The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that cases alleging damages from the grounding of the Costa Concordia cruise ship in 2012 off the coast of Italy belong in state court under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) because they involve groups of individuals fewer than the statutory minimum of 100 for trial in federal court as a mass action. Scimone v. Carnival Corp., No. 13-12291 (11th Cir., decided July 1, 2013).
One case involved 48 plaintiffs, the other involved 56. Both were filed in state court, both include the same allegations against the ship’s owner, “and there is no question that all 104 plaintiffs’ claims concern common questions of fact and law.” The defendant removed the actions to federal court under CAFA’s mass-action provision and based on the exclusive jurisdiction of federal courts over cases raising “substantial issues of federal common law relating to foreign relations.” The defendant then filed motions to dismiss each case, “based on the forum selection clause of plaintiffs’ contracts and forum non conveniens.” Both groups of plaintiffs sought to remand the actions to state court, arguing that they had not proposed trying the cases jointly and that the cases did not implicate foreign relations. The district court agreed and remanded the cases to state court.
According to the Eleventh Circuit, absent a proposal from the plaintiffs to try the cases jointly under § 1332(d)(11)(B)(i) or perhaps a sua sponte court determination, “the federal courts lack subject-matter jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ claims.” The court rejected a statutory interpretation that would allow the defendant to propose a joint trial and thus allow removal of the actions to federal court. The court also recognized that plaintiffs are “the master of the complaint” and “free to avoid federal jurisdiction.” According to the court, its view is shared by the other courts of appeals that have addressed the issue, including the Third, Seventh and Ninth.