United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
RICHARD WATSON and DAVID CLARY, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
PRESTIGE DELIVERY SYSTEMS, INC., et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
BISSOON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is a Motion to Remand filed by Plaintiffs
Richard Watson and David Clary (“Plaintiffs”)
(Doc. 7). For the reasons stated below, the
Court will GRANT Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand
(Doc. 7) and REMAND this action to Court of
Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. However, the
Court will DENY Plaintiffs' request for attorneys'
fees and costs under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).
September 11, 2009, Plaintiff Richard Watson filed a class
action complaint against Defendants Prestige and NICA in the
Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. (See
Compl. (Doc. 7-3)). Over the course of the litigation,
Plaintiffs amended the complaint three times. (See
Doc. 7-3; Am. Compl. (Doc. 7-6); Second Am. Compl. (Doc.
7-4); Third Am. Compl. (Doc. 7-7); Fourth Am. Compl. (Doc.
7-5)). The operative complaint is the Fourth Amended
Complaint, filed by Plaintiffs on February 27, 2012. (Doc.
7-5). Each iteration of the complaint contains an allegation
that defines the class as including: all Pennsylvania
residents who worked for Prestige Delivery Systems as package
pick-up and delivery drivers in Pennsylvania, and who were
designated by Defendants as independent contractors
“during the period September 10, 2006 to the
present.” (Doc. 7-3 ¶ 55; Doc. 7-6 ¶ 59;
Doc. 7-4 ¶ 77; Doc. 7-7 ¶ 77; Doc. 7-5 ¶ 83)
(emphasis added). Furthermore, each iteration of the
complaint (with the exception of the original complaint),
contains a provision stating that “the value of the
matter in controversy does not exceed $5, 000, 000.”
(Doc. 7-6 ¶ 70; Doc. 7-4 ¶ 88; Doc. 7-7 ¶ 88;
Doc. 7-5 ¶ 94).
6, 2013, Plaintiffs moved for class certification. (State
Court Docket (Doc. 7-8)). In their Motion for Class
Certification, Plaintiffs explicitly sought certification of
a class including all Prestige drivers from September 10,
2006 to the present, as well as a subclass of drivers who
worked for Prestige while Prestige was under contract with
NICA from 2006 to 2009. (Motion for Class Certification (Doc.
7-17), ¶¶ 1, 12). In its brief in opposition to the
Motion for Class Certification, Prestige acknowledged that
Plaintiffs were seeking to certify a class of drivers from
2006 to the present, though it disputed that Plaintiffs had
clearly delineated the class period in their complaints.
(See, e.g., Prestige's May 13, 2015
Reply to Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification (Doc.
7-32) at 18) (“For nearly a year, Plaintiffs have clung
to the argument that the class, if certified, extends from
2006 to the present.”)).
March 24, 2016, the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County
granted Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification as to
Counts II and V of the Fourth Amended Complaint.
(See Class Certification Order (Doc. 7-13) at
19-20). Consistent with Plaintiffs' class definition in
every iteration of the complaint, the state court defined the
class as “all persons who are or were Pennsylvania
residents who worked for Prestige Delivery Systems, Inc., as
package pick-up and delivery drivers in Pennsylvania for one
week or more, and who were designated by defendants as
‘independent contractors' during the period of
September 10, 2006 to the present.” (Id. at
19). Thereafter, Prestige filed several motions, purportedly
“[s]eeking clarification [of the March 24, 2016 Order
regarding whether] . . . the class was now expanded beyond
March 15, 2009.” (Notice of Removal (Doc. 1) ¶ 21;
Doc. 1-12 at 4-22).
November 7, 2016, the Court of Common Pleas issued an order
denying reconsideration. (Doc. 1-12 at 463). Less than one
month later, on December 6, 2016, Prestige filed its Notice
of Removal. (Doc. 1). Prestige asserts that this Court has
jurisdiction over this case under the Class Action Fairness
Act (“CAFA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d) because
the amount of damages in dispute now exceeds $5 million.
(Id. ¶¶ 32, 36). Prestige claims that its
Notice of Removal was timely, because it was filed within
thirty days of the state court's November 7, 2016 Order
Denying Reconsideration. Prestige argues that the November 7,
2016 Order “had the determinative effect of expanding
the class from approximately three (3) years to at least ten
(10) years, ” and that “[b]ased on the even most
rudimentary and minimalist damages estimates, as this is now
a 10 year class, there is no factual or logical way for the
potential damages to be under $5, 000, 000.” (Doc. 1
filed the instant motion to remand on January 5, 2017.
