Abraham v. St. Croix Renaissance Group
This case involves a Class Action Fairness Act question of first impression: when can toxic tort cases limited to locations within a single state can be removed to federal court?
Abraham was brought in Virgin Islands court by over 450 residents of the island of St. Croix against St. Croix Renaissance Group (SCRG), the owner of a defunct alumina refinery located on the island. The plaintiffs alleged that the owner’s failure to properly store/secure piles of toxic industrial byproduct on the site over a period of 10 years resulted in personal injury and property damage.
SCRG had sought to remove the case to federal court as a “mass action” under CAFA. The federal district court remanded the case to local court, and the owner appealed. For the plaintiffs were represented on appeal by Public Justice.
The question on appeal was whether “all the claims in the action arise from an event or occurrence in the State in which the action was filed, and that allegedly resulted in injuries in that State.” On behalf of the plaintiffs, Public Justice’s Kazan-Budd Attorney Leah Nicholls argued before the Third Circuit that the ongoing emission of toxic particles was a single event or occurrence.
In May 2013, the Third Circuit agreed, affirming the district court and ruling that Abraham should stay in state court. It was the first appeals court decision in the country interpreting this particular part of CAFA. SCRG filed for certiorari in the Supreme Court, which requested a response. The plaintiffs filed an opposition, and the Court eventually denied certiorari.
Nicholls represented the plaintiffs in the Third Circuit with the assistance of Leslie Brueckner and Paul Bland. Co-counsel and trial counsel was Public Justice Foundation Board Member Lee J. Rohn of the Law Offices of Lee J. Rohn & Associates, LLC, of Christiansted, St. Croix, Virgin Islands.