SMITH, Circuit Judge.
The St. Croix Renaissance Group, L.L.L.P. (SCRG) sought leave under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), 28 U.S.C. § 1453(c)(1), to appeal an order of the District Court of the Virgin Islands remanding a civil action to the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands. We granted SCRG's request. Because we conclude that the civil action here is not a removable "mass action" under CAFA, we will affirm the order of the District Court.
In early 2012, "[m]ore than 500 individual plaintiffs" sued SCRG in the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands. On February 2, 2012, SCRG removed the civil action to the District Court of the Virgin Islands. SCRG, which was the only named defendant in the action, asserted that the civil action was a "mass action" under CAFA, making it removable under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(d)(11)(A) and 1453(b).
SCRG purchased a former alumina refinery on the south shore of St. Croix in 2002. The plaintiffs alleged that "[f]or about thirty years, an alumina refinery located near thousands of homes on the
In addition to these hazardous materials, friable asbestos was present. All of the substances described were dispersed by wind and disseminated as a result of erosion.
According to the plaintiffs, SCRG purchased the refinery site knowing that the loose bauxite and piles of red mud "had the propensity for particulate dispersion when exposed to wind" that would be "inhaled by [p]laintiffs, deposited onto [p]laintiffs' persons, and real and personal properties, and deposited into the cisterns that are the primary source of potable water for many [p]laintiffs." Yet SCRG "did nothing to abate it, and instead, allowed the series of the continuous transactions to occur like an ongoing chemical spill." SCRG "failed to take proper measures to control those emissions[.]" With regard to the friable asbestos, the plaintiffs alleged that SCRG discovered its presence, concealed its existence, and did nothing to remove it from the premises. The plaintiffs averred that the improper maintenance of the facility, inadequate storage and containment of the various hazardous substances, as well as failure to remediate the premises, caused them to sustain physical injuries, mental anguish, pain and suffering, medical expenses, damage to their property and possessions, loss of income and the capacity to earn income, and loss of the enjoyment of life.
The plaintiffs asserted six causes of action against SCRG:
In addition to money damages, the plaintiffs sought injunctive relief to end the ongoing release of hazardous substances and to remediate the property.
In October of 2012, the plaintiffs moved to remand their civil action to the Superior Court, claiming that the District Court lacked federal subject-matter jurisdiction. The plaintiffs asserted that the removal had been improper because § 1332(d)(11)(B)(ii)(I) excluded their action from the definition of "mass action." This section of CAFA excludes from "mass action[s]"
SCRG opposed the motion to remand. It argued that the plaintiffs had interpreted the statute to exclude from mass actions claims that arise in "one location" instead of as a result of "an event or occurrence" as set forth in the statute. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(11)(B)(ii)(I). SCRG asserted that the exclusion for "an event or occurrence" did not apply because it requires a single incident and the plaintiffs' complaint alleged that "there were multiple events and occurrences over many years." It emphasized that the exclusion "requires that to avoid removal there had to have been just `an event or occurrence' — a `single' event or occurrence."
On December 7, 2012, the District Court granted the plaintiffs' motion to remand this action to the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands. Abraham v. St. Croix Renaissance Grp., L.L.L.P., No. 12-11, 2012 WL 6098502 (D.Vi. Dec. 7, 2012). The District Court considered several district court decisions that addressed whether an action qualified as a mass action. It noted that the plaintiffs' complaint alleged "continuing environmental damage," and cited a statement from a Senate Report that the purpose of the "event or occurrence" exclusion was "`to allow cases involving environmental torts such as a chemical spill to remain in state court.'" Id. at *3 (quoting S. Rep. 109-14, at 44 (2005), reprinted in 2005 U.S.C.C.A.N. 3, 47 (2005)). The Court reasoned that
Id. The Court then declared that
Id. at *3-4.
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1453(c)(1), a party aggrieved by a district court's ruling on a
The District Court exercised jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(d)(11)(A) and 1453(b). We granted leave to appeal under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(d)(11)(A) and 1453(c)(1).
