ABM SECURITY SERVICES v. DAVIS (June 16, 2011)

ABM Security Services’ employees filed a class action against the company in Illinois state court. The complaint alleged that ABM violated the Illinois Minimum Wage Law by not compensating its employees for time worked before and after their shifts. ABM filed a notice of removal in which it calculated the amount in controversy to be in excess of $10 million. It reached that amount by multiplying minutes per day of alleged unpaid time by number of employees by average wage. It then added the 2% statutory penalty. It also noted that that number could increase by $1.5 million if overtime calculations were used. Judge Shadur N.D. Ill.) asked ABM to recalculate the number, excluding employees who opted into a California class-action. ABM filed an amended notice with calculations of approximately $5.2 million (straight time) and $7.8 million (overtime). The court asked for still additional information and instructed ABM to exclude vacation and sick days. ABM's new number was approximately $5.2 million. The court again disagreed, particularly with the penalty calculation. It did its own calculation and came up with a number approximately $5,000 short of the $5 million amount in controversy requirement. Additionally, the court concluded that class counsel could not have done $5,000 worth of legal work to make up that deficit. He remanded the case to state court. ABM petitions for permission to appeal.

In their opinion, Judges Bauer, Kanne, and Sykes granted the petition, reversed, and remanded. The Court stated the standard -- once the removing party offers a plausible explanation for reaching the $5 million threshold, the case should remain in federal court unless that recovery amount is legally impossible. Here, the Court found that ABM's calculations were reasonable and also found its interpretation of the statutory penalty reasonable. The district court did not establish that the recovery was legally impossible. It should not have remanded. Alternatively, the Court also criticized the district court's conclusion that attorneys’ fees incurred by plaintiffs up to the time of removal could not bridge the $5,000 gap.