The Class Action Fairness Act permits removal of lawsuits brought under state-law rules similar to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23.  A court in the Northern District of California recently denied a motion to remand even though the complaint did not reference California Code of Civil Procedure section 382, California’s Rule 23 analogue.  See Pac. Coast Fed’n of Fishermen’s Associations, Inc. v. Chevron Corp., No. 18-CV-07477-VC, 2023 WL 7299195 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 1, 2023).  The ruling underscores that in the Ninth Circuit, “the CAFA removal inquiry focuses on the complaint’s substance, not formal labels and allegations.”  Id. at *2.

The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations filed a lawsuit on its own behalf and “in a representative capacity on behalf of its members and the west coast fishing community.”  Id. at *1.  Defendants removed the case to federal court pursuant to CAFA and plaintiff moved to remand, arguing that it had not invoked section 382.

The court denied the motion.  It viewed the case as a logical extension of Canela v. Costco Wholesale Corporation, 971 F.3d 845, 854-55 (9th Cir. 2020), in which the Ninth Circuit held that a Private Attorneys General Act claim is not removable under CAFA, even if the complaint is styled as a class action.  Here, the district court reasoned that “the Federation filed a lawsuit that could be brought only as a section 382 representative action, seeking relief that could only be obtained in a section 382 action.  The lawsuit did not avoid becoming a section 382 action just because the Federation never cited section 382 or alleged it had satisfied section 382’s requirements.”  Pac. Coast, 2023 WL 7299195, at *2.

The case serves as a reminder that defendants in the Ninth Circuit should evaluate CAFA removability based on the substance of the complaint, not its form.