Toxin Free USA v. J.M. Smucker Co., No. 20-cv-1013 (DLF)

CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia
Writing for the CourtDABNEY L. FRIEDRICH, United States District Judge
Citation507 F.Supp.3d 40
Parties TOXIN FREE USA, Plaintiff, v. The J.M. SMUCKER COMPANY, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date30 November 2020
Docket NumberNo. 20-cv-1013 (DLF)

507 F.Supp.3d 40

TOXIN FREE USA, Plaintiff,
v.
The J.M. SMUCKER COMPANY, et al., Defendants.

No. 20-cv-1013 (DLF)

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Signed November 30, 2020


507 F.Supp.3d 42

Kim E. Richman, Richman Law Group, New York, NY, for Plaintiff.

Ronald Y. Rothstein, Pro Hac Vice, Nathan R. Gilbert, Pro Hac Vice, Sean H. Suber, Pro Hac Vice, Kevin B. Goldstein, Winston & Strawn LLP, Chicago, IL, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DABNEY L. FRIEDRICH, United States District Judge

Toxin Free USA ("Toxin Free") initially brought this action against The J.M. Smucker Company and Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, LLC (collectively, "the defendants") in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, alleging violations of the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act ("DCCPPA"). The defendants removed the case to this Court. Before the Court is Toxin Free's Motion to Remand and request for fees and costs, Dkt. 14, and the defendants’ Conditional Motion for Fees and Costs in the Event of

507 F.Supp.3d 43

a Remand, Dkt. 16. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the motion to remand but will decline to award either party fees and costs.

I. BACKGROUND

Toxin Free is a nonprofit organization that promotes "clean and healthy food and ecological systems." Compl. ¶ 14, Dkt. 1-2. It alleges that the defendants are misleading the public by representing that their pet food products are "natural" and contain no artificial preservatives. See id. ¶ 6. Invoking the DCCPPA's private attorney general provisions, Toxin Free contends that these alleged misrepresentations constitute a deceptive trade practice, and it seeks injunctive relief on "behalf of itself and the general public of the District of Columbia." Id. ¶¶ 9, 25, 72; see also id. at 18.

On May 14, 2019, Toxin Free filed this action in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. Notice of Removal ¶ 2, Dkt. 1. Following the Superior Court's November 6, 2019 decision denying the defendants’ motion to dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Superior Court Rules of Procedure, the parties conferred. See Notice of Removal ¶¶ 16–17. Based on these discussions, and because the complaint did not contain any class allegations as required by D.C. Superior Court Rule of Civil Procedure 23, the defendants understood that this case was not a class action. Id. ¶ 17.

Months later, however, on March 18, 2020, Toxin Free served two discovery requests on the defendants seeking "all documents" that the defendants intended to use "in connection with its opposition to class certification." Id. ¶ 18. Interpreting these requests to be statements of Toxin Free's "clear intent to move for class certification," the defendants removed this case to federal court. Id. ¶¶ 1, 19.

After receiving the defendants’ notice of removal, Toxin Free sent a letter to the defendants explaining that the reference to class certification in its discovery requests was the product of a clerical error. See Pl.’s Ex. C, Dkt. 14-5. It also attached a declaration from its counsel attesting that Toxin Free "has not brought this lawsuit as a class action" and that it "will not, at any time or under any circumstances seek Rule 23 class certification in this action." Pl.’s Ex. A ¶ 3, Dkt. 14-3; see also Richman Decl. ¶ 5, Dkt. 14-2. Toxin Free asked the defendants to withdraw their notice of removal or consent to remand, see Pl.’s Ex. C, Dkt. 14-5, but the defendants declined, Richman Decl. ¶ 8.

Thereafter, on May 15, 2020, Toxin Free filed the instant motion to remand. Dkt. 14. On June 5, 2020, the defendants filed a conditional motion for fees and costs in the event of a remand. Dkt. 16.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

"Ordinarily, the plaintiff is entitled to select the forum in which he wishes to proceed." Araya v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. , 775 F.3d 409, 413 (D.C. Cir. 2014). But a defendant may remove a civil action filed in state court to a federal district court that has original subject matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The removing party bears the burden of showing that removal is proper. Walter E. Campbell Co. v. Hartford Fin. Servs. Grp., Inc. , 48 F. Supp. 3d 53, 55 (D.D.C. 2014). If the removing party fails to make such a showing, the court must remand the case. Animal Legal Def. Fund v. Hormel Foods Corp. , 249 F. Supp. 3d 53, 56 (D.D.C. 2017).

