The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey denied plaintiffs’ motion to remand, holding that defendants’ notice of removal, filed 128 days after service of the complaint, was timely because neither the complaint nor plaintiffs’ briefing on defendant’s motion to dismiss triggered the 30-day time period for removal under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). In doing so, the court concluded that, where plaintiffs’ complaint and other litigation documents did not trigger the removal periods of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1446(b)(1) and (b)(3), defendants could timely remove once its own investigation revealed that removal under CAFA was appropriate.

On June 22, 2015, plaintiffs filed their putative class action complaint alleging that defendants improperly classified them as independent contractors and made unlawful deductions from their wages in violation of Massachusetts law. Defendants did not immediately remove the case, but instead filed a motion to dismiss on August 15, 2015. Seventeen days after briefing on the motion to dismiss was completed, however, and 128 days after service of the complaint, defendants removed the case, stating that an independent review of their records revealed that the case was removable under CAFA. Plaintiffs moved to remand, arguing that defendants’ notice of removal was untimely and, furthermore, failed to establish that the $5,000,000 amount-in-controversy requirement was satisfied.

Relying on the Second Circuit’s opinion in Cutrone v. Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, 749 F.3d 137, 146 (2d Cir. 2014), and the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in Roth v. CHA Hollywood Medical Center, 720 F.3d 1121, 1124-26 (9th Cir. 2013), the district court held that, when a plaintiff’s litigation documents do not trigger the 30-day removal period, defendants may remove once they independently determine that CAFA’s removal requirements are satisfied. According to the court, CAFA imposes a 30-day time limit on removal, “only where the plaintiff’s initial pleading or subsequent document sufficiently demonstrates removability.” Moreover, the court held that the scope of defendants’ knowledge at the time the initial pleading or other litigation documents are filed “plays no role in triggering the 30-day removal clock.” Rather, “in the face of an indeterminate pleading, the 30-day clock does not begin to run until litigation documents, subsequent to the initial pleading, reveal facts supporting removal.”

The court found that neither plaintiffs’ complaint nor their dismissal papers revealed a basis for removal under CAFA. Accordingly, because the defendants removed the case after their own independent investigation demonstrated that CAFA’s requirements were satisfied, the court held that defendants’ notice of removal was timely.

Finally, the court found that defendants sufficiently established that the $5,000,000 amount-in-controversy requirement was satisfied. According to the court, defendants satisfied their burden on this issue by supplying a supplemental damages affidavit, which included a lengthy spreadsheet that substantiated defendants’ assertion that review of just 34 of over 100 independent contractor records revealed that potential damages exceeded $5,000,000.

Portillo v. National Freight, Inc., No. 15-7908 (D.N.J. Mar. 15, 2016)