NOTICE: This opinion is subject to
formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the
United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the
Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States,
Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal
errors, in order that corrections may be made before the
preliminary print goes to press.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
THE STANDARD FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY,
on writ of certiorari to the united states
court of appeals for the eighth circuit
[March 19, 2013]
Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the
The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA)
provides that the federal “district courts shall have
original jurisdiction” over a civil “class
action” if, among other things, the “matter in
controversy exceeds the sum or value of $5,000,000.” 28
U. S. C. §§1332(d)(2), (5). The statute adds
that “to determine whether the matter in controversy exceeds
the sum or value of $5,000,000,” the “claims of the
individual class members shall be aggregated.”
The question presented concerns a class-action
plaintiff who stipulates, prior to certification of the class, that
he, and the class he seeks to represent, will not seek damages that
exceed $5 million in total. Does that stipulation remove the case
from CAFA’s scope? In our view, it does not.
In April 2011 respondent, Greg Knowles, filed
this proposed class action in an Arkansas state court against
petitioner, the Standard Fire Insurance Company. Knowles claimed
that, when the company had made certain homeowner’s insurance
loss payments, it had un-lawfully failed to include a general
contractor fee. And Knowles sought to certify a class of
“hundreds, and pos-sibly thousands” of similarly harmed
Arkansas policyholders. App. to Pet. for Cert. 66. In describing
the relief sought, the complaint says that the “Plaintiff and
Class stipulate they will seek to recover total aggregate damages
of less than five million dollars.” Id.
, at 60. An
attached affidavit stipulates that Knowles “will not at any
time during this case . . . seek damages for the class
. . . in excess of $5,000,000 in the aggregate.”
, at 75.
On May 18, 2011, the company, pointing to
CAFA’s jurisdictional provision, removed the case to Federal
District Court. See 28 U. S. C. §1332(d);
§1453. Knowles argued for remand on the ground that the
District Court lacked jurisdiction. He claimed that the “sum
or value” of the “amount in controversy” fell
beneath the $5 million threshold. App. to Pet. for Cert. 2. On the
basis of evidence presented by the company, the District Court
found that that the “sum or value” of the “amount
in contro-versy” would, in the absence of the stipulation,
have fallen just above the $5 million threshold. Id.,
8. Nonetheless, in light of Knowles’ stipulation, the court
concluded that the amount fell beneath the threshold. The court
con-sequently ordered the case remanded to the state court.
The company appealed from the remand order, but
the Eighth Circuit declined to hear the appeal. Id.
, at 1.
See 28 U. S. C. §1453(c)(1) (2006 ed., Supp. V) (providing
discretion to hear an appeal from a remand order). The company
petitioned for a writ of certiorari. And, in light of divergent
views in the lower courts, we granted the writ. Compare
v. Hartford Underwriters Ins. Co.
, 683 F.3d
1242, 1247 (CA10 2012) (a proposed class-action
representative’s “attempt to limit damages in the
complaint is not dispositive when determining the amount in
controversy”); with Rolwing
v. Nestle Holdings,
, 666 F.3d 1069, 1072 (CA8 2012) (a precertification
“binding stipulation limiting damages sought to an amount not
exceeding $5 million can be used to defeat CAFA
CAFA provides the federal district courts with
“original jurisdiction” to hear a “class
action” if the class has more than 100 members, the parties
are minimally diverse, and the “matter in controversy exceeds
the sum or value of $5,000,000.” 28 U. S. C.
§§1332(d)(2), (5)(B). To “determine whether the
matter in controversy” exceeds that sum, “the claims of
the individual class members shall be aggregated.”
§1332(d)(6). And those “class members” include
“persons (named or unnamed) who fall within the definition of
or certified class.” §1332(d) (1)(D)
As applied here, the statute tells the District
Court to determine whether it has jurisdiction by adding up the
value of the claim of each person who falls within the definition
of Knowles’ proposed class and determine whether the
resulting sum exceeds $5 million. If so, there is jurisdiction and
the court may proceed with the case. The District Court in this
case found that resulting sum would have exceeded $5 million but
the stipulation. And we must decide whether the stipulation
makes a critical difference.
In our view, it does not. Our reason is a simple
one: Stipulations must be binding. See 9 J. Wigmore, Evidence
§2588, p. 821 (J. Chadbourn rev. 1981) (defining a
“judicial admission or stipulation” as an
“express waiver made . . . by the party or his
attorney conceding for the purposes of the trial the truth of some
alleged fact” (emphasis deleted)); Christian Legal Soc.
Chapter of Univ. of Cal., Hast- ings College of Law
, 561 U. S. ___, ___ (2010) (slip op., at 10)
(describing a stipulation as “ ‘binding and
conclusive’ ” and “ ‘not subject
to subsequent variation’ ” (quoting 83
C. J. S., Stipulations §93 (2000))); 9 Wigmore,
, §2590, at 822 (the “vital feature”
of a judicial admission is “universally conceded to be its
upon the party making it”). The
stipulation Knowles prof-fered to the District Court, however, does
not speak for those he purports to represent.
That is because a plaintiff who files a proposed
class action cannot legally bind members of the proposed class
before the class is certified. See Smith
, 564 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 15)
(“Neither a proposed class action nor a rejected class action
may bind nonparties”); id.
, at ___ (slip op., at 13)
(“ ‘[A] nonnamed class member is [not] a party to
the class-action litigation before the class is
’ ” (quoting Devlin
, 536 U.S.
