A number of courts recently have weighed in on a question we’ve blogged before—whether lawsuits by state attorneys general seeking restitution on behalf of private citizens are subject to removal under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (pdf) (“CAFA”). These rulings have broad implications for the litigation of these quasi-class actions.  They also are of substantial importance to determining whether securities fraud actions filed by state attorneys general are precluded by the federal Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (pdf) (“SLUSA”).
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Some academics and commentators have been reading the tea leaves in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes (pdf) and AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion (pdf) as spelling doom for consumer and employment class actions. That’s overwrought; Dukes rejected an extremely adventuresome application of the class action rules by the Ninth Circuit, and Concepcion merely reminded courts that they can’t get around the Federal Arbitration Act by insisting that arbitration agreements permit expensive aspects of judicial litigation that are completely alien to arbitration in its traditional form. The continuing flood of class action filings is proof that the spigot hasn’t been shut off. But companies should pay attention to where the plaintiffs’ bar thinks they should move next if filing class actions stops being a viable business model.

In a recent article—After Class: Aggregate Litigation in the Wake of AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion (pdf), 79 U. Chi. L. Rev. 623 (2012)—law professor Myriam Gilles and plaintiffs’ lawyer Gary Friedman shine the spotlight on state attorneys general:

In our view, the “private attorney general” role assumed by class action lawyers over the past several decades should give way to a world in which state attorneys general make broad use of their parens patriae authority—far greater use than they have in the past—to represent the interests of their citizens in the very consumer, antitrust, wage-and-hour, and other cases that have long provided the staple of class action practice.

And to tackle complex cases, we would hope to see underfunded AG offices making use of the lawyers who have acquired expertise in originating, investigating, and prosecuting class actions, as well as financing them.

The linchpin of this strategy is, of course, the money. If a state AG can’t give the deputized class action lawyers a big chunk of the money recovered for citizens, the model falls apart. Of course, money was one of the main problems with the biggest experiment with deputizing private lawyers as state AGs—the states’ lawsuits against the tobacco industry. Then-Texas AG Dan Morales was sentenced to four years in prison for attempting to steer millions of dollars from the proceeds of the tobacco settlement to a Houston lawyer.

So what should businesses do if they face one of these parens patriae lawsuits from a faux “acting AG”? Here are a few thoughts:
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This morning I attended the oral argument before the Supreme Court in Standard Fire Insurance Co. v. Knowles, the first major case in which the Court will address the provisions of the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA).   For class-action lawyers on both sides, this case has been seven years in the making.   From where I sat, today’s arguments did not disappoint.

In a nutshell, the issue in Standard Fire is whether a named plaintiff may avoid removal to federal court of a putative class action that would otherwise satisfy CAFA’s $5 million amount-in-controversy requirement by stipulating that he or she does not seek to recover more than $5 million.  If the stipulation tactic were permissible, plaintiffs’ lawyers could avoid removal of class actions to federal court with ease.  That would allow a widespread evasion of CAFA, which was enacted in response to the massive abuse of the class-action device by a number of “magnet” state courts that were (and remain) hostile to out-of-state defendants.  (For a more extensive preview of the case, please see our earlier post.)

The oral argument (transcript (pdf)) focused on two disputed questions.


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The first step in defending a class action filed in state court is to check whether it may be removed to federal court. To some, removal may seem hopeless if the plaintiff asserts only state-law claims and the amount of potential actual damages at stake appears to be well below the $5 million amount-in-controversy threshold

The first question my colleagues and I ask when a client has been sued in a class action in state court is whether the case can be removed to federal court. Often, the only ticket out of state court is the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (“CAFA”), which authorizes removal of certain mass and