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Thompson v. Louisiana Regional Landfill Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 14, 2019

SAVANNAH THOMPSON, Plaintiff
v.
LOUISIANA REGIONAL LANDFILL COMPANY, ET AL., Defendants

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SUSIE MORGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a motion to remand, filed by Plaintiff Savannah Thompson.[1] The motion is opposed.[2] For the reasons that follow, the motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         On July 30, 2018, in the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Jefferson, Plaintiff Thompson filed a class action petition, pursuant to Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 591 et seq., against Defendants Louisiana Regional Landfill Company (formerly known as IESI LA Landfill Corporation); Waste Connections Bayou, Inc. (formerly known as Progressive Waste Solutions of LA, Inc. and IESI La Corporation); Waste Connections of Louisiana, Inc. (collectively, “Waste Connections Defendants”); Aptim Corp.; and Jefferson Parish.[3] Plaintiff alleges the Jefferson Parish Landfill in Waggaman, Louisiana (“the Landfill”) emitted noxious odors and gases into neighborhoods in the surrounding areas.[4] The proposed Plaintiff class is defined as:

All persons domiciled of and/or within the Parish of Jefferson on or after August 1, 2017 . . . who sustained legally cognizable damages in the form of nuisance, trespass, interference with the enjoyment of their properties, and/or diminution in value of their properties resulting from Defendants' acts that caused the emission of noxious odors and gases into and unto their persons and properties.[5]

         On August 23, 2018, Waste Connections Defendants, removed the case to this Court, invoking this Court's jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (“CAFA”).[6] On October 1, 2018, Plaintiff filed the instant motion to remand the case to state court.[7] She argues several statutory exceptions to this Court's jurisdiction under CAFA apply to this case.[8] Defendants oppose.[9]

         Ictech-Bendeck v. Progressive Waste Solutions of La., Inc., another class action petition alleging damages from noxious odors and gases emanating from the Landfill, was filed in the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Jefferson on July 25, 2018, five days prior to the filing of the instant case.[10] Ictech-Bendeck was removed to this Court on August 17, 2018.[11] Jefferson Parish, Aptim Corp., and two of the three Waste Connections Defendants named in the instant case also are named defendants in Ictech-Bendeck. The proposed plaintiff class in Ictech-Bendeck is as follows:

All persons domiciled of and/or within the Parish of Jefferson, . . . who sustained legally cognizable damages in the form of nuisance, interference with the enjoyment of their properties and/or diminution in value of their properties as a result of the Defendant(s)' acts that cause the emission of noxious odors and gases into and unto their persons and properties.[12]

         STANDARD OF LAW

         Generally, a defendant may remove a civil action from state court to federal court if the federal court would have had original jurisdiction over the action.[13] To determine whether the Court has jurisdiction, the Court considers the claims in the state court petition as they existed at the time of removal.[14] Remand is proper if at any time before final judgment it appears the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction.[15]

         CAFA vests federal district courts with original jurisdiction over class actions in which the amount-in-controversy exceeds $5 million, and the class fits one of the following categories:

(A) any member of a class of plaintiffs is a citizen of a State different from any defendant;
(B) any member of a class of plaintiffs is a foreign state or a citizen or subject of a foreign state and any defendant is a citizen of a State; or
(C) any member of a class of plaintiffs is a citizen of a State and any defendant is a foreign state or a citizen or subject of a foreign state.[16]

28 U.S.C. § 1332(d) includes several statutory exceptions to jurisdiction, several of which are at issue in the instant motion. When a party objects to the Court's jurisdiction under CAFA, that party “must prove that the CAFA exceptions to federal jurisdiction divest[] the district court of subject matter jurisdiction.”[17]

         ANALYSIS

         I. This case satisfies the jurisdictional requirements of § 1332(d)(2).

         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 or judicial procedure authorizing an action to be brought by 1 or more representative persons as a class action.”[18] Plaintiff filed her petition as a class action petition pursuant to Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 591 et seq.[19] Such actions are class actions for purposes of CAFA.[20]

         Plaintiff is a Louisiana domiciliary, and Waste Connections Defendants are Delaware corporations with their principal places of business in Texas.[21] As a result, CAFA's requirement of minimal diversity of citizenship is met.

