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McKinney v. Alcoa

February 5, 2009

WILLIAM MCKINNEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ALCOA, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: S. James Otero United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING IN PART, DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF WILLIAM McKINNEY'S MOTION FOR ORDER REMANDING CASE TO STATE COURT AND FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES OF $8,550.00 FROM DEFENDANTS [Docket No. 8]

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff William McKinney's ("McKinney") Motion for Order Remanding Case to State Court and for Attorneys' Fees of $8,550.00 from Defendants, filed December 23, 2008. Defendants Alcoa, Inc. ("Alcoa"), Alcoa Global Fasteners, Inc. ("Alcoa Global"), Alcoa Fastening Systems, Inc. ("Alcoa Fastening"), Joe Tauro ("Tauro"), and Jim Vitocruz ("Vitocruz") (collectively, "Defendants") filed an Opposition, to which McKinney replied. The Court found this matter suitable for disposition without oral argument and vacated the hearing set for January 26, 2009. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b). For the following reasons, McKinney's Motion to Remand is GRANTED and Motion for Attorneys' Fees is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

McKinney worked for Defendants from August 26, 1985 until he was terminated in 2008.

(Compl. ¶ 8.) McKinney alleges that Defendants terminated him in retaliation for making complaints to Defendants regarding "numerous safety concerns" about Defendants' "decisions concerning worker safety that violated . . . fundamental public policies." (Compl. ¶¶ 8, 11--12.)

On October 1, 2008, McKinney filed this lawsuit in the Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles, bringing various California state law claims against Defendants. (See generally Compl.) McKinney's first cause of action for "wrongful termination of employment in violation of public policy in retaliation for complaining of unsafe work place in violation of OSHA" against Alcoa, Alcoa Global, and Alcoa Fastening contends that Alcoa, Alcoa Global, and Alcoa Fastening, in terminating McKinney, violated a number of fundamental public policies, including "California Labor Code section 1102.5, California Labor Code section 6311, and various provisions of the California Occupational Safety and Health Act that encourage employees to communicate with their employers and outside agencies about safety concerns on the job, without reprisal." (Compl. ¶¶ 15--16.) Similarly, McKinney's second cause of action for "wrongful termination of employment in violation of public policy in retaliation for enforcing safety laws and internal procedures" against Alcoa, Alcoa Global, and Alcoa Fastening alleges that because "a motivating factor in [D]efendants' termination of his employment was his enforcement of California and federal OSHA laws in the work place," specifically his "implementati[on of] OSHA's lock-out/tag-out procedure for machines that are not operating safely," Defendants violated "a fundamental public policy of the State of California . . . reflected in California Labor Code sections 1102.5 through 6300, et seq., which prohibit retaliation against any employee who enforces California or federal OSHA in the workplace." (See Compl. ¶¶ 19--25.) McKinney further alleges causes of action against all Defendants under California state law for breach of implied-in-fact contract; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent hiring, retention, and supervision; defamation; and compelled self-defamation. (See Compl. ¶¶ 26--48.)

On December 18, 2008, Defendants removed the action to this Court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction, asserting that the case "arises under the laws of the United States and/or raises substantial federal question(s) under federal law." (See Notice Removal Action Defs. Alcoa, Inc., Alcoa Global Fasteners, Inc., Alcoa Fastening Systems, Inc., Joe Tauro & Jim Vitocruz Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 (Federal Question) ¶ 6.) McKinney now moves to remand the case to the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles and for attorneys' fees and costs of $8,550.00 incurred as a result of the removal. (See Pl. William McKinney's Notice Mot. & Mot. Order Remanding Case State Court & Attorneys' Fees $8,550.00 Defs. ("Pl.'s Mot.") 2, 6.)

II. DISCUSSION

A. Motion to Remand

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441, the removal statute, an action is removable to federal court only if it might have been brought there originally. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The removal statute is "strictly construe[d] . . . against removal jurisdiction." Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992) (internal citations omitted). "Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal . . . ." Id. (internal citation omitted). "Th[is] 'strong presumption' against removal jurisdiction means that the defendant always has the burden of establishing that removal is proper." Id. (internal citations omitted).

28 U.S.C. § 1331 gives federal courts "original jurisdiction" over "all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. A case "arises under" federal law if a plaintiff's "well-pleaded complaint establishes either that federal law creates the cause of action" or that the "plaintiff's right to relief under state law requires resolution of a substantial question of federal lawin dispute between the parties." Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 13, 27--28 (1983); see Empire Healthchoice Assurance, Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 689--90 (2006) (internal citation omitted).

1. McKinney's Claims Do Not Necessarily Raise a Federal Issue

Defendants oppose McKinney's Motion to Remand, arguing that McKinney's first and second claim, both for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, "require an interpretation of federal OSHA regulations." (Defs.' Opp'n Mot. Order Remanding Case State Court & Attorneys' Fees $8,550.00 Defs ("Defs.' Opp'n") 1.) Thus, Defendants contend that these wrongful termination claims necessarily raise "a substantial federal question under OSHA . . . ." (Defs.' Opp'n 3--5.) McKinney responds that the case does not require an interpretation of federal OSHA provisions, as plaintiff has merely identified OSHA as one source, among other state sources, of the public policy that Defendants violated in terminating his employment. (Pl. William McKinney's Reply Defs.' Opp'n Mot. Order Remanding Case State Court & Attorneys' Fees $8,500.00 Defs. ("Pl.'s Reply") 1--2, 4.)

With regard to cases "arising under" federal law because plaintiff's right to relief under state law requires resolution of a substantial question of federal law, or "embedded federal issue" cases, the presence of a federal issue is not "a password opening federal courts to any state action embracing a point of federal law." See Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 314 (2005). "[C]ountless claims can be said to depend in some way on federal propositions, yet not all such cases 'arise under' federal law." Hunter v. United Van Lines, 746 F.2d 635, 645 (9th Cir. 1985). Rather, to qualify for federal question jurisdiction, a state law claim must "necessarily raise a stated federal issue, actually disputed and substantial, which a federal forum may entertain without disturbing any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities." Grable, 545 U.S. at 314. "When a [state-law] claim can be supported by alternative and independent theories-one of which is a state law theory and one of which is a federal law theory-federal question ...


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