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Badeaux v. Goodell

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 31, 2019

TOMMY BADEAUX, ET AL., Plaintiffs
v.
ROGER GOODELL, ET AL., Defendants

         SECTION: “E” (5)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SUSIE MORGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case arises out of the events in the final two minutes of the National Football Conference championship game between the New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams, held in New Orleans, Louisiana on January 20, 2019.[1] Plaintiffs allege that Los Angeles Rams cornerback, Nickell Ribey-Coleman, made improper helmet-to-helmet contact with New Orleans Saints wide receiver, Tommylee Lewis, and improperly interfered with his ability to catch a pass.[2] Plaintiffs allege, and it is undisputed, the officials at the game did not call either a pass-interference or a helmet-to-helmet contact penalty.[3]

         On January 22, 2019, Plaintiffs filed suit in the Civil District Court of Orleans Parish, Louisiana.[4] The Plaintiffs name as Defendants Roger Goodell, the National Football League (“the NFL”), and NFL Properties, LLC.[5] Defendants filed a Notice of Removal on January 25, 2019, invoking this Court's jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”).[6] On January 28, 2019, the Court held a hearing regarding its jurisdiction and Plaintiffs' right to a writ of mandamus under Louisiana law. Before and after the hearing, the parties submitted briefing regarding this Court's jurisdiction and Plaintiff's right to a writ of mandamus.[7] On January 29, 2019, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Remand.[8] Defendants oppose the Motion to Remand.[9]

         I. The Court Has Jurisdiction Under CAFA

         CAFA provides federal subject matter jurisdiction over a “class action” in which plaintiff class members number at least 100, at least one plaintiff class member is diverse in citizenship from any defendant, and the aggregate amount in controversy exceeds $5, 000, 000.[10]

         A. The Plaintiffs Filed a Class Action in State Court

         The initial inquiry must be whether Plaintiffs filed a class action in state court. The Plaintiffs claim they did not.[11] The two named Plaintiffs claim they filed an individual action requesting a writ of mandamus and that jurisdiction must be evaluated on that basis.[12]

         CAFA defines a “class action” as “any civil 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.”[13] Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure articles 591-597 outline the requirements for a class action under Louisiana law. Those articles “essentially adopt current federal law regulating class actions” under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. To the extent the Louisiana code articles parallel Rule 23, “the analysis of Louisiana's class certification is appropriately informed by federal jurisprudence interpreting Federal Rule 23.”[14]

         Although Plaintiffs' state court petition is captioned “Petition for Writ of Mandamus, ” the label is not determinative.[15] It is well established that, “in determining whether there is jurisdiction, federal courts look to the substance of the action and not only at the labels that the parties may attach.”[16] In enacting CAFA, Congress expressed concern about “jurisdictional gamesmanship” designed to keep class actions out of federal court and emphasized that “class action” should be interpreted liberally.[17] Congress explained:

the overall intent of these provisions is to strongly favor the exercise of federal diversity jurisdiction over class actions with interstate ramifications. In that regard, . . . the definition of “class action” is to be interpreted liberally. Its application should not be confined solely to lawsuits that are labeled ‘class actions' by the named plaintiff or the state rulemaking authority. Generally speaking, lawsuits that resemble a purported class action should be considered class action for the purpose of applying these provisions.[18]

         A lawsuit resembling a class action will not escape CAFA jurisdiction simply because it omits the words “class action” or does not include the state rule or statute under which it proceeds as a class action.[19]

         Clearly, the claims in Plaintiffs' state court petition are asserted by the named Plaintiffs individually and on behalf of others. The caption of the petition lists Plaintiffs as “Tommy Badeaux and Candis Lambert, individually and on behalf of New Orleans Saints Season Ticket Holders, New Orleans Saints National Fan Base a/k/a The Who Dat Nation and any party with interest that has been affected by the outcome.”[20] The introductory paragraph of the petition states it is “[t]he petition of Tommy Badeaux and Candis Lambert, individually and on behalf of New Orleans Saints Season Ticket Holders, New Orleans Saints National Fan Base a/k/a The Who Dat Nation and any party with interest that has been affected by the outcome.”[21] In the first paragraph of the prayer of the petition, “Petitioners, Tommy Badeaux and Candis Lambert, individually and on behalf of New Orleans Saints Season Ticket Holders, New Orleans Saints National Fan Base a/k/a The Who Dat Nation and any party with interest that has been affected by the outcome, pray that this petition be served upon defendants” and request “after due proceedings” that there be judgment in their favor, “granting plaintiffs' claims against defendants . . . together with interest thereon and for all costs of these proceedings, and for all general and equitable relief.”[22]

