The Funeral Homes Employees’ Jurisdiction Rests In Peace In State Court.

Cate v. Service Corp. Int’l, No. 2:10cv1075–MHT, 2011 WL 3903087 (M.D. Ala. Sept. 6, 2011).

Who is not watching AMC’s television series The Walking Dead? If you are not, then you are

missing out on some good end of the world/zombie killing fun! Since morticians are surrounded by the dead, I bet they just love this show. You can just see them standing around the embalming table pumping fluids into corpses, removing organs, and talking about Sunday night’s episode and CAFA. What? CAFA? Yes, you flesh eating zombie. CAFA! They have to be talking about CAFA because there are so many class actions filed by funeral home operators that they can’t just be talking about The Walking Dead. After all, we have reported on at least 6 different class actions by funeral home operators in 2011 alone.

In this particular action brought by employees of funeral homes, a federal district court remanded the case to state court finding that the defendants cannot rely on interrogatories filed by the preceding lawsuits from different states to show that the amount in controversy exceeded CAFA threshold of $5 million.

The plaintiffs, employees at the defendants’ funeral homes in Alabama, brought an action in the state court against the defendants seeking unpaid wages.

The defendants removed the case to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d) contending that the amount in controversy exceeded $5 million.

The plaintiffs filed a motion to remand arguing that the defendants failed to establish the CAFA requirements because the defendants based their arguments on speculation and unreliable estimates, including misplaced reliance on other litigation.

In support of their argument against the remand, the defendants submitted a wide variety of evidence, most of which was based on submissions made in the various cases that preceded, or were parallel to, this litigation.

First, the defendants argued that the complaint stated the claims of all nationwide employees, and did not limit it to the class members to those working within the State of Alabama. Because the defendants presented no evidence other than their assertions, the Court overruled this argument.

Next, the defendants stated that there were 507 employees in Alabama, which the plaintiffs did not dispute. To meet the amount in controversy requirement, the defendants then divided $5 million by 507 and concluded that each plaintiff would need to claim $9,862. The defendants then divided that jurisdictional amount average by the state minimum wage, $7.25 per hour, to come up with an estimate leading to 1,360 hours of unpaid work over a three-year time frame.

The defendants pointed to sworn interrogatories of the named plaintiffs in a case by employees of the defendants from Arizona, which preceded this case, to show that each of them claimed more than 1,360 hours of unpaid work over the three-year period. Therefore, the defendants argued that the value of each class member’s claim far exceeded $9,862, and hence met the $5 million CAFA threshold.

The Court, however, overruled this argument as well finding that the Arizona case, was although legally similar to this case, it was not factually similar. Hence, the Court ruled that the defendants could not base their argument on the interrogatories filed in the Arizona case. The Court came to similar conclusions on the defendants’ reliance on preceding actions brought by employees of the defendants from Louisiana, Virginia, and Massachusetts.