The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that plaintiffs who filed a toxic exposure lawsuit in a Virgin Islands court may litigate their claims in that court, because it falls within an exclusion to removal as a mass action under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). Abraham v. St. Croix Renaissance Group, L.L.P., No. 13-1725 (3d Cir., decided May 17, 2013). That exclusion applies to any civil action in which “all of the claims in the action arise from an event or occurrence in the State in which the action was filed, and that allegedly resulted in injuries in that State or in States contiguous to that State.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(11)(B)(ii)(I).
The issue arose from the exposure of 459 plaintiffs to the airborne allegedly hazardous by-products of a former alumina refinery on the south shore of St. Croix. The defendant purchased the property in 2002 and allegedly failed to abate the hazard or control the emissions. It removed the lawsuit to federal court, and the plaintiffs moved to remand, claiming that CAFA excluded their action from the definition of “mass action.” The district court and Third Circuit agreed.
The Third Circuit determined that “an event or occurrence” is not confined “to a discrete happening that occurs over a short time span such as a fire, explosion, hurricane, or chemical spill.” And nothing in the plain text limits the words to “a specific incident with a fixed duration of time,” the court stated, adding that its “broad reading does not thwart Congress’s intent, which recognized that some aggregate actions are inherently local in nature and better suited to adjudication by a State court.”