         Plaintiffs allege the incident at issue was caused by the negligence of Defendants Goodell and the NFL. Specifically, paragraph nine of the petition alleges:

         The said incident was proximately caused by the negligence of the defendant, Roger Goodell and the National Football League, in the following non-exclusive respects:

(a) Failure to maintain proper lookout;
(b) Failure to properly call penalties and infractions during game play;
(c) Failure to review plays to correct field oversight after the fact;
(d) Failure to exercise the rights afforded to the commissioner to correct extraordinary unfair actions;
(e) Failure to enforce the rules of the game;
(f) Failure to properly train and supervise referees;
(g) Any other act of negligence shown at the trial of this matter.[23]

         The petition itemizes various categories of damages for which Plaintiffs seek relief based on the Defendants' negligence, including:

(a) Past present, and future mental anguish and emotional trauma;
(b) Past present, and future loss of faith in the NFL;
(c) Past present, and future loss of enjoyment of life;
(d) Present and future loss of entertainment;
(e) Distrust of the game which has become a national pastime; (g) [sic] Other damages itemized at the trial of this matter.[24]

         In the first paragraph of their prayer for relief, Plaintiffs requested “judgment in Plaintiffs' favor, granting plaintiffs' claims against defendants . . . together with interest thereon.” The enumeration of the acts of negligence and the damages resulting from that negligence, including a request for a judgment with interest, is appropriate only in the context of a negligence cause of action for damages, not an action for a writ of mandamus. Plaintiffs included a second, separate paragraph in their prayer for relief, in which they “further prays [sic] that a writ of mandamus be ordered.”[25] The fact that Plaintiffs prayed first for a judgment with interest and second, or further, for a writ of mandamus discredits their assertion that they sought to bring only a mandamus action.

         Plaintiffs' state court petition unmistakably resembles a class action despite its omission of the words “class action” or reference to Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 591, et seq. Plaintiffs bring claims “individually and on behalf of New Orleans Saints Season Ticket Holders, New Orleans Saints National Fan Base a/k/a The Who Dat Nation and any party with interest that has been affected by the outcome.”[26] Plaintiffs are not parents, guardians, trustees, or executors of the New Orleans Saints season ticketholders or the members of the Who Dat Nation; they are not legal representatives of the members of the purported class by virtue of any law. The only right the Plaintiffs possibly have for bringing claims on behalf of New Orleans Saints season ticketholders and members of the Who Dat Nation derives from Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 591, et seq. The court finds Plaintiffs' have brought a class action.

         After Defendants removed the case, Plaintiffs attached to their memorandum regarding subject matter jurisdiction an affidavit signed by Plaintiff Tommy Badeaux in which he affirms that he does not seek to certify a class action.[27] Plaintiffs contend this affidavit demonstrates that Plaintiffs did not bring a class action under state law and, as a result, this court has no jurisdiction under CAFA.[28] CAFA jurisdiction is determined by the facts as they existed at the time of removal, not by subsequent events.[29] Once a court has diversity subject matter jurisdiction under CAFA, post-removal affidavits will not deprive the Court of jurisdiction.[30] As a result, the affidavit has no bearing on the Court's determination of its jurisdiction. As the Fifth Circuit has recognized, “removal based on diversity of citizenship is a right conferred by Congress, the need for which ‘may well be greatest when the plaintiff tires hardest to defeat it.'”[31] Plaintiffs' “jurisdictional gamesmanship” in submitting the post-removal affidavit signed by Plaintiff Tommy Badeaux is to no avail.

         Plaintiffs' state court petition, asserting causes of action by the individual Plaintiffs and on behalf of others, clearly is a class action. Accordingly, the Court will examine whether it has jurisdiction under CAFA.

         B. Over One Hundred Plaintiffs

         For this court to exercise diversity subject matter jurisdiction under CAFA, the plaintiff class members must number at least one hundred.[32] Plaintiffs bring suit in an individual capacity and on behalf of “New Orleans Saints Season Ticket Holders, New Orleans Saints National Fan Base a/k/a The Who Dat Nation and any party with interest that has been affected by the outcome.”[33] Although this Court does not have evidence of the number of New Orleans Saints season ticketholders, Plaintiffs do not contest that there are at least one hundred Saints season ticketholders.[34] It is reasonable for the Court to infer that the number of class members exceeds one hundred.[35] As a result, the Court finds the plaintiff class members number at least one hundred persons.

