United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
MARK FOCHTMAN, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated; and SHANE O'NEAL, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated PLAINTIFFS
CAAIR, INC.; SIMMONS FOODS, INC.; DARP, INC.; HENDREN PLASTICS, INC.; and JOHN DOES 1-30 DEFENDANTS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
pending before the Court are the following Motions,
supporting briefs, and responses:
• Motion to Sever and Remand (Doc. 20) and Brief in
Support (Doc. 21), filed by Defendant Hendren Plastics, Inc.
("Hendren"); Response in Support (Doc. 38), filed
by Defendant Simmons Foods, Inc. ("Simmons");
Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition (Doc. 35);
Hendren's Reply (Doc. 39); and Plaintiffs' Sur-Reply
• Motion to Sever and Dismiss, or in the Alternative, to
Sever and Remand (Doc. 40) and Brief in Support (Doc. 41),
filed by Defendant DARP, Inc. ("DARP"); and
Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition (Doc. 56);
• Motion to Dismiss or Transfer Venue (Doc. 52) and
Brief in Support (Doc. 55), filed by Simmons; Joinder in
Simmons' Motion (Doc. 62), filed by Defendant CAAIR, Inc.
("CAAIR"); Hendren's Response in Support (Doc.
64); Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition (Doc. 80); and
Simmons' Reply (Doc. 93);
• Motion to Remand (Doc. 54) and Brief in Support (Doc.
55), filed by Plaintiffs; Hendren's Response in Support
(Doc. 63); Simmons' Response in Opposition (Doc. 76); and
CAAIR's Response in Opposition (Doc. 77);
• Motion to Sever Claims (Doc. 78) and Brief in Support
(Doc. 79), filed by CAAIR.; and Plaintiffs' Response in
Opposition (Doc. 81); and
• two Motions to Quash (Docs. 70, 72), filed by
Non-Party Daugherty & Daugherty Investments, LLC; and
Plaintiffs' combined Response in Opposition (Doc. 89).
reasons explained in greater detail below, the Motion to
Sever and Remand (Doc. 20) is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN
PART; the Motion to Sever and Dismiss, or in the Alternative,
to Sever and Remand (Doc. 40), is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED
IN PART; the Motion to Dismiss or Transfer Venue (Doc. 52) is
GRANTED; the Motion to Remand (Doc. 54) is MOOT; the Motion
to Sever Claims (Doc. 78) is GRANTED; the Court will TRANSFER
the Motion to Quash related to the CAAIR/Simmons claims (Doc.
70) to the Northern District of Oklahoma for resolution in
that jurisdiction; and the Court will RESERVE RULING on the
other Motion to Quash, involving the DARP/Hendren claims
(Doc. 72), until after a separate hearing on the matter.
Jurisdictional Issues and Preliminary Rulings
case is a purported class action that was originally filed in
the Circuit Court of Benton County, Arkansas, on October 23,
2017. See Doc. 8. Defendant Simmons removed the case
to this Court on November 6, 2017 (Doc. 1), asserting federal
jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act
("CAFA"). In order for CAFA jurisdiction to apply:
(1) the aggregate amount in controversy must exceed $5, 000,
000; (2) the putative class must contain more than 100
members; and (3) at least one plaintiff and one defendant
must be citizens of different states. 28 U.S.C. §
the two Plaintiffs, Mark Fochtman and Shane O'Neal, and
Defendants Simmons and Hendren, are all Arkansas citizens.
Defendants CAAIR and DARP are believed to be citizens of
Oklahoma. CAAIR has entered into agreements with
Arkansas and Oklahoma state courts to provide residential
drug, alcohol, and counseling treatment to individuals on
probation. Residents of CAAIR agree to work in exchange for
room, board, and treatment. They work at Simmons'
facilities in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, pursuant to a
contract between CAAIR and Simmons. Each day, CAAIR's
residents are transported to work at Simmons and then
returned to CAAIR when the work day ends. As for DARP,
provides services very similar to CAAIR's, under
agreements made with state courts in the region. Instead of
contracting with Simmons for labor, DARP contracts with
Hendren and transports DARP's residents to work at
Hendren's processing facilities in Decatur, Arkansas.
