Academic journal article The Review of Litigation

The Multiparty, Multiforum Trial Jurisdiction Act: Opening the Door to Class Action Reform

Academic journal article The Review of Litigation

The Multiparty, Multiforum Trial Jurisdiction Act: Opening the Door to Class Action Reform

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

A recent statute quietly passed by Congress during the last legislative session1 has created a category of class actions eligible for original jurisdiction in federal district courts upon showing minimal diversity.2 The Multiparty, Multiforum Trial jurisdiction Act of 2002 ultimately passed through Congress with little debate, piggybacked on a Department of justice appropriations act, House Bill 2215. The essence of the legislation, now known as § 1369, permits minimal-diversity jurisdiction in federal district courts for cases arising from a single accident when at least seventy-five people died.4 The statute allows original federal jurisdiction of "any civil action" that meets the qualifications, which also have some important implications for class actions. Most significantly, § 1369 deviates from the general rule requiring complete diversity among named plaintiffs in order to bring any class action in federal court.6

The measure has developed a fairly thorough legislative history since its inception in the late 1970s.7 Despite the wealth of information on similar proposals, § 1369 will not have a clear application in practice, especially when interpreted against the backdrop of preexisting laws governing diversity jurisdiction. The legislative history provides some clarification for the ambiguities in the statute, but some aspects remain vague or inadequately explained. I will evaluate the potential problem areas of § 1369 as well as discuss the future of this controversial but potentially expansive measure. I have organized this discussion into an examination of three main parts of the statute: the general provision that confers minimal-diversity jurisdiction, the intervening-parties provision, and the limitations provision that excludes certain cases from the statute. Part I places § 1369 in context, describing the law before the statute and the impetus for the measure. Part II explains and analyzes the general, intervening-parties, and limitations provisions. Part III discusses the future of § 1369.

Ultimately, I have concluded that (1) the general provision is a well-drafted provision that aptly fulfills congressional intent to keep minimal diversity narrow; (2) the intervening parties provision avoids the jurisdictional amount requirement in class actions, thus effectuating the consolidation purpose of the measure; and (3) the limitations provision is vague and should define certain phrases in order to establish the proper balance between excluding intrastate actions and making the provision broad enough to have some practical use.

I. SECTION 1369 IN CONTEXT: PRIOR LAW AND THE IMPETUS FOR CHANGE

Section 1369 has some important implications when compared to the existing law on diversity jurisdiction. Prior to § 1369, the citizenship of the plaintiffs-or named plaintiffs in class actions8-had to be completely diverse from that of the defendants for federal diversity jurisdiction.9 Complete diversity occurs when civil actions arise between citizens of different states.10 In addition, a defendant could remove any civil action to federal court, if the action could have been brought in federal court originally.11 The removal statute has been construed to require that all defendants agree to remove.12 In addition, removal is not permitted in diversity cases if any defendant is a citizen of the state in which the action is brought.13

Diversity jurisdiction is also subject to a $75,000 minimum amount-in-controversy requirement per plaintiff.14 The amount-in-controversy requirement applies to each of the plaintiffs when the plaintiffs have "separate and distinct demands" and are "unite[d] for convenience and economy in a single suit,"15 but when plaintiffs have a "common and undivided interest," their cumulative individual claims must meet the amount-in-controversy requirement.16 Courts have disfavored aggregation of claims to meet the requisite amount in class actions. …

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