         C. Minimal Diversity

         CAFA requires minimal diversity in that it requires any member of the class of plaintiffs to be diverse from any defendant.[36] Plaintiffs Tommy Badeaux and Candis Lambert are domiciled in Louisiana.[37] Defendants state in their Amended Notice of Removal that Defendant Roger Goodell is domiciled in the state of New York.[38] Plaintiffs argue Defendants did not properly allege the citizenship of Defendant Goodell in their original Notice of Removal and, as a result, the Court may not consider the allegations in the amended Notice of Removal to determine the citizenship of Defendant Goodell.[39]Diversity jurisdiction rests on the facts that exist at the time of removal, [40] not on the sufficiency of the jurisdictional allegations contained in the notice of removal. The Court may consider the jurisdictional allegations in the amended Notice of Removal to determine whether diversity jurisdiction existed at the time of removal. Defendants are permitted to freely amend the notice of removal prior to the expiration of the thirty-day period for removal.[41] Plaintiffs filed the state court petition on January 22, 2019 and served Defendants on that same day.[42] Defendants filed their amended Notice of Removal on January 28, 2019, [43] well within that thirty-day period. Even after the expiration of the thirty-day period for removal, a defendant may amend the notice of removal to cure technical defects in jurisdictional allegations.[44] Because the citizenship of Plaintiffs is diverse from that of Defendant Goodell, the Court finds minimal diversity of citizenship exists.

         D. Amount in Controversy

         For this court to exercise diversity subject matter jurisdiction under CAFA, the aggregate amount in controversy must exceed $5, 000, 000.[45] In their state court petition, Plaintiffs seek damages for the following enumerated injuries:

(a) Past present, and future mental anguish and emotional trauma;
(b) Past present, and future loss of faith in the NFL;
(c) Past present, and future loss of enjoyment of life;
(d) Present and future loss of entertainment;
(e) Distrust of the game which has become a national pastime; (g) [sic] Other damages itemized at the trial of this matter.[46]

         Defendants assert the amount in controversy exceeds $5, 000, 000.[47] The Court is permitted to make common-sense inferences about the amount in controversy.[48] For example, in Allen v. R&H Oil & Gas Co., the district court inferred that hundreds of plaintiffs seeking punitive damages for a wide variety of harms allegedly caused by wanton and reckless conduct would satisfy the amount in controversy.[49] The Fifth Circuit affirmed this common-sense determination.[50] Although Defendants have not alleged the number of New Orleans Saints season ticketholders, it is reasonable for the court to infer there are at least 60, 000 season ticketholders. The claims of these 60, 000 season ticketholders, claiming only $100 in damages each, would exceed the $5, 000, 000 threshold.[51] As a result, the Court finds the amount in controversy is satisfied.

         The Court notes that, after Defendants filed their Notice of Removal, Plaintiffs filed an affidavit executed by Plaintiff Tommy Badeaux averring he is not requesting monetary damages.[52] Based on the affidavit, Plaintiffs argue the amount in controversy is not satisfied because Plaintiffs seek only a writ of mandamus and do not seek monetary damages.[53] Post-removal affidavits regarding the amount in controversy may be considered only when the basis for jurisdiction is ambiguous at the time of removal.[54]When it is facially apparent from the state court petition that the amount in controversy is satisfied at the time of removal, “post-removal affidavits, stipulations, and amendments reducing the amount do not deprive the district court of jurisdiction.”[55] It is clear from the face of Plaintiffs' state court petition that they bring a class action and request monetary damages exceeding the $5, 000, 000 aggregate threshold. As a result, this Court will not consider the post-removal affidavit signed by Plaintiff when determining whether it has jurisdiction.

         Even if the Court could consider the Tommy Badeaux affidavit, it would not affect the amount in controversy as the purported class has not been certified. A pre-class certification stipulation by a class representative that the amount in controversy does not exceed $5, 000, 000 will not divest a federal court of CAFA jurisdiction because the affidavit is not binding on the absent class members but only on the affiant himself.[56] Tommy Badeaux's post-removal affidavit does not reduce the amount in controversy.

         Because Plaintiffs bring a “class action, ” in which the class exceeds one hundred, minimal diversity exists, and the amount in controversy exceeds $5, 000, 000, this Court has diversity subject matter jurisdiction over this case pursuant to CAFA.[57] The Motion to Remand[58] filed by Plaintiffs is denied.

         II. Plaintiffs' Right to ...


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