The United States Supreme Court just made class action defendants’ lives a little easier. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that when removing a case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”), a defendant need only make a plausible allegation that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional threshold. Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens, __ S. Ct. __, 2014 WL 7010692 (Dec. 15, 2014). Gone are the days of gathering and analyzing sales data and drafting and attaching declarations from corporate employees out of concern a federal court may find a defendant failed to meet a heightened burden. Evidence is required only where a plaintiff contests the defendant’s allegation and puts the amount in controversy at issue.
Dart arose out of the Tenth Circuit’s decision to deny review of a Kansas federal district court order holding that a defendant must prove in his Notice of Removal that CAFA’s jurisdictional requirements are met. Owens v. Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC, 2013 WL 2237740 (D. Kan. May 21, 2013). According to the district court, Dart was required to prove CAFA’s jurisdictional requirements: “the general and conclusory allegations of the Petition and Notice of Removal do not establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million.” Id. at *4.
Dart sought review in the Tenth Circuit but the Tenth Circuit denied its petition and a subsequent application for rehearing en banc. Dart then filed a petition for certiorari in the Supreme Court, which the Court granted.
Vacating the Tenth Circuit’s decision, the Supreme Court held that “a defendant’s notice of removal need include only a plausible allegation that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional threshold. Evidence establishing the amount is required by § 1446(c)(2)(B) only when the plaintiff contests, or the court questions, the defendant’s allegation.” For support, the Court looked no further than the removal statute itself, which provides that a “defendant seeking to remove a case to federal court must file in the federal forum a notice of removal ‘containing a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal.’” § 1446(a). The Court, noting that this standard simply “tracks the general pleading requirement stated in Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,” found nothing in the statute or CAFA that would require additional proof. Dart, 2014 WL 7010692, at *5.
The Supreme Court’s decision is a welcome ruling for class action defendants. Marshalling data, declarations, and other evidence necessary to prove the amount in controversy is very often time-consuming, disruptive, and expensive. A defendant satisfied the jurisdictional threshold is met can now simply make a plausible assertion and wait for a challenge that will likely never come.