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11th Cir. Holds CAFA Does Not Allow Appeals from Sua Sponte Remand Orders

class action fairness actThe U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently held that it did not have jurisdiction to consider a defendant’s motion for leave to appeal in a case that was previously removed to federal court pursuant to the federal Class Action Fairness Act after the federal trial court sua sponte remanded the case back to state court.

A copy of the opinion in Ruhlen v. Holiday Haven Homeowners, Inc. is available at:  Link to Opinion.

The case came before the Eleventh Circuit on a petition for permission to appeal. A group of mobile homeowners and their homeowner’s association (“Owners”) brought suit against numerous defendants in Florida state court alleging violations of the Florida Antitrust Act and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The suit was framed as a “representative action” filed pursuant to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.222.

The defendants removed the case to federal court based on federal question relating to the ADA claim and also under the federal Class Action Fairness Act which allows removal of certain class actions to federal court. 

As you may recall, under CAFA, a “class action” is defined as “any action filed under rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or similar State statute or rule of judicial procedure authorizing an action to be brought by 1 or more representative persons as a class action.” 28 U.S.C. §§ 1453(b), 1332(d)(1)(B).

Following removal, Owners filed an amended complaint which omitted the ADA claim and added additional state law claims. The trial court then sua sponte remanded the case to state court finding that federal-question jurisdiction no longer existed because the amended complaint only asserted state law claims and a claim brought in a representative capacity under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.222 “is not a class action, as the term is understood for CAFA jurisdiction” so CAFA did not provide jurisdiction.

Defendants filed permission for leave to appeal.  However, the Eleventh Circuit found it did not have jurisdiction to consider the appeal.

The Court noted that as a general rule, it cannot review a trial court’s decision to remand based on a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. See U.S.C. § 1447(d); Hunter v. City of Montgomery, 859 F.3d 1329, 1333 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Thermtron Prods., Inc. v. Hermansdorfer, 423 U.S. 336, 345–46 (1976)).

However, an exception exists when the appeal is “from an order of a [federal trial] court granting or denying a motion to remand a class action to the State court from which it was removed.” 28 U.S.C. § 1453(c)(1).

As neither party filed a motion to remand, the Court set out to decide whether the phrase “an order of a [federal trial] court granting or denying a motion to remand a class action” covered the court’s sua sponte remand order.

The Eleventh Circuit held that the text of § 1453(c)(1) was best interpreted not to include a federal trial court’s decision to remand sua sponte.

The Court found that on a review of several legal dictionaries and ordinary legal parlance, a “motion” is a request, or an application made by a party. The Court further concluded that when a court sua sponte orders a remand, it is not “granting” its own “motion” within the meaning of § 1453(c)(1).

While the dissent argued that it was Congress’s “clear intention” to include sua sponte remands, the Eleventh Circuit held that “[i]t [was] the text’s meaning, and not the content of anyone’s expectations or intentions, that bind [them] as law.” Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts 398 (2012) (quoting Laurence H. Tribe, “Comment,” in Antonin Scalia, A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law 65, 66 (1997)).

The dissent further argued that the result reached by the majority was an absurd result. Although the majority agreed that the result may have been odd, it continued that “[s]omething that ‘may seem odd… is not absurd.’” Scalia & Garner, Reading Law, at 237 (ellipses in original) (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 565 (2005)).

The majority went on to quote Justice Story who explained that the absurdity exception to the plain meaning rule only governs where “applying the provision of the case would be so monstrous, that all mankind would, without hesitation, unite in rejecting the application.” 1 Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 427, at 303 (2d ed. 1858). The Court found that this case did not meet the “monstrous[ness]” threshold.

Because remand was not ordered on the motion of a party, the Eleventh Circuit held that the § 1493(c)(1) exception did not apply.

Therefore, the Eleventh Circuit denied permission to appeal as it lacked jurisdiction to review the trial court’s sua sponte remand order.

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Jenna Tersteegen is an Associate in Maurice Wutscher's New York City office, practicing in the firm’s Consumer Credit Litigation and Commercial Litigation groups. Prior to joining the firm, Jenna was an associate attorney at a litigation law firm in New York City. Her practice covered New York state labor and employment laws, premises liability and property damage cases. She conducted all pre-trial aspects of litigation, including preparing case strategy and evaluation reports, taking and defending depositions, and drafting dispositive pre- and post-trial motions. She is admitted to practice law in Illinois and New York, and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

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