the Plaintiffs, Mr. Fochtman is a citizen of Arkansas who
currently resides in Washington County. He agreed to enter
CAAIR as a condition of probation and spent six months at
CAAIR's facility near Jay, Oklahoma. When he first
arrived at CAAIR, he was assigned to work at a Simmons
poultry processing plant, and then later, he was assigned to
work at a Simmons chicken farm. According to the Complaint,
at some point in the course of the same state-court probation
matter, Mr. Fochtman transferred from CAAIR to DARP. Because
of the transfer, he stopped working at Simmons and began
working at Hendren instead. As for Plaintiff O'Neal, he
resided only at CAAIR and worked only for Simmons during his
probationary term. Plaintiffs have brought individual and
class-action claims against the Defendants. All of these
causes of action arise out of Arkansas law, not federal law.
the amount in controversy, Simmons has maintained since the
time of removal that the damages in the case exceed $5, 000,
000. Plaintiffs have been skeptical of this figure, and their
skepticism prompted them to file a Motion to Remand (Doc. 54)
on December 6, 2017, in which they contested CAFA
jurisdiction, but only with respect to the amount in
January 16, 2018, the Court held a hearing on all pending
motions, including the Motion to Remand, and it was made
clear to all in attendance that Plaintiffs had changed their
minds about contesting the amount in controversy. In open
Court, Plaintiffs' counsel conceded that the amount in
controversy did, in fact, exceed $5, 000, 000, and that CAFA
jurisdiction was therefore appropriate. All other parties
were also in agreement that CAFA's jurisdictional
requirements had been satisfied as of the time of removal.
See Simmons' Response to Motion to Remand, Doc.
76 (establishing that the amount in controversy exceeds $5,
000, 000); CAAIR's Response to Motion to Remand (Doc. 77)
(agreeing with Simmons); Hendren's Reply in Support of
Motion to Sever (Doc. 39) (admitting that removal based on
CAFA jurisdiction was proper, but arguing in favor of
remanding certain claims based on defined exceptions to CAFA
jurisdiction); DARP's Brief in Support of Motion to Sever
and Dismiss (Doc. 41) (agreeing with Hendren). Accordingly,
the Court finds that Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand (Doc.
54) is now MOOT, and Simmons' removal of the case to this
Court, based on CAFA jurisdiction, was proper.
next Issue that was initially contested, but to which the
parties now appear in agreement, is whether the claims should
be severed into two separate cases. As previously mentioned,
Mr. Fochtman has individual claims pending against all
Defendants, while Mr. O'Neal has claims against only
CAAIR and Simmons. Two distinct classes could easily be
carved out: one involving individuals who resided at CAAIR
and worked for Simmons, and the other involving individuals
who resided at DARP and worked for Hendren. All parties are
in agreement that individuals residing at CAAIR never worked
for Hendren, and individuals residing at DARP never worked
for Simmons. CAAIR contracted for labor only with Simmons,
and DARP contracted for labor only with Hendren. Although
certain putative class members, such as Mr. Fochtman, may be
members of both classes, the parties agree that severance of
the CAAIR/Simmons claims from the DARP/Hendren claims is
appropriate pursuant to Rule 21, and also, that severance
will be simpler and more cost-efficient from a
judicial-management point of view. Accordingly, as no party
objects to severance, the Court finds, in its discretion,
that the case should be severed into two separate cases.
Hendren's Motion to Sever and Remand (Doc. 20) is GRANTED
IN PART, with respect to severance, and DENIED IN PART, with
respect to remand-which will be explained in further detail
below; DARP's Motion to Sever and Dismiss, or in the
Alternative, to Sever and Remand (Doc. 40) is GRANTED IN
PART, with respect to severance, and DENIED IN PART, with
respect to remand-which will be explained below; and
CAAIR's Motion to Sever Claims (Doc. 78) is GRANTED.
that the matter of the Court's federal jurisdiction
pursuant to CAFA has been resolved, and the claims involving
CAAIR/Simmons and DARP/Hendren have been severed, the only
issues remaining for the Court at this juncture are: (1)
whether the claims involving CAAIR/Simmons should be
transferred to another jurisdiction, where similar claims are
now pending, and (2) whether the claims involving
DARP/Hendren should be remanded to state court, pursuant to a
discretionary finding by the Court that an express exception
to CAFA jurisdiction exists. As the issues of transfer and
remand remain unresolved in the pending Motions, the Court
will confine its discussion to only those
issues. The Court's decisions will impact the
following Motions: (1) Simmons' Motion to Dismiss or
Transfer Venue (Doc. 52); (2) Hendren's Motion to Sever
and Remand (Doc. 20); and (3) DARP's Motion to Sever and
Dismiss, or in the Alternative, to Sever and Remand (Doc.
40). As will be explained, the Court will GRANT Simmons'
request to transfer the CAAIR/Simmons ...