         Plaintiff argues it is not facially apparent from the pleadings that the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million.[22] In their Notice of Removal, Waste Connections Defendants argue the $5, 000, 000 amount-in-controversy requirement is met because of the potential size of the proposed plaintiff class and the damages requested.[23] They note Plaintiff's prayer for relief includes “past, present and future nuisance damages and past, present and future diminution in property value.”[24]

         In a CAFA case, a court may look beyond the pleadings to determine whether the amount-in-controversy requirement is satisfied.[25] A court also may “make common-sense inferences about the amount put at stake by the injuries the plaintiffs claim.”[26] In their opposition to the instant motion, Waste Connections Defendants include additional evidentiary support for their contention that the amount-in-controversy requirement is met.[27] The state court petition alleges the odors from the Landfill have been emitted into areas “including, but not limited to, the neighborhoods in and around Waggaman, Louisiana[;] River Ridge, Louisiana[;] and Harahan, Louisiana.”[28] Waste Connections Defendants attach the declaration of Brett O'Connor, an engineer employed by a Waste Connections affiliate, testifying the Louisiana Regional Landfill Company has received odor complaints from a broader geographic area, including eight cities: Gretna, Harvey, Harahan, Kenner, Marrero, Metairie, River Ridge, and Waggaman.[29] Waste Connections Defendants also attach the declaration of counsel for Waste Connections Defendants David Taggart, testifying the total population of the three cities named in the petition is 32, 786, and the total population of the eight cities in the O'Connor declaration is 309, 194.[30] Even if only the residents of Waggaman, River Ridge, and Harahan receive damages awards, an award of $153 to each resident would satisfy the $5 million amount-in-controversy requirement.

         The O'Connor declaration also states that enjoining the Landfill to stop operations would cost the Waste Connections Defendants $23, 000 in revenues per day.[31] The legislative history of CAFA makes clear that the amount-controversy requirement is satisfied “if the value of the matter in litigation exceeds $5, 000, 000 either from the viewpoint of the plaintiff or the viewpoint of the defendant, and regardless of the type of relief sought (e.g., damages, injunctive relief, or declaratory relief).”[32] Looking from the defendant's viewpoint, assuming an injunction lasted 218 days, which is not an unreasonable assumption, the Waste Connections Defendants' loss would exceed $5 million in revenues. This amount also would satisfy CAFA's amount-in-controversy requirement.

         Plaintiff has not met her burden of showing the $5 million amount-in-controversy requirement is not satisfied in this case. In light of the allegations of the petition and the evidence presented by Waste Connections Defendants, the Court finds the amount in controversy in this case exceeds $5 million. This case meets the jurisdictional requirements of § 1332(d)(2).

         II. The “local controversy exception” does not apply because Ictech-Bendeck was an earlier class action filed asserting similar allegations against almost all of the same defendants on behalf of a nearly-identical class.

         Under the “local controversy exception, ” a district must decline jurisdiction if the following conditions are met:

(i) [the] class action [is one] in which--
(I) greater than two-thirds of the members of all proposed plaintiff classes in the aggregate are citizens of the State in which the action was originally filed;
(II) at least 1 defendant is a defendant--
(aa) from whom significant relief is sought by members of the plaintiff class; (bb) whose alleged conduct forms a significant basis for the claims asserted by the proposed plaintiff class; and (cc) who is a citizen of the State in which the action was originally filed; and
(III) principal injuries resulting from the alleged conduct or any related conduct of each defendant were incurred in the State in which the action was originally filed; and
(ii) during the 3-year period preceding the filing of that class action, no other class action has been filed asserting the same or similar factual allegations against any of the defendants on behalf of the same or other persons.[33]

         “[T]he exception is intended to be narrow, ‘with all doubts resolved in favor of exercising jurisdiction over the case.'”[34]

         The Court considers the final prong of the local controversy exception under which a court must exercise jurisdiction if, during the three-year period preceding the filing of suit, another class action has been filed “asserting the same or similar factual allegations against any of the defendants on behalf of the same or ...


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