had incurred property damages as a result of this contamination and asserted claims of negligence, nuisance, and trespass against both Boeing, for groundwater contamination over a 40-year period, and Boeing’s environmental consulting company, Landau, for failing to adequately remediate the contamination.

CAFA, which was designed to allow for removal of many class actions to federal court, has an exception for cases where “all of the claims in the action arise from an event or occurrence in the state” and the alleged harms are also contained within the state. Id. at 7–8. In its analysis in Boeing, the Ninth Circuit explicitly diverged from the Third Circuit’s reading of this local event exception, which was that an “event” under the exception could be a series of interconnected events or occurrences. Instead, the Ninth Circuit interpreted the exception narrowly, limiting the exception to a single, isolated event, like a chemical spill. To support its interpretation, the court looked to the plain meaning of the words “event” and “occurrence,” the meaning of the exception within the greater CAFA statute, and also to legislative history suggesting that only single tortious events were meant to fall under the exception.

The court’s narrow interpretation of the local event exception means that more mass tort actions will be removable to federal court, at least within the Ninth Circuit.  In addition, given the contrary interpretation by the Third Circuit, the chances are now greater that the Supreme Court may choose to weigh in on this issue.