Although Plaintiffs do not contest that federal jurisdiction
exists under CAFA, they argue that Prestige's removal of
this action was untimely. In addition, Plaintiffs request
payment of attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1447(c).
Prestige's Notice of Removal Was Untimely
assert that Prestige failed to remove this action to federal
court within the 30 day period prescribed by 28 U.S.C. §
1446(b). Under Section 1446, a notice of removal must be
filed “within 30 days after the receipt by the
defendant . . . of a copy of the initial pleading setting
forth the claim for relief upon which such action or
proceeding is based.” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(1). If
the case is initially not removable, however, a notice of
removal “may be filed within 30 days after receipt by
the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of an
amended pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it
may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has
become removable.” Id. § 1446(b)(3)
(emphasis added). Although Section 1446(b) does not define
“other paper, ” the statute is clear “that
the time for removal begins to run when the defendant
receives the requisite written notice of facts which make the
case removable.” Broderick v. Dellasandro, 859
F.Supp. 176, 178 (E.D. Pa. 1994).
Notice of Removal, Prestige claims that it was not on notice
that the putative class period ran from 2006 to the present,
and thus was not aware that the amount in controversy
exceeded $5 million, until the Court of Common Pleas denied
reconsideration and entered a final class certification order
on November 7, 2016. (See Doc. 1 ¶¶
18-31). But the record clearly belies Prestige's claim.
As Plaintiffs assert in their Motion to Remand, each and
every iteration of the complaint, including the Fourth
Amended Complaint, defines the class as extending from
“September 10, 2006 to the present.” (Doc. 7-3
¶ 55; Doc. 7-6 ¶ 59; Doc. 7-4 ¶ 77; Doc. 7-7
¶ 77; Doc. 7-5 ¶ 83). Furthermore, Plaintiffs'
Motion for Class Certification, filed in 2013, explicitly
sought certification of a class of Prestige drivers from
September 10, 2006 to the present. (Doc. 7-17 ¶¶ 1,
12). These litigation documents put Prestige on notice that
the class period extended from 2006 to the present. Indeed,
in briefing filed in 2015, Prestige acknowledged as much,
stating: “For nearly a year, Plaintiffs have
clung to the argument that the class, if certified, extends
from 2006 to the present.” (Doc. 7-32 at 18) (emphasis
added). Accordingly, the record in this case indisputably
demonstrates that Prestige knew that the class period ran
from 2006 to the present long before it filed its Notice of
nonetheless argues that it could not have known that the case
was removable under CAFA because the state court complaints
expressly provided that the amount in controversy was less
than $5 million. (Prestige's Brief in Opposition to
Motion to Remand (Doc. 13) at 2) (“In particular, the
entire argument of the Plaintiffs in support of their motion
for remand is that Prestige “could have, should
have” known (or guessed) that the damages were above
$5, 000, 000, even though the Plaintiffs had filed a verified
pleading specifically stating that the damages were
under $5, 000, 000.”). The Court, however,
attaches no significance to Plaintiffs' assertions in
their complaints that the amount in controversy is less than
$5 million. As the United States Supreme Court held in
Standard Fire Insurance Co. v. Knowles, 133 S.Ct.
1345 (2013), this type of pre- certification stipulation in a
complaint does not, by itself, take a case outside CAFA's
scope, because the stipulation can bind only the named
plaintiff and not the entire proposed class. Id. at
1348-50. Thus, Prestige should have known (at least after the
Supreme Court issued the Knowles decision in 2013)
that Plaintiffs' allegations regarding the jurisdictional
amount in controversy were not binding. In any event,
even if the complaints did not, on their face, demonstrate
removability, other litigation documents filed over the
course of this seven-year litigation clearly put Prestige on
notice that the amount in controversy exceeded $5 million. As
noted, Prestige acknowledged in briefing filed in 2015 that,
for over a year, Plaintiffs had expressed their intent to
certify a class extending from 2006 to the present. (Doc.7-32
at 18). Prestige also conceded in its Notice of Removal that,
as soon as it was on notice that Plaintiffs sought to certify
a class extending from 2006 to the present, it knew that the