Under CAFA, § 1453(b) provides for the removal to federal district courts of class actions as defined in § 1332(d)(1). 28 U.S.C. § 1453(b). Consistent with federal practice, once an action has been removed under CAFA, the plaintiff may move to remand. Id. § 1453(c) (applying 28 U.S.C. § 1447, which governs procedures after removal, to removal of class actions). Under traditional federal practice, an order remanding a case to state court is not reviewable. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d). CAFA, however, diverges from traditional federal practice by providing for discretionary appellate review of "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) (emphasis added).
Plaintiffs contend that we lack appellate jurisdiction under § 1453. They assert that the provision in CAFA which permits an appeal of a remand order applies to only "class actions — not mass actions." They point out that § 1453 refers to class actions alone and does not use the term "mass actions." See 28 U.S.C. § 1453(a) (specifying that for purposes of § 1453, "the term ... `class action' ... shall have the meaning given such term under section 1332(d)(1)"). According to plaintiffs, because their civil action does not meet the definition of a removable class action under § 1332(d)(1), we lack appellate jurisdiction.
Plaintiffs' argument fails to acknowledge a critical "deemer" provision in CAFA. While § 1453 makes only certain "class actions" removable and does not use the term "mass action," § 1332(d)(11)(A) states that "[f]or purposes of this subsection [(1332(d)] and section 1453, a mass action shall be deemed to be a class action removable under paragraphs (2) through (10) if it otherwise meets the provisions of those paragraphs." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(11)(A). The plain text of this provision makes § 1453's treatment of "class actions" equally applicable to "mass actions." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(11)(A). See Lowery v. Ala. Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184, 1195 (11th Cir.2007) (noting that the "plain language" of § 1332(d)(11)(A) "makes it clear that any `mass action' is also considered a `class action' for the purposes of CAFA's removal provisions"). And nothing limits that deeming provision to subsection (b), which permits removal. Rather, § 1453's applicability to "mass actions" includes subsection (c), which establishes our discretionary appellate jurisdiction over remand orders. Accordingly, we have appellate jurisdiction under § 1453(c)(1).
The issue in this case is one of statutory interpretation.
28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(11)(B)(ii)(I) (emphasis added). "As in all statutory construction cases, we begin with the language of the statute. The first step `is to determine whether the language at issue has a plain and unambiguous meaning with regard to the particular dispute in the case.'" Barnhart v. Sigmon Coal Co., 534 U.S. 438, 450, 122 S.Ct. 941, 151 L.Ed.2d 908 (2002) (quoting Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U.S. 337, 340, 117 S.Ct. 843, 136 L.Ed.2d 808 (1997)). "When the meaning of statutory text is plain, our inquiry is at an end." Roth v. Norfalco, L.L.C., 651 F.3d 367, 379 (3d Cir.2011).
If the text is "reasonably susceptible of different interpretations," it may be ambiguous. Edwards v. A.H. Cornell and Son, Inc., 610 F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir.2010) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). As the Supreme Court instructed in AT & T Mobility, L.L.C. v. Concepcion, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 1740, 179 L.Ed.2d 742 (2011), when a statute appears to be ambiguous, we must
AT & T Mobility, 131 S.Ct. at 1754. Only if we conclude that a statute is ambiguous, after consideration of the statutory scheme, may we then consider the legislative history or other extrinsic material — and then, only if it "shed[s] a reliable light on the enacting Legislature's understanding of otherwise ambiguous terms." Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 568, 125 S.Ct. 2611, 162 L.Ed.2d 502 (2005) (emphasis added).
SCRG relies heavily on the article "an," which precedes "event or occurrence," and the singular nature of that article. In SCRG's view, this "an" before "event or occurrence" means that the exclusion is not applicable if the complaint alleges injuries that are not the result of a single, discrete incident. In SCRG's view, this means that the exclusion does not apply to the plaintiffs' claims, which are based on a series of incidents resulting in their continued exposure to the hazardous substances. These incidents include the erosion of the red mud containing the various hazardous substances, the dispersion by wind of the same, and the improper storage of and the failure to remove all of these substances from the premises.