Generally, when assessing a remand motion, "[c]ourts must strictly construe removal statutes, resolving any ambiguities regarding the existence of

507 F.Supp.3d 44

removal jurisdiction in favor of remand." Smith v. Hendricks , 140 F. Supp. 3d 66, 70 (D.D.C. 2015) (citing Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets , 313 U.S. 100, 107–09, 61 S.Ct. 868, 85 L.Ed. 1214 (1941) ); see also Steward v. Goldman Sachs Mortg. Co. , 206 F. Supp. 3d 131, 134 (D.D.C. 2016) ("Any uncertainty about the existence of subject matter jurisdiction should be resolved in favor of remand."). But this "antiremoval presumption" does not apply to cases invoking the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA"), Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens , 574 U.S. 81, 89, 135 S.Ct. 547, 190 L.Ed.2d 495 (2014), which was designed to "facilitate federal consideration of certain class actions," Doe v. Georgetown Synagogue-Kesher Israel Congregation , 118 F. Supp. 3d 88, 92 (D.D.C. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted). Nevertheless, even in CAFA cases, the removing party "bears the burden of establishing the Court's jurisdiction." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

III. ANALYSIS

The defendants assert two separate bases for subject matter jurisdiction. First, the defendants argue that the Court has jurisdiction under CAFA because this case qualifies as a class action. Defs.’ Opp'n at 9, Dkt. 15. Alternatively, the defendants invoke the Court's diversity jurisdiction. Id. at 31.

A. Removability Under the Class Action Fairness Act

"CAFA gives federal courts jurisdiction over certain class actions," Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. , 574 U.S. at 84, 135 S.Ct. 547, and defines a "class action" as "any civil action filed under rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or similar State statute or rule of judicial procedure authorizing an action to be brought by 1 or more representative persons as a class action," 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(1)(B). Whether an action falls within the class action definition of CAFA depends on "how the action was actually filed." Zuckman v. Monster Beverage Corp. , 958 F. Supp. 2d 293, 305 (D.D.C. 2013).

Toxin Free filed this action pursuant to two subsections of the DCCPPA's private attorney general provision, D.C. Code § 28-3905(k)(1). See Compl. ¶¶ 86–87, 90–93. The first, § 28-3905(k)(1)(C), permits a "nonprofit organization" to bring a DCCPPA action "on behalf of itself or any of its members, or any such behalf and on behalf of the general public." The second, § 28-3905(k)(1)(D), permits a "public interest organization" to bring a DCCPPA action "on behalf of the interests of a consumer or a class of consumers."

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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • November 30, 2020
    ...But Plaintiffs’ arguments about the detention-placement policy that DHS has adopted cannot be squared with the manifest purpose of the 507 F.Supp.3d 40 expedited removal scheme, which is to authorize the agency that administers the federal government's immigration laws to make efficient dis......
  • Earth Island Inst. v. The Coca-Cola Co., Civil Action 21-1926 (PLF)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • March 24, 2022
    ...377 (1994). “If the removing party fails to make such a showing, the court must remand the case.” Toxin Free USA v. J.M. Smucker Co., 507 F.Supp.3d 40, 43 (D.D.C. 2020). In actions for injunctive relief, the amount in controversy requirement is calculated based on “‘the value of the right t......
  • Earth Island Inst. v. Bluetriton Brands, Civil Action 21-2659 (JEB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • January 27, 2022
    ...under the CPPA's private-attorney-general provision, D.C. Code § 28-3905(k). Id., ¶ 137; see Toxin Free USA v. J.M. Smucker Co., 507 F.Supp.3d 40, 43-45 (D.D.C. 2020) (discussing such provision). Plaintiff's Prayer for Relief seeks the following: A. a declaration that Blue Triton's conduct ......
3 cases
  • Las Ams. Immigrant Advocacy Ctr. v. Wolf, No. 19-cv-3640 (KBJ)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • November 30, 2020
    ...But Plaintiffs’ arguments about the detention-placement policy that DHS has adopted cannot be squared with the manifest purpose of the 507 F.Supp.3d 40 expedited removal scheme, which is to authorize the agency that administers the federal government's immigration laws to make efficient dis......
  • Earth Island Inst. v. The Coca-Cola Co., Civil Action 21-1926 (PLF)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • March 24, 2022
    ...377 (1994). “If the removing party fails to make such a showing, the court must remand the case.” Toxin Free USA v. J.M. Smucker Co., 507 F.Supp.3d 40, 43 (D.D.C. 2020). In actions for injunctive relief, the amount in controversy requirement is calculated based on “‘the value of the right t......
  • Earth Island Inst. v. Bluetriton Brands, Civil Action 21-2659 (JEB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • January 27, 2022
    ...under the CPPA's private-attorney-general provision, D.C. Code § 28-3905(k). Id., ¶ 137; see Toxin Free USA v. J.M. Smucker Co., 507 F.Supp.3d 40, 43-45 (D.D.C. 2020) (discussing such provision). Plaintiff's Prayer for Relief seeks the following: A. a declaration that Blue Triton's conduct ......

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