, 16, n. 1 (2002) (Scalia, J., dissenting))); Brief for
Respondent 12 (conceding that “a damages limitation
. . . cannot have a binding effect on the merits of
absent class members’ claims unless and until the class is
Because his precertification stipulation does
not bind anyone but himself, Knowles has not reduced the value of
the putative class members’ claims. For jurisdictional
purposes, our inquiry is limited to examining the case “as of
the time it was filed in state court,” Wisconsin Dept. of
, 524 U.S.
, 390 (1998). At that point, Knowles lacked the authority to
concede the amount-in-controversy issue for the absent class
members. The Federal District Court, therefore, wrongly concluded
that Knowles’ precertification stipulation could overcome its
finding that the CAFA jurisdictional threshold had been met.
Knowles concedes that “[f]ederal
jurisdiction cannot be based on contingent future events.”
Brief for Respondent 20. Yet the two legal principles to which we
have just referred—that stipulations must be binding and that
a named plaintiff cannot bind precertification class
members—mean that the amount to which Knowles has stipulated
is in effect contingent.
If, for example, as Knowles’ complaint
asserts, “hundreds, and possibly thousands” of persons
in Arkansas have similar claims, App. to Pet. for Cert. 66, and if
each of those claims places a significant sum in controversy, the
state court might certify the class and permit the case to proceed,
but only on the condition that the stipulation be excised. Or a
court might find that Knowles is an inadequate representative due
to the artificial cap he purports to impose on the class’
, Back Doctors Ltd.
Property & Cas. Ins. Co.
, 637 F.3d 827, 830–831 (CA7
2011) (noting a class representative’s fiduciary duty not to
“throw away what could be a major component of the
class’s recovery”). Similarly, another class mem- ber
could intervene with an amended complaint (without a stipulation),
and the District Court might permit the action to proceed with a
new representative. See 5 A. Conte & H. Newberg, Class Actions
§16:7, p. 154 (4th ed. 2002) (“[M]embers of a class
have a right to intervene if their interests are not adequately
represented by existing parties”). Even were these
possibilities remote in Knowles’ own case, there is no reason
to think them farfetched in other cases where similar stipulations
could have more dramatic amount-lowering effects.
The strongest counterargument, we believe, takes
a syl-logistic form: First, this
complaint contains a
presently nonbinding stipulation that the class will seek damages
that amount to less than $5 million. Second, if the state court
eventually certifies that class, the stipulation will bind those
who choose to remain as class members. Third, if the state court
eventually insists upon modification of the stipulation (thereby
permitting class members to obtain more than $5 million), it will
have in effect created a new, different
case. Fourth, CAFA,
however, permits the federal court to consider only the complaint
that the plaintiff has filed, i.e., this
complaint, not a
new, modified (or amended) complaint that might eventually
Our problem with this argument lies in its
conclusion. We do not agree that CAFA forbids the federal court to
consider, for purposes of determining the amount in controversy,
the very real possibility that a nonbinding, amount-limiting,
stipulation may not survive the class certification process. This
potential outcome does not re-sult in the creation of a new case
not now before the federal court. To hold otherwise would, for CAFA
jurisdictional purposes, treat a nonbinding stipulation as if it
were binding, exalt form over substance, and run directly counter
to CAFA’s primary objective: ensuring “Federal court
consideration of interstate cases of national impor-tance.”
§2(b)(2), 119Stat. 5. It would also have the ef- fect of
allowing the subdivision of a $100 million action into 21
just-below-$5-million state-court actions simply by including
nonbinding stipulations; such an outcome would squarely conflict
with the statute’s objective.
We agree with Knowles that a federal district
court might find it simpler to value the amount in controversy on
the basis of a stipulation than to aggregate the value of the
individual claims of all who meet the class description. We also
agree that, when judges must decide jurisdictional matters,
simplicity is a virtue. See Hertz Corp.
, 94 (2010). But to ignore a nonbinding stipulation does no
more than require the federal judge to do what she must do in cases
without a stipulation and what the statute requires, namely
“aggregat[e]” the “claims of the individual class
members.” 28 U. S. C. §1332(d)(6).
Knowles also points out that federal courts
permit individual plaintiffs, who are the masters of their
complaints, to avoid removal to federal court, and to obtain a
remand to state court, by stipulating to amounts at issue that fall
below the federal jurisdictional requirement. That is so. See
St. Paul Mercury Indemnity Co.
v. Red Cab Co.
, 294 (1938) (“If [a plaintiff] does not desire to try
his case in the federal court he may resort to the expedi-ent of
suing for less than the jurisdictional amount, and though he would
be justly entitled to more, the defendant cannot remove”).
But the key characteristic about those stipulations is that they
are legally binding on all plaintiffs. See 14AA C. Wright, A.
Miller, & E. Cooper, Fed-eral Practice and Procedure
§3702.1, p. 335 (4th ed. 2011) (federal court, as
condition for remand, can insist on a “binding
affidavit or stipulation that the plaintiff will continue to claim
less than the jurisdictional amount” (em-phasis added)). That
essential feature is missing here, as Knowles cannot yet bind the
Knowles argues in the alternative that a
stipulation is binding to the extent it limits attorney’s
fees so that the amount in controversy remains below the CAFA
threshold. We do not consider this issue because Knowles’
stipulation did not provide for that option.
In sum, the stipulation at issue here can tie
Knowles’ hands, but it does not resolve the
amount-in-controversy question in light of his inability to bind
the rest of the class. For this reason, we believe the District
Court, when following the statute to aggregate the proposed class
members’ claims, should have ignored that stipulation.
Because it did not, we vacate the judgment below and remand the
case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered