The Eleventh Circuit departed from the approach taken by the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Circuit when it held, in a 2-1 decision, that appellate courts lack jurisdiction to review a district court’s sua sponte order remanding a class action to state court. 

As a general matter, appellate courts lack jurisdiction to review district court orders remanding cases to state court for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.  The Class Action Fairness Act created an exception to this general rule and authorized appellate courts to “accept an appeal from an order of a district court granting or denying a motion to remand a class action to the State court from which it was removed.”  28 U.S.C. § 1453(c)(1).

In Ruhlen v. Holiday Haven Homeowners, Inc., — F.4th —- (2022), 2022 WL 701622 (11th Cir. Mar. 9, 2022), the Eleventh Circuit held § 1453(c)(1) applies when an order remanding a class action is issued in response to a motion to remand, but not when a court sua sponte remands a case.  The majority focused on the text of § 1453(c)(1), finding that the phrase “motion to remand a class action” only applied to motions filed “by a party” and not when a court acts on its own motion or sua sponte.  According to the majority, when a court sua sponte orders a remand, “it is not ‘granting’ its own ‘motion’ within the meaning of § 1453(c)(1)—any more than it would be ‘denying’ its own motion in the absence of such an order.”  2022 WL 701622, at *2.  Judge Rosenbaum dissented, calling the majority’s result a “hypertechnical reading of CAFA” and observing that the Eleventh Circuit had in the past called sua sponte orders by a court ones made “on its own motion.” 

The decision therefore created a circuit split with the Ninth Circuit, which had previously held that CAFA gives appellate courts jurisdiction over sua sponte orders.  See, e.g., Watkins v. Vital Pharms., Inc., 720 F.3d 1179, 1181 (9th Cir. 2013) (holding that Section 1453(c)(1) applies not only to district court orders made in response to a party’s motion but also sua sponte remand orders).  And the Seventh and Eighth Circuits previously reviewed sua sponte remand orders under Section 1453(c)(1).  See Fox v. Dakkota Integrated Sys., LLC, 980 F.3d 1146, 1151 (7th Cir. 2020); Dalton v. Walgreen Co., 721 F.3d 492, 494 (8th Cir. 2013).  Defendants in the Eleventh Circuit thus face the possibility of an asymmetrical outcome:  they can obtain appellate review of an order remanding a class action if a plaintiff identifies a basis for remand, but not if the district court does so sua sponte.