Seventh Circuit Upholds Federal Jurisdiction Under CAFA When Class Certification Is Expected


The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made a ruling this year that will be important to the work of our Chicago consumer class action attorneys. In Cunningham Charter Corp. v. Learjet Inc., 592 F.3d 805 (7th Cir. 2010), the court decided that federal courts retain jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act, even when they decline to certify any class in the case at bar.

Cunningham bought one or more jets from Learjet and was dissatisfied. It filed a proposed class action against Learjet in Illinois state court for breach of warranty and product liability. Learjet removed it to federal court under CAFA, and Cunningham moved for class certification. That motion was denied, and without a class, the district judge thought it was appropriate to move the case back to state court. Learjet then petitioned for leave to appeal the remand order, and the Seventh agreed to hear it to resolve the issue of whether denial of class certification eliminates subject matter jurisdiction under CAFA.

The Seventh based its opinion almost entirely on the language of the Act. Crucially, the law says it applies to “any class action [within the Act’s scope] before or after the entry of a class certification order.” The majority wrote that this language was probably intended to give defendants the option of removing the case either before or after class certification. But they seized on the use of the indefinite article — a class certification order rather than the class certification order. This word choice shows that the law is not limited to cases in which a class certification order is eventually issued, the court wrote. In addition the law’s definition of a class action is any civil action filed under rules authorizing a class action — not as an action with a certified class. “As actually worded, (d)(8)… implies at most an expectation that a class will or at least may be certified eventually,” the court wrote.

Another part of the Act says a class certification order is “an order issued by a court approving the treatment of some or all aspects of a civil action as a class action.” This could imply that a class certification order is required for the claim to be a class action — if read in isolation. But again, the definition of a class action in this Act is a claim that is filed as a class action, not necessarily certified as one, the majority wrote. The court interpreted this language to mean that a class-action suit cannot be maintained as a class-action suit without the eventual certification of a class.

The Seventh then reviewed previous federal appellate decisions in agreement with this interpretation, including Vega v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., 564 F.3d 1256, 1268 n. 12 (11th Cir. 2009) as well as its own previous assumption in Bullard v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Ry., 535 F.3d 759, 762 (7th Cir. 2008). If a state has different standards for class certification than Rule 23, the federal standard, the case could be denied class certification at the federal level, remanded, then continue as a class action at the state level. That would be contrary to the purpose of the Act, the court said. Finally, the Seventh cited the general principle that proper diversity jurisdiction is not revoked by changes that take place after the suit is filed. If diversity jurisdiction is proper before a class is certified, the majority wrote, it’s proper after a class is not certified.

The Hinsdale, Ill. consumer class action lawyers at Lubin Austermuehle handle all types of consumer rights cases brought by individuals against companies that have defrauded them, overcharged them or otherwise violated their rights. Our past successes include lead counsel roles in multiple successful claims to return millions of dollars in excessive late fees charged by cable companies. We also handle cases over deceptive advertising, excessive or incorrect fees, insurance bad faith, violations of privacy and wage and hour claims. Many of these claims are worth so little individually that consumers can’t afford to bring them — and businesses know it. By banding together into a proposed class action, the same plaintiffs can seek justice without paying onerous legal fees.

If you believe your rights were violated by a business, in Illinois or anywhere in the United States, our Illinois consumer class action attorneys can help. To set up a free, confidential evaluation of your case, contact us online today or call 630-333-0333 toll-free.

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