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Green v. Staples Contract & Commercial

December 10, 2008

SHANNON GREEN, ON BEHALF OF HERSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
STAPLES CONTRACT & COMMERCIAL, INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION, AND DOES 1 THROUGH 100, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stephen V. Wilson United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND [10] [JS-6]

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Shannon Green brings this Motion to Remand on the basis that Defendant Staples Contract & Commercial, Inc. ("Defendant") has not met its burden of proving that the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA"). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion is GRANTED and the matter is remanded.

II. FACTS

On April 25, 2008, Plaintiff filed this putative wage and hour class action in California state court. The Complaint states causes of action for (1) failure to provide meal breaks, IWC Wage Order § 11(A); (2) failure to provide rest periods, Id. § 12(A); (3) failure to fully reimburse for work expenses, Cal. Labor Code §§ 450(a), 2802(a); (4) failure to timely furnish accurate itemized wage statements, Id. § 226(a); (5) willful failure to pay wages of an employee no longer in Defendant's employ, Id. § 203; (6) unfair business practices, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200; and (7) declaratory relief, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1060. (Compl., 10-20.) The Complaint also contains an allegation that "the aggregate claim is under the five million dollar threshold of the Class Action Fairness act of 2005." (Id. at 5.)

Defendant removed the case to federal court on October 29, 2008. Defendant claims that jurisdiction is appropriate pursuant to CAFA because Plaintiff is a citizen of California, and Defendant is a citizen of Delaware and Massachusetts. (Notice of Removal, at 6-8.) Defendant alleges that the class includes 550 current and former workers and that the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million. (Id. at 9-11.) Moreover Defendant alleges that the removal was timely because Defendant did not learn that the amount in controversy might exceed $5 million until September 29, 2008, when Plaintiff served verified discovery responses, which stated that Plaintiff had not received an average of six meal breaks per week and five rest breaks per week. (Id. at 11.) Based on these numbers, Defendant alleges that the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million.

Plaintiff filed this Motion for Remand on November 17, 2008. Plaintiff challenges the propriety of removal based solely on the issue of the amount in controversy, arguing that Defendant has not met its burden of establishing that there is more than $5 million in controversy. (Mot., at 2.)

III. ANALYSIS

A. Removal Jurisdiction

A civil action in state court may be removed to federal court if the federal court had "original jurisdiction" over the matter. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Under CAFA, district courts are vested with "'original jurisdiction of any civil action in which . . . the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $5,000,000, exclusive of interest and costs,' and in which the aggregate number of proposed plaintiffs is 100 or greater, and any member of the plaintiff class is a citizen of a state different from any defendant." Lowdermilk v. United States Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 479 F.3d 994, 997 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)). Furthermore, "under CAFA the burden of establishing removal jurisdiction remains, as before, on the proponent of federal jurisdiction." Abrego Abrego v. Dow Chemical Co., 443 F.3d 676, 685 (9th Cir. 2006). The removal statute is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction, and "[f]ederal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance." Gaus v. Miles, 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992).

B. Removing Party's Burden of Proof

The parties dispute what the Defendant's burden is to prove that the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million. Plaintiff argues that since the Complaint alleges that the total amount of Plaintiff's claims does not exceed $5 million, the Defendant must prove by a "legal certainty" that the amount in controversy is satisfied. (Mot., at 3.) In response, Defendant contends that the amount sought in the Complaint is not entirely clear, and that under the circumstances, Defendant should only have to prove that the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million by a preponderance of the evidence. (Opp'n, at 5-6.)

The Ninth Circuit has identified three different scenarios, with three different burdens of proof for establishing removal jurisdiction. "First, when the plaintiff fails to plead a specific amount of damages, the defendant seeking removal 'must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy requirement has been met.'" Lowdermilk, 479 F.3d at 998 (quoting Abrego Abrego, 443 F.3d at 683). "Second, if the complaint alleges damages in excess of the federal amount in controversy requirement, then the amount in controversy requirement is presumptively satisfied unless it appears to a 'legal certainty' that the claim is actually for less than the jurisdictional minimum." Id. Finally, where the plaintiff has pled a "specific amount in damages" less than the jurisdictional minimum, the defendant "'will be able to remove the case to federal court by showing to a legal certainty that the amount in controversy exceeds the statutory minimum.'" Id. (quoting Morgan v. Gay, 471 F.3d 469, 474 (3d Cir. 2006)).

The Court's initial inquiry is whether Plaintiff has pled a "specific amount in damages" less than the jurisdictional minimum, or whether the amount pled is uncertain. If it is "facially apparent" from the complaint that the jurisdictional amount is in controversy, then the court need not look beyond the "four corners of the complaint" to determine whether the jurisdictional amount is satisfied. Lowdermilk, 479 F.3d at 998. In such cases, the court applies the "legal certainty" standard. Id. If, on the other hand, the plaintiff seeks no specific amount in damages, or the amount sought is unclear, then the court will look ...


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