Home Depot Fails to Build a Claim Under CAFA and Gets Hammered Back to State Court.

Chochorowski, et al. v. Home Depot USA, No. 4:08-CV-849 CAS (E.D. MO. 2008).

In Chochorowski, the plaintiff originally filed the putative class action in the Circuit Court of Madison County, Illinois in 2002. Building her claim, she alleged she was automatically charged for a “damage waiver” when she rented a power tiller from Home Depot, despite the fact that she never agreed to purchase the waiver, which was an optional charge. Eventually, the defendant, Home Depot, had the case dismissed on the basis of forum non conveniens.

Re-modeling the action, the plaintiff re-filed the petition in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County, Missouri on March 28, 2008. Subsequently, Home Deport filed a timely notice of removal, which alleged jurisdiction based on the Class Action Fairness Act.

Turning the screws to Home Depot, the plaintiff moved to remand the case to state court inter alia on the following grounds: (1) CAFA does not apply to the action because it is only applicable to actions commenced on or after February 18, 2005, and this action was commenced in 2002 and only re-filed in 2008 after defendant successfully argued for a more convenient forum and (2) the defendant failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the $5 million amount in controversy threshold is satisfied.

The court measured out the legal standard explaining, the party invoking jurisdiction bears the burden of proof that all prerequisites to jurisdiction are met. Mindful of federalism concerns, the court stated that removal statutes are strictly construed with any doubts about the propriety of removal resolved in favor of remand to state court.

Sanding down the plaintiff’s first argument for remand, the court held that CAFA applies to the plaintiff’s re-filed action because the case was commenced in 2008 rather than 2002. The court relied on Price v. Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals, Inc. and the plain meaning of Mo.Sup.Ct. Rule 53.01 finding that a case is commenced upon the filing of a petition with the court, and that the re-filing “commenced” a new action to which CAFA applied.

On the second issue, the court drills the defendant finding that it failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy satisfied CAFA’s $5 million threshold. The plaintiff and the defendant each attempt to construct different limits to class membership.

Ultimately, the court found that the plaintiff’s petition expressly limited the class to persons who paid a “Damage Waiver” charge before the tool rental agreement was changed in 2005 or 2006, not persons who paid for Home Depot’s new “damage protection” charge or all Home Depot customers. Additionally, since the defendant failed to present sufficient evidence to establish the compensatory damage amount, the court could not determine whether the combination of compensatory and punitive damages and attorney’s fees concretely met the amount in controversy required to bolt down jurisdiction under CAFA.

Thus, the court held that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction and hammered Home Depot back to state court on remand.