Class action against Denka Performance Elastomer returns to state court

By Charmaine Little | Nov 5, 2018

On Oct. 15, the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana granted a class action’s motion to remand the case back to state court but denied the class’ request for attorney’s fees and legal costs associated with a previous removal.

The plaintiffs make up a class represented by Larry Sorapuru Jr., who sued Denka Performance Elastomer LLC and E.I. DuPont De Nemours. The defendants had already been called out for their alleged excessive emissions of the dangerous toxin choloroprene. The members of the class live in St. John the Baptist Parish. They sued for damages in the 40th Judicial District for St. John the Baptist Parish. In their lawsuit, they filed a binding pre-removal stipulation that says they wouldn’t accept or try to get more than $50,000 in a judgment award.

The defendants removed the case to the current court because of diversity of citizenship jurisdiction. The plaintiffs then wanted to remand the case back to state court, claiming the current court doesn’t have subject matter jurisdiction. While neither side challenged the diversity, the main question is if the plaintiffs are bound to stick to a recovery amount of less than $75,000. Under the stipulation, they can’t request damages for more than $50,000. 

While the defendants said the stipulation only concerns damages and not equitable relief (and that the plaintiffs haven’t taken into consideration any injunctive relief they could get), the court decided the plaintiffs can prove that recovery doesn’t exceed the $75,000 limit. “The plaintiffs contend that their stipulations are broad enough and sufficiently binding to include limitations on both monetary damages and injunctive relief in excess of $75,000. The court agrees,” the opinion read.

The defendants also said this court has jurisdiction since the plaintiffs depend on the EPA’s chloroprene standards to prove their case. Still, the plaintiffs said this doesn’t concern federal law since EPA policies aren’t actual laws. As for the court, it pointed out the plaintiffs never depend on any federal laws or policies in the lawsuit, and state law claims don’t always subsequently lead to a federal issue. Considering that, it determined it doesn’t have jurisdiction and granted the plaintiffs’ motion to remand.

Still, the court denied the plaintiffs’ ask for fees and costs associated with the removal. It said it believes the defendants didn’t remove the case in bad faith and that they didn’t fail to provide a standing for its removal.

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