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Rodriguez v. Dole Food Co.

March 9, 2009

LUCIANO RODRIGUEZ RODRIGUEZ; ET AL. PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DOLE FOOD COMPANY, INC.; ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christina A. Snyder United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR REMAND

I. INTRODUCTION

On December 8, 2008, plaintiffs, a group of 2,485 banana plantation workers from Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama and Guatemala, filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against defendants Dole Food Company, Inc.; Dole Fresh Fruit Company; Chiquita Brands Company, North America; Chiquita Brands, Inc.; Chiquita Brands International, Inc.; Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A., Inc.; Del Monte Fresh Produce, Inc.; Del Monte Fresh Produce West Coast, Inc.; Shell Chemical Company; Shell Oil Company; The Dow Chemical Company ("Dow Chemical"); Occidental Petroleum Corporation; Occidental Chemical Company; Occidental Chemical Corporation; and Does 1 through 100, inclusive. Plaintiffs, who have been divided, alphabetically and by country, into several cases such that each case has less than 100 plaintiffs, allege claims for (1) products liability -- negligence; (2) strict products liability; (3) products liability -- defect in design, manufacture, and chemical composition; (4) products liability -- breach of warranty; (5) fraudulent management; (6) intentional misrepresentation; (7) fraud by concealment; (8) general negligence; and (9) conspiracy.

On December 10, 2008, defendants were served with the summons and complaint. On January 9, 2008, defendants removed this action to this Court pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 ("CAFA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(d) and 1453. Defendants argue that these actions should be considered one action for the purposes of CAFA because plaintiffs have divided their claims solely for the purpose of avoiding federal court jurisdiction under CAFA. Notice of Removal at 3 (citing Freeman v. Blue Ridge Paper Products, Inc., 2008 WL 5396249, at *1 (6th Cir. Dec. 29, 2008)).

On February 9, 2009, plaintiffs filed the instant motion to remand this case to Los Angeles County Superior Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). On February 23, 2009, defendant Dow Chemical filed an opposition. A hearing was held on March 9, 2009. After carefully considering the parties' arguments, the Court finds and concludes as follows.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs allege that they were injured by exposure to 1, 2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane ("DBCP"), a toxic chemical sold under the brand names "Nemagon" and "Fumazone." Plaintiffs allege that defendants have manufactured, marketed, and distributed DBCP. Plaintiffs further allege that they were exposed to DBCP as a consequence of working on banana plantations in Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, and Guatemala, owned or operated by defendants. Plaintiffs allege that as a result of exposure to DBCP, they have "suffered sterility and other serious injuries."

III. LEGAL STANDARD

A motion for remand is the proper procedure for challenging removal. Remand may be ordered either for lack of subject matter jurisdiction or for any defect in removal procedure. See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). The Court strictly construes the removal statutes against removal jurisdiction, and jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal. See Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). The party seeking removal bears the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction. See Prize Frize, Inc. v. Matrix, Inc., 167 F.3d 1261, 1265 (9th Cir. 1999). The defendant also has the burden of showing that it has complied with the procedural requirements for removal. Judge William W. Schwarzer, et al., California Practice Guide: Federal Civil Procedure Before Trial § 2:609 (The Rutter Group 2007).

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b), the defendant must file the notice of removal within 30 days after being served with a complaint alleging a basis for removal. When there are multiple defendants, all defendants named in the complaint and who have been properly joined and served in the action must also join in the removal. Hewitt v. City of Stanton, 798 F.2d 1230, 1232 (9th Cir. 1986). This is known as the rule of unanimity. See Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway v. Martin, 178 U.S. 245 (1900); see also Schwarzer, supra, § 2:905.2.

If the defendant's removal notice fails to meet the procedural requirements of § 1446(b), the court may remand the action based on the plaintiff's timely motion. McAnally Enterprises, Inc. v. McAnally, 107 F. Supp. 2d 1223, 1226 (C.D. Cal. 2000). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), a motion to remand based on any defect other than subject matter jurisdiction must be made within 30 days after the filing of the notice of removal.

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Amount-in-Controversy Requirement

Plaintiffs argue that defendant has not demonstrated that the amount in controversy requirement exceeds $5,000,000, in the aggregate, or $75,000 for any individual plaintiff. Mot. at 7. Plaintiffs contend that defendant's Notice of Removal merely alleges that "[a] review of plaintiffs' complaint indicates that the total 'matter in controversy [at the time of removal] exceeds the sum or value of $5,000,000, exclusive of interest and costs,' 28 U.S.C. ยง 1332(d)(2), and further indicates that the matter in controversy at the time of removal for each plaintiff 'exceeds the sum or value of $75,000.00.'" Id. at 7-8. Plaintiffs argue that this "mere averment" is "wholly inadequate to overcome the presumption against removal jurisdiction." Id. at 8. Plaintiffs further argue that CAFA "does not alter the ...


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