Popcorn-Ailment Case Kept in Missouri Federal

     ST. LOUIS (CN) – A class action involving exposure to harmful chemicals used in butter-flavoring products on microwave popcorn belongs in federal court, the 8th Circuit ruled.
     Former and current employees of Gilster-Mary Lee Corp. and six other companies filed the complaint in a Missouri state court over a year ago. The employees claimed that exposure to butter-flavoring products, including diacetyl, caused them to develop or put them at risk of developing lung ailments.
     After Gilster and the other defendants removed the case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act, the plaintiffs dismissed all of the defendants except Gilster.
     Since local controversy is an exception to the Class Action Fairness Act, however, and since Gilster’s popcorn-packaging plant is in Jasper, the presiding judge in Joplin remanded the case back to state court.
     The exception requires a federal court to decline jurisdiction when more than two-thirds of the proposed class members are citizens of the state in which the class action was originally filed.
     Reversing on Friday, a three-judge panel with the 8th Circuit found that the plaintiffs led by Patricia Hood did not meet their burden of proof for the remand.
     The employees sought affidavits from 246 former employees who worked at Gilster in the relevant time period, but received only 95 responses.
     Of those only seven no longer lived in Missouri.
     Though the remaining 126 former employees all had last-known addresses in Missouri, the 8th Circuit found it erroneous for the trial court to admit the 126 employees as current Missouri residents.
     “The District Court extrapolates the citizenship of the Missouri citizens who responded, to the citizenship for those potential class members who did not respond,” Judge Duane Benton wrote for the court. “The fallacy is apparent. Those still at the last-known address were more likely to respond, and those not at the last-known address were less likely to respond (and more likely not to be Missouri citizens, or even have a valid address).”
     Judges James Loken and Steven Colloton concurred.

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