State Corporation Website Insufficient to Establish Citizenship of Corporate Class Members in Pollution Class Action
Striking a blow to plaintiffs trying to remand an action back to state court, the Northern District of Georgia found that office address information from a state’s corporation website is not sufficient to establish citizenship of corporations or partnerships for the purposes of showing class members’ residency under the “local controversy” provision of the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). See Anderson v. King Am. Finishing, Inc., No. 1:11-cv-2258-JEC, (N.D. Ga. Mar. 25, 2013), available atwww.bdlaw.com/assets/attachments/Anderson.pdf.
Plaintiffs, two Georgia residents and a putative class, alleged that King America Finishing, Inc. released a toxic chemical into the Ogeechee River in May 2011, subsequently injuring Plaintiffs’ property and health. Anderson, slip op. at 1–2. After Defendants removed to federal court, Plaintiffs filed a motion to remand back to state court under CAFA’s “local controversy” provision, a three-pronged requirement of which only one was in question—whether two-thirds of the class members are citizens of the state in which the action was originally filed. Id. at 3-5.
To meet this two-thirds residency burden for an alleged class of 932 members, Plaintiffs included as residents 57 corporate class members they determined to be Georgia citizens by cross-referencing tax assessment records to the secretary of state’s corporation website. Id. at 6-7. In finding Plaintiffs failed to meet the residency requirement, the court focused on the 57 corporate entities and ruled that tax and incorporation records proved neither the “principal place of business” of corporations nor the residency of LLC and partnership members. Id. at 9–10. The court also took issue with the Plaintiffs’ methodology for determining that 19 individual class members were Georgia citizens, ruling that affidavits naming Georgia addresses alone are inadequate evidence of residency. Id. at 10. Finally, the court questioned the accuracy of the estimated class size, given the likelihood that more than 932 individuals would fall within the broad net—all those directly or indirectly impacted—cast by Plaintiffs. Id. at 11.