SCRG's argument is not completely devoid of merit. Its contention that this statutory language refers to a single incident is semantically consistent with Congress's decision to use the singular form of the words "event" or "occurrence" in the exclusion. See Dunn v. Endoscopy Ctr. of S. Nev., No. 2:11-CV-560, 2011 WL 5509004, at *2 (D.Nev. Nov. 7, 2011) (noting that the statute did not state "events and occurrences," and that the "use of the
But SCRG's reliance on the article "an" does not end the inquiry. We must determine what the phrase "event or occurrence" means. "In the absence of a statutory definition" in the CAFA, we are bound to give the words used their "`ordinary meaning.'" United States v. Diallo, 575 F.3d 252, 256-57 (3d Cir.2009) (quoting Moskal v. United States, 498 U.S. 103, 108, 111 S.Ct. 461, 112 L.Ed.2d 449 (1990) (omitting internal quotation marks and citation)); see also Asgrow Seed Co. v. Winterboer, 513 U.S. 179, 187, 115 S.Ct. 788, 130 L.Ed.2d 682 (1995) ("When terms used in a statute are undefined, we give them their ordinary meaning."); FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 476, 114 S.Ct. 996, 127 L.Ed.2d 308 (1994) ("In the absence of such a definition, we construe the statutory term in accordance with its ordinary or natural meaning."). In common parlance, neither the term "event" nor "occurrence" is used solely to refer to a specific incident that can be definitively limited to an ascertainable period of minutes, hours, or days.
As the District Court explained, the "word event in our view is not always confined to a discrete happening that occurs over a short time span such as a fire, explosion, hurricane, or chemical spill. For example, one can speak of the Civil War as a defining event in American history, even though it took place over a four-year period and involved many battles." Abraham, 2012 WL 6098502, at *3. The Court's construction of the word is consistent with the word's common usage. Important events in history are not always limited to discrete incidents that happened at a specific and precise moment in time.
As further support for this construction, we note that the plain text of the exclusion and the statutory scheme do not delimit the words "event or occurrence" to a specific incident with a fixed duration of time. Because the words "event" and "occurrence" do not commonly or necessarily refer in every instance to what transpired at an isolated moment in time, there is no reason for us to conclude that Congress intended to limit the phrase "event or occurrence" in § 1332(d)(11)(B)(ii)(I) in this fashion. Accordingly, where the record demonstrates circumstances that share some commonality and persist over a period of time, these can constitute "an event or occurrence" for purposes of the exclusion in § 1332(d)(11)(B)(ii)(I).
In short, treating a continuing set of circumstances collectively as an "event or occurrence" for purposes of the mass-action exclusion is consistent with the ordinary usage of these words, which do not necessarily have a temporal limitation. Giving the words "event" or "occurrence" their ordinary meaning is not at odds with the purpose of the statutory scheme of CAFA. Congress clearly contemplated that some mass actions are better suited to adjudication by the state courts in which they originated. This intent is evident in both the "event or occurrence" exclusion for mass actions, as well as the local-controversy and home-state exceptions in
The local-controversy and home-state exceptions for class actions in § 1332(d)(4) and the "event or occurrence" exclusion for mass actions, however, are different creatures entirely. Indeed, in light of the statutory structure of CAFA, the exceptions and the exclusion have to be different because a "mass action," to be removable, must meet the provisions of § 1332(d)(2) through (10). 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(11)(A). This means that to be removable a mass action must present something other than a uniquely local controversy that may not be removed under either the local-controversy or home-state exception in § 1332(d)(4)(A) and (B), respectively. If the mass action complaint pleads neither a local-controversy nor a home-state cause of action under subsection (d)(4), it may be removed unless the "event or occurrence" exclusion in subsection (d)(11)(B)(ii)(I) applies.
