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Smith v. Collinsworth

December 21, 2005

JEAN SMITH, AND LORIA IVIE, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED PLAINTIFFS
v.
BARRY COLLINSWORTH; THOMAS PUGH; UNITED AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANY; HEARTLAND ALLIANCE OF AMERICA ASSOCIATION; FARM & RANCH HEALTHCARE, INC; AND JOHN DOES 1-20 DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wm. R.Wilson, Jr. United States District Judge

ORDER

Pending is Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand.*fn1 Defendants have responded.*fn2 At the Defendants' request, oral arguments were presented on November 28, 2005.

The Complaint was filed on October 8, 2004, in the Circuit Court of Saline County, Arkansas, alleging that Plaintiffs represented a class of similarly situated consumers in the State of Arkansas.*fn3 An Amended Complaint was filed in the same court on September 7, 2005.*fn4

Defendants removed the case from Saline County Circuit Court to Federal District Court under the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA").*fn5 Plaintiffs, in their Motion to Remand, argue that the action was commenced before CAFA was enacted and is not covered by that law. Defendants counter that the Amended Complaint created new claims, and is, therefore covered by CAFA.

The class described in the original complaint consists of all individuals insured by Defendants living in Arkansas. The Amended Complaint expands the class to include all individuals insured by Defendants living in the United States. In addition, a subclass was identified in the Amended Complaint as all individuals described in the damages class who submitted a health claim in which the claim was denied only in part, and the unpaid portion of the claim was denied because the policy was one of limited benefit coverage.*fn6 The Amended Complaint added facts and expanded the class, and it eliminated many of the causes of action alleged in the first Complaint.

Discussion

Section 9 of CAFA provides "[t]he amendments made by this Act shall apply to any civil action commenced on or after the date of enactment of this Act."*fn7 CAFA became law on February 18, 2005. After the effective date, Plaintiffs amended their Complaint. The issue here is whether Plaintiffs commenced a new action when they filed the Amended Complaint.

The facts of this case as well as the arguments made by the parties are similar those in Weekley v. Guidant Corporation and Cardiac Pacemakers.*fn8 In Weekley, the plaintiff alleged that Defendants supplied a defective pacemaker.*fn9 After CAFA was passed, the plaintiff amended her original complaint, alleging a class action including all similarly situated individuals. Removal was based on the amended complaint. The class action was remanded to state court for the following reason:

Pleadings may be amended, but amending pleadings does not commence an action. By definition, a civil action must already have been commenced before a pleading can be amended. Some claims may be dismissed and others may be added. Those new claims may dramatically change the action. Those claims may or may not relate back to the original complaint for limitations purposes. Nevertheless a civil action, when viewed as the entirety of the proceeding, commenced when the initial complaint was filed.*fn10

State procedural law governs cases originating in state court until they are removed to federal court.*fn11 In Weekley, the court applied Arkansas procedure, and found that an action is commenced when a complaint is filed.*fn12 In this case, the complaint that "commenced" this action was filed long before CAFA became law.

During oral argument, Defendants asserted that the court in Weekley ignored Arkansas case law by concluding that an amended complaint does not commence an action. However, the cases relied on by Defendants in support of their argument address the narrow issue of claims in an amended complaint that may be subject to dismissal on statute of limitations grounds.*fn13 When one looks at the broader issue of when the whole action begins, the Arkansas Supreme Court has held that an action is commenced by filing a complaint with the clerk of the proper court and completing service within the 120-day period following the filing of the complaint.*fn14 So, Weekley followed Arkansas precedent.

Defendants rely on Seventh Circuit cases that hold, if an amended complaint does not relate back to the original complaint, the action may be removed to federal court, even though the original complaint was filed before CAFA was enacted.*fn15 Many district courts have adopted the same approach, including two district courts in this circuit.*fn16 At the hearing, Defendants contended that the Tenth Circuit has also applied the relation-back analysis. However, the Tenth Circuit held that an action is commenced under CAFA when it is filed in state court, not when it is removed to federal court.*fn17 The relation-back rule was not addressed in that opinion.

Defendants also argue that the additional facts alleged by Plaintiffs, and the addition of the class members, do not "relate back" to the original complaint under Rule 15(c).*fn18 Therefore, Defendants contend, the Amended Complaint is removable.

I am persuaded by Weekley that, in view of the simple directive in § 9 of CAFA, whether an amended complaint relates back is irrelevant.*fn19 However, even if the relation back analysis applies, ...


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