Sausage-Making, Pigs' Ears, and Congressional Expansions of Federal Jurisdiction: Exxon Mobil V. Allapattah and Its Lessons for the Class Action Fairness Act

Article excerpt

Abstract: The year 2005 witnessed two watershed developments in federal jurisdiction: the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Services, Inc. and the enactment of the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). Allapattah and CAFA raise the same fundamental question: how should courts interpret a statute whose text would expand federal jurisdiction far beyond what Congress apparently intended? In Allapattah, the Court confronted mis question in resolving an aspect of the supplemental jurisdiction statute that had deeply divided both the judiciary and academia. CAFA's expansion of federal jurisdiction over class actions will require courts to struggle with this question once again. In light of these recent events and their common theme, this Article has two goals. First, it argues that CAFA-like its older cousin the supplemental jurisdiction statute-contains a fundamental disconnect between the legislative history and the statutory text. While CAFA's legislative history indicated that Congress meant to expand federal jurisdiction only to certain large class actions with interstate dimensions, the unambiguous text of CAFA authorizes removal of virtually every state court class action to federal court. This conflict threatens to create the same level of judicial and academic disagreement that plagued the supplemental jurisdiction statute over the last decade-and-a-half. Second, this Article examines Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority decision in Allapattah to divine its lessons for interpreting CAFA. Allapattah sent mixed messages, however. The Court's language in Allapattah imparted an unmistakable endorsement of textualism-jurisdictional statutes should be read no more narrowly or broadly than the text provides. But the Court's ultimate conclusion compromised strict fidelity to the text in order to avoid expanding jurisdiction far beyond what Congress apparently intended. The Court chose a compromise interpretation that expanded federal jurisdiction farther than the legislative history anticipated but not as far as the plain meaning of the statutory text would require. Thus, federal courts interpreting CAFA face a dilemma: follow Allapattah's explicit lesson and construe CAFA according to its text, or follow Allapattah's implicit lesson and strike a compromise between the legislative history and the statutory text. For courts following the latter approach, a compromise reading of CAFA may be available. This reading would eliminate certain requirements that had impeded the removal of class actions in the past, but it would not create an independent basis for removing all state court class actions; rather, a basis for removal must exist elsewhere in federal law.


The year 2005 brought two important developments in the area of federal jurisdiction. In February, Congress enacted and President George W. Bush signed the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA),1 which created a new source of federal jurisdiction for certain class actions.2 In June, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Services, Inc.,3 which resolved an important conflict within the federal judiciary over the meaning of the 1990 supplemental jurisdiction statute.4 Arguably, CAFA and Allapattah are the twenty-first century's most significant events in terms of federal court jurisdiction over civil actions.

The close proximity of these two events is a fitting coincidence. In Allapattah, the Supreme Court resolved a divisive aspect of the supplemental jurisdiction statute, finally weighing in after nearly fifteen years of "problems, ambiguity, and controversy."5 The statute, which had been hastily added to the voluminous Judicial Improvements Act of 1990,6 was criticized from the outset as "a nightmare of draftsmanship."7 In particular, courts and commentators noted the gulf between the apparent purpose of the statute and the actual statutory language.8 While the statute's goal was to legislatively overturn a Supreme Court decision issued one year earlier, the text appeared to cast aside a number of wellestablished precedents, dating from the early twentieth century and even the early nineteenth century. …


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