It is notable that the local-controversy exception contains broad language instructing a district court to decline to exercise jurisdiction where the "principal injuries resulting from the alleged conduct or any related conduct ... were incurred in the State in which the action was originally filed." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4)(A)(i)(III) (emphasis added). The use of this broad language in the local-controversy exception for class actions and not in the mass-action exclusion might suggest that Congress intended to limit the mass-action exclusion to claims arising from a discrete incident. See Duncan v. Walker, 533 U.S. 167, 173, 121 S.Ct. 2120, 150 L.Ed.2d 251 (2001) (observing that "where Congress includes particular language in one section of a statute but omits it in another section of the same Act, it is generally presumed that Congress acts intentionally and purposely in the disparate inclusion or exclusion" (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)). Because the local-controversy class action exception and the "event or occurrence" exclusion for mass actions are not the same, the broad language in the local-controversy exception in § 1332(d)(4)(A) for class actions does not control our interpretation of the phrase "event or occurrence" in the mass-action exclusion in § 1332(d)(11)(B)(ii)(I). Consequently, the statutory scheme of CAFA does not require limiting the construction of "event or occurrence" to something that happened at a discrete moment in time.
We conclude that the District Court did not err in its interpretation of the "event or occurrence" exclusion in § 1332(d)(11)(B)(ii)(I). Our broad reading of the words "event" and "occurrence" is consistent with their ordinary usage.
In light of our determination that the words "event" or "occurrence" in § 1332(d)(11)(B)(ii)(I) should be given their ordinary meaning, we turn to whether the plaintiffs' complaint falls within this exclusion for mass actions.
The complaint alleges circumstances that persisted over a fixed period of time — specifically, from 2002, when SCRG acquired the former alumina refinery, to the present. These circumstances included: (1) the presence throughout the former refinery site of the red mud and the various hazardous substances that were buried therein; (2) the plaintiffs' continual exposure to the red mud and its particulates as a result of erosion by wind and water; and (3) the persistent failure of SCRG to contain or abate the hazardous substances and to remediate the premises. In short, the condition of the site during the period of SCRG's ownership provided a source for the ongoing emission of the red mud and the hazardous substances and the subsequent dispersion onto the plaintiffs' persons and their property. We believe that
We recognize that multiple substances are alleged to have emanated from SCRG's site. But the complaint does not allow us to isolate a specific substance and trace it to a particular course of action taken by SCRG at a precise point in time. Instead, the complaint alleges that the red mud containing the various hazardous substances was present throughout the site. There are no averments that SCRG removed any of the hazardous substances and thereby heightened the risk of exposure to any particular substance. Nor are there any allegations that SCRG engaged in any manufacturing at the site to increase the emission of any particular substance. There is simply the ongoing emission from the site of the red mud and its hazardous substances. Because we cannot identify separate and discrete incidents causing the emission of the various substances at any precise point in time, we reject SCRG's argument that the plaintiffs' claims arose from multiple events or occurrences.
We agree with the District Court that the complaint was not a removable mass action because "all of the claims in the action arose from an event or occurrence" that happened in the Virgin Islands and that resulted in injuries in the Virgin Islands. Accordingly, the District Court appropriately remanded the plaintiffs' action to the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands.
In sum, we agree with SCRG that the statute excludes from mass actions those civil actions in which all of the claims arise from a single event or occurrence in the state where the action was filed. But the ordinary meaning of the words "event" and "occurrence" is not always limited to something that happened at a particular moment in time. Indeed, "event" and "occurrence" admit of temporal flexibility. For this reason, we find no error in the District Court's conclusion that the "continuous release" of hazardous substances from SCRG's premises constituted "an event or occurrence" for purposes of the mass-action exclusion in § 1332(d)(11)(B)(ii)(I). We will affirm the District Court's order granting the motion to remand.
28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(11)(B)(i). Section 1711(2) defines "class action" as any civil action filed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 or a state statute or rule authorizing a representative action. 28 U.S.C. § 1711(2). Unlike a class action, a mass action has no representative or absent members because all plaintiffs in a mass action are named in the complaint and propose a joint trial of their claims. A mass action is more akin to an optin than it is to a class action. See, e.g., 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) (establishing opt-in requirement for Fair Labor Standards Act claims).