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Thomas v. Trustees of Indiana University

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

December 13, 2018

JADEN THOMAS, RYAN BRAVERMAN, KATIE DEDELOW, JAKE RAMSEY, ISABELLA BLACKFORD, MICHAEL DUKE, LINDSAY FREEMAN individuals, each on behalf of himself/herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE TRUSTEES OF INDIANA UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR REMAND

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Remand (Filing No. 16) filed by Plaintiffs Jaden Thomas, Ryan Braverman, Katie Dedelow, Jake Ramsey, Isabella Blackford, Michael Duke, and Lindsay Freeman (collectively, “Plaintiffs”). Plaintiffs are freshman students at Indiana University (“IU”) in Bloomington, Indiana. After discovering mold infestation in their dormitory rooms at IU, Plaintiffs initiated this lawsuit on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated IU students against Defendant the Trustees of Indiana University (“Defendant” or “Trustees”) to obtain declaratory and injunctive relief and to recover damages arising from the mold issue.

         On October 17, 2018, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint in Monroe Circuit Court, asserting claims for breach of contract, breach of implied warranty of habitability, and declaratory judgment on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated IU students (Filing No. 1-1 at 7-19). On October 26, 2018, nine days after Plaintiffs initiated this lawsuit, Defendant filed its Notice of Removal, thereby removing the lawsuit from Monroe Circuit Court to this Court (Filing No. 1). The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d) (“CAFA”), served as the basis of Defendant's removal. On November 5, 2018, ten days after Defendant removed the case to this Court, Plaintiffs filed their Motion for Remand (Filing No. 16), asserting that the interests of justice warrant remand of the case back to Monroe Circuit Court. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS the Motion for Remand.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         CAFA allows for removal to federal court and provides jurisdiction over class actions involving minimally diverse parties and an amount in controversy exceeding $5, 000, 000.00. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2). However, CAFA contains exceptions to its normal jurisdictional rule. One such exception is found in CAFA “subsection, § 1332(d)(3), [which] describes situations in which the district court is permitted to ‘decline to exercise jurisdiction' ‘in the interests of justice and looking at the totality of the circumstances.'” Hart v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., 457 F.3d 675, 680 (7th Cir. 2006). Additionally, “Subsection (d)(4), which follows immediately, stands out for its contrasting wording. It commands the district courts to decline jurisdiction under paragraph 2 when either the ‘local' or the ‘home state' factors are present.” Id. CAFA's “exceptions are designed to draw a delicate balance between making a federal forum available to genuinely national litigation and allowing the state courts to retain cases when the controversy is strongly linked to that state.” Id. at 682.

         After a defendant establishes that CAFA jurisdiction exists, the burden falls on the plaintiffs who are seeking remand to show that one of the CAFA exceptions applies. In re Sprint Nextel Corp., 593 F.3d 669, 673 (7th Cir. 2010); see also Hart, 457 F.3d at 680. The “interests of justice” exception involves the following consideration.

A district court may, in the interests of justice and looking at the totality of the circumstances, decline to exercise jurisdiction [if] greater than one-third but less than two-thirds of the members of all proposed plaintiff classes in the aggregate and the primary defendants are citizens of the State in which the action was originally filed based on consideration of-
(A) whether the claims asserted involve matters of national or interstate interest;
(B) whether the claims asserted will be governed by laws of the State in which the action was originally filed or by the laws of other States;
(C) whether the class action has been pleaded in a manner that seeks to avoid Federal jurisdiction;
(D) whether the action was brought in a forum with a distinct nexus with the class members, the alleged harm, or the defendants;
(E) whether the number of citizens of the State in which the action was originally filed in all proposed plaintiff classes in the aggregate is substantially larger than the number of citizens from any other State, and the citizenship of the other members of the proposed class is dispersed among a substantial number of States; and
(F) whether, during the 3-year period preceding the filing of that class action, 1 or more other class actions asserting the same or similar claims on behalf of the same or other persons have been filed.

28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(3).

         “The plaintiff need not satisfy all factors, rather a balancing test should be applied taking into consideration the ‘totality of the circumstances.'” Henry v. Warner Music Grp. Corp., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39309, at *20 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 24, 2014). “No single factor is dispositive; not all need to favor remand for the court to decline jurisdiction.” Speed v. JMA Energy Co., LLC, 872 F.3d 1122, 1128 (10th Cir. 2017).

         II. DISCUSSION

         “Plaintiffs do not contest that (1) minimal diversity exists; and (2) the aggregate amount in controversy exceeds five million dollars.” (Filing No. 17 at 4.) The Defendant's initial burden of establishing that CAFA jurisdiction exists has been satisfied. However, Plaintiffs argue, the “interests of justice” exception to CAFA jurisdiction warrants remand of the case back to state court. Thus, the Court will consider each of the factors applicable to the “interests of justice” exception.

         A. Citizenship of the Defendant and Citizenship of Between One-third and Two-thirds of the Proposed Class

         A district court may decline to exercise CAFA jurisdiction if greater than one-third but less than two-thirds of the proposed class and the defendant are citizens of the state in which the action was originally filed. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(3). This action was originally filed in Indiana state court. The sole defendant, the Trustees of Indiana University, is an Indiana political subdivision, and thus, is a citizen of Indiana. See Indiana Code § 21-20-2-2; Moor v. County of Alameda, 411 U.S. 693, 718 (1973) (“for purposes of diversity of citizenship, political subdivisions are citizens of their respective States.”).

         The Plaintiffs' proposed class involves “[a]ll individuals who resided at IU residential dormitories for the Fall, 2018 Semester and were exposed to and suffered injury due to mold that was present in the IU residential dormitory where that individual resided. Excluded from the Class are Defendant(s) and their officers, directors and employees.” (Filing No. 1-1 at 11.)

         The Defendant argues that this proposed class is a “fail-safe class, ”[1] and thus, it is impossible to readily ascertain who is actually a class member and what percentage of putative class members are citizens of Indiana. The Defendant asserts that, because the actual class members and their citizenship cannot be readily ascertained, any determination of citizenship and percentage of citizenship would be impermissible guesswork. See In re Sprint Nextel Corp., 593 F.3d at 674 (guesswork about citizenship of class members is insufficient). Moreover, citizenship should not be determined by looking at all residents of IU's dorms or the entire IU student population, but rather, citizenship should be determined by looking at the proposed class. Because the proposed class does not allow for ...


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