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Wastier v. Schwan's Consumer Brands

December 5, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Janis L. Sammartino United States District Judge


Presently before the Court are Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand [Doc. No. 5], Defendants' Opposition [Doc. No. 11], and Plainitffs' Reply [Doc. No. 12.] For the following reasons, this Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand.


On July 6, 2007, Plaintiffs sued Defendant Schwan's Consumer Brands North America, Inc. in the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of San Diego. [Defs.' Opposition at 2.] Plaintiffs sought relief under California state law for: (1) failing to pay overtime compensation; (2) failing to provide itemized wage statements; and (3) with regard to Plaintiff, Miriam B. Arlan only, failure to pay overtime after employment. [Pls.' Motion at 1.] Defendants filed a notice of removal in federal court on August 10, 2007. On September 7, 2007, Plaintiffs filed a motion to remand the case to the San Diego Superior Court.


A federal court may exercise removal jurisdiction over a case only if jurisdiction existed over the suit as originally brought by the plaintiffs. 28 U.S.C. §1441. A strong presumption exists against removal jurisdiction. Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). Accordingly, when there is a doubt as to removability, it is resolved in favor of remanding the case to state court. Id. The removing party bears the burden of establishing that federal subject matter jurisdiction exists. Emrich Touche Ross & Co., 846 F2d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 1988). In order to establish removal jurisdiction over a diversity action, the removing defendants must establish compliance with 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), which provides for diversity jurisdiction where (a) the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.00, and, (b) the suit is between citizens of different states. Where the complaint, as in the present case, does not allege a specific amount of damages, the removing defendants must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum. Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 95 F.3d 856, 862 (9th Cir. 1996).


Plaintiffs argue that the Court should remand this case to the San Diego Superior Court because Defendants cannot show that Plaintiffs' claims satisfy the amount in controversy requirement. Defendants contend: (1) that the requirement is satisfied by aggregating Plaintiffs' claims; and (2) even without aggregation, each Plaintiff individually satisfies the requirement. For the reasons set forth below, the Courtfinds Plaintiffs' motion to remand should be granted.

I. Defendants Have Failed to Demonstrate that Plaintiffs' Claims Exceed $75,000

1. Defendants May Not Aggregate Plaintiffs' Claims

The law is well-settled that multiple plaintiffs who join in a single lawsuit to enforce "separate and distinct" rights may not reach the requisite amount in controversy by aggregating their claims. See, e.g., Troy Bank of Troy, Ind., v. G.A. Whitehead & Co., 222 U.S. 39, 40 (1911); Pinel v. Pinel, 240 U.S. 594, 596 (1916); Phipps v. Praxair, Inc., 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18745 (S.D. Cal. 1999). Instead, plaintiffs who seek to enforce "separate and distinct" rights must each have an amount in controversy that exceeds $75,000. Snyder v. Harris, 394 U.S. 332, 335-36 (1969); Zahn v. Int'l Paper Co., 414 U.S. 291, 294-95 (1973). Multiple plaintiffs may, however, aggregate claims that seek to enforce "a single right or title in which they hold a common and undivided interest." Snyder, 394 U.S. at 335; Troy Bank of Troy, Ind., 222 U.S. at 40; Potrero Hill Community Action Comm. v. Hous. Auth., 410 F.2d 974, 978 (9th Cir. 1969) (stating that aggregation is proper if the claims derive from rights that plaintiffs hold in group status); Budget Rent-A-Car Sys., Inc. v. Stauber, 849 F. Supp. 743, 746 (D. Haw. 1994) (same); Kessler v. Nat'l Enters., Inc., 347 F.3d 1076, 1079 (8th Cir. 2003) (stating plaintiffs "must share a common interest in the collection of a single liability").

The principle that plaintiffs may not reach the jurisdictional amount in controversy by combining separate and distinct claims has its origins in Oliver v. Alexander, 31 U.S. 143 (1832).*fn1

The plaintiffs in Oliver were seamen who sued in admiralty to recover lost wages. After receiving an award in the circuit court, the seamen jointly appealed to the Supreme Court, which at that time could not hear such an appeal unless the amount in controversy exceeded $2,000. The seamen argued that although none of them had claims exceeding $900, the combined value of their claims far exceeded $2,000. The Supreme Court rejected their attempt at claim aggregation, stating that "the whole proceeding . . . from the beginning to the end of the suit, though it assumes the form of a joint suit; is in reality a mere joinder of distinct causes of action by distinct parties." Id. at 147. Finding the seamen possessed separate and distinct claims, the Court held that "no seaman can appeal . . . from the circuit court to the Supreme Court, unless his claim exceeds two thousand dollars." Id. No individual seaman had claims exceeding $2,000; therefore, the Court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Id. at 150.

Since 1832, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed this principle on several occasions. See Pinel, 240 U.S. at 596 (finding separate and distinct claims when plaintiffs sought different individual payments from defendants); Zahn, 414 U.S. at 295 & n.3 (citing the "unbroken line of decision[s]" applying the anti-aggregation rule in the context of joinder actions); Snyder, ...

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