Monday, May 20, 2013

Abraham v. St. Croix Renaissance Group

May 17: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, Case No. 13-1725. Appealed from the District Court of the Virgin Islands. The St. Croix Renaissance Group, L.L.L.P. (SCRG) sought leave under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), to appeal an order of the District Court of the Virgin Islands remanding a civil action to the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands. The Appeals Court granted SCRG's request saying it concluded, "that the civil action here is not a removable 'mass action' under CAFA. . ." The Appeals Court affirmed the order of the District Court.  
    SCRG purchased a former alumina refinery on the south shore of St. Croix in 2002. The plaintiffs alleged that "[f]or about thirty years, an alumina refinery located near thousands of homes on the south shore of the island of St. Croix was owned and/or operated by a number of entities." According to the complaint, the "facility refined a red ore called bauxite into alumina, creating enormous mounds of the by-product, bauxite residue, red mud, or red dust." In addition to these hazardous materials, friable asbestos was present. All of the substances described were dispersed by wind and disseminated as a result of erosion.
    The plaintiffs averred that the improper maintenance of the facility, inadequate storage and containment of the various hazardous substances, as well as failure to remediate the premises, caused them to sustain physical injuries, mental anguish, pain and suffering, medical expenses, damage to their property and possessions, loss of income and the capacity to earn income, and loss of the enjoyment of life. On December 7, 2012, the District Court granted the plaintiffs' motion to remand this action to the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands. The Appeals Court noted that the District Court considered several district court decisions that addressed whether an action qualified as a mass action.
    The Appeals Court said, "The issue in this case is one of statutory interpretation. We must determine the meaning of the phrase 'an event or occurrence' as it appears in the mass-action exclusion. The Appeals Court indicates, "In short, treating a continuing set of circumstances collectively as an 'event or occurrence' for purposes of the mass-action exclusion is consistent with the ordinary usage of these words, which do not necessarily have a temporal limitation. Giving the words 'event' or 'occurrence' their ordinary meaning is not at odds with the purpose of the statutory scheme of CAFA. . .
    "We conclude that the District Court did not err in its interpretation of the "event or occurrence" exclusion in § 1332(d)(11)(B)(ii)(I). Our broad reading of the words "event" and "occurrence" is consistent with their ordinary usage. Further, such a reading does not thwart Congress's intent, which recognized that some aggregate actions are inherently local in nature and better suited to adjudication by a State court. Accordingly, there is no reason to consider the legislative history of the CAFA to interpret the phrase 'event or occurrence' in the mass-action exclusion. . .

    "In light of our determination that the words "event" or "occurrence" in § 1332(d)(11)(B)(ii)(I) should be given their ordinary meaning, we turn to whether the plaintiffs' complaint falls within this exclusion for mass actions. . . We conclude that the complaint sufficiently alleges that all of the plaintiffs' claims arise from "an event or occurrence" in the Virgin Islands where the action was filed and that allegedly resulted in injuries there. . . We agree with the District Court that the complaint was not a removable mass action because "all of the claims in the action arose from an event or occurrence" that happened in the Virgin Islands and that resulted in injuries in the Virgin Islands. Accordingly, the District Court appropriately remanded the plaintiffs' action to the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands. . ."

    Access the complete opinion(click here). [#Toxics, #CA3]

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