Sometimes, the most interesting cases, from both a strategic and an equities standpoint, are hidden in the weeds of a statute. For example, take the lengthily named case Graphic Communications Local 1B Health & Welfare Fund "A" v. CVS Caremark Corp., 636 F.3d 971 (2011).
In Graphic Communications, the plaintiffs originally sued the defendants in Minnesota state court, alleging a number of claims related to the pricing of generic drugs. (Exciting already, no?) The defendants removed the case under CAFA, and moved to dismiss. The court granted the motion without prejudice. So the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint that eliminated some of the grounds the defendants had used to invoke CAFA jurisdiction, and later moved to remand under CAFA’s "local controversy" exception. (The local controversy exception applies to cases where more than two-thirds of the plaintiff class comes from the same state as one defendant, the principal conduct occurred in the state, and no related class actions have been filed in the previous three years.) At that point, reasoning that it did not have jurisdiction over the case anymore, the district court granted the remand, and the defendants appealed to the Eighth Circuit.
The defendants made several arguments on appeal, among them that the plaintiffs had not moved to remand in a timely fashion. (For reasons even the Eighth Circuit did not know, the plaintiffs waited more than 100 days before moving to remand, instead of the 30 required under the statute.)
The Eighth Circuit began by heading straight to the meat of the question. Looking at the text of CAFA, it noted that
The local controversy provision, which is set apart from the above jurisdictional requirements in the statute, inherently recognizes the district court has subject matter jurisdiction by directing the court to "decline to exercise" such jurisdiction when certain requirements are met. Thus, the local controversy provision operates as an abstention doctrine, which does not divest the district court of subject matter jurisdiction.
(Emphasis added, internal citation omitted.)
At that point, the court had to determine whether a "local controversy" was somehow a jurisdictional defect that did not involve subject matter jurisdiction. (If so, then the plaintiffs might not be bound by the 30-day time limit for filing remand motions.) After a lengthy discussion of the meaning of the term "defect" (which was not defined in the statute, and was susceptible to several meanings from context), the court determined that a "local controversy" is not a jurisdictional defect under CAFA.
But the court ruled that that did not necessarily mean that the plaintiffs’ motion was timely. Noting that a remand motion is not necessarily authorized at any time, the court pointed out that it was entirely possible the appropriate time for moving to remand may even be shorter than the 30-day "defect" limit. (This conclusion makes sense; ruling the other way means that a plaintiff could amend a complaint to invoke a local controversy, but only move to remand after some adverse ruling from the federal trial court. It’s unlikely the drafters of CAFA meant to give plaintiffs a "get out of federal court free" card like that.) So instead, the court held that
We recognize there may be similar considerations to take into account in this case, but, along with the central question of whether the more than 100 days it took for Plaintiffs to move to remand constitutes a "reasonable" time frame, we remand to the district court to make these determinations in the first instance.
So what can defendants learn from this case? Don’t be afraid to argue the equities of a motion, even if (perhaps especially if) it appears to be highly technical. Like most humans, judges are sensitive to when people are trying to game a rule to reach an unintended result, and, like most humans, judges don’t like it when that happens.