In Cappuccitti v. DirecTV, Inc., ___ F.3d ___, 2010 WL 2010 WL 2803093 (11th Cir. 2010), plaintiffs sought to recover, for themselves and a putative class, early cancellation fees DirecTV charged its Georgia subscribers. Plaintiffs invoked the federal court’s jurisdiction pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act. Plaintiffs alleged the improper fees, which ranged from $175 to $480 per subscriber, totaled in excess of $5 million.
The case reached the Eleventh Circuit on an arbitration issue, but the court never addressed the merits. Rather, the court concluded on its own initiative that the district court never had subject matter jurisdiction under CAFA in the first place. CAFA grants jurisdiction over class actions if the amount in controversy exceeds five million dollars in the aggregate, minimal diversity of citizenship exists, and the class contains at least 100 members. 28 U.S.C. §1332(d)(2). The court found plaintiffs’ complaint adequately alleged each of these elements. 2010 WL 2803093 at *4.
Rather than stopping there and finding jurisdiction established under the plain language of Section 1332(d)(2), the court went on to impose an additional requirement for original CAFA jurisdiction, finding that the general diversity statute’s $75,000 amount in controversy requirement applied to CAFA. 2010 WL 2803093 at *3-4. Accordingly, the court held that in a CAFA action originally filed in federal court, at least one plaintiff must allege a claim worth $75,000. The court reached its decision by conflating CAFA’s “mass action” and “class action” provisions, improperly adding the mass action provision’s $75,000 jurisdictional requirement to the entirely separate jurisdictional requirements for class actions.
The Eleventh Circuit reached its unique and disturbing result on its own initiative, without benefit of briefing from the parties. Both parties and the Washington Legal Foundation, as amicus curiae, petitioned for rehearing. The Eleventh Circuit panel granted rehearing, vacated its opinion, and reversed itself. Cappuccitti v. DirecTV, Inc., ___ F.3d ___, 2010 WL 4027719 at *2 (11th Cir. 2010). The court candidly confessed error: “[R]eflection has led us to conclude that our interpretation was incorrect. Specifically, CAFA's text does not require at least one plaintiff in a class action to meet the amount in controversy requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Accordingly … we vacate our earlier opinion, and replace it with this one.” 2010 WL 4027719 at *1.
In its corrected opinion, the court disposed of the jurisdictional question in short order. CAFA conferred federal jurisdiction over any class action with more than one hundred class members, five million dollars at stake, and minimal diversity of citizenship. Id. at *2. “There is no requirement in a class action brought originally or on removal under CAFA that any individual plaintiff's claim exceed $75,000.” Id. As noted in its original opinion, Cappuccitti’s alleged class action satisfied CAFA’s requirements.
If unchanged, Cappuccitti would have sharply curtailed the number of class actions filed in and removed to federal court, effectively removing consumer class actions from CAFA jurisdiction. By correcting its erroneous opinion the Eleventh Circuit has honored Congressional intent and CAFA’s plain language, allowing federal courts to be a forum for large-scale, interstate class actions.