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Petersen Law Firm v. City of Los Angeles

May 26, 2009

PETERSEN LAW FIRM ET AL.
v.
CITY OF LOS ANGELES ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: The Honorable Gary Allen Feess

CIVIL MINUTES - GENERAL

Proceedings: (In Chambers)

ORDER REMANDING CASE

INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND

On February 5, 2009, Los Angeles police officer Cesar Mata and his counsel, the Petersen Law Firm and Law Offices of Herbert Hafif (collectively, "Petitioners"), filed a petition for writ of mandate in Los Angeles Superior Court pursuant to section 1085 of the California Code of Civil Procedure against respondents City of Los Angeles, William Bratton, Terry S. Hara, Michael Moriarty, Chris Casey, Nathaniel Williams, and Roes 1--10 (collectively, "Respondents"). (See Not. Removal (Docket No. 1), Ex. A [Petition].) In sum and substance, Petitioners claim that Respondents are violating the California Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act ("PBRA"), Cal. Gov't Code §§ 3300--3313, and the attorney/client privilege by initiating internal affairs investigations of Los Angeles police officers who have joined as plaintiffs in lawsuits brought against the City of Los Angeles for violations of the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. Three such lawsuits are currently pending before this Court: Nolan et al. v. City of Los Angeles et GAF (JWJx), and Mata v. City of Los Angeles et al., CV 07-06782 GAF (AJWx) (collectively, "FLSA actions").*fn1

Specifically, Petitioners allege that the Los Angeles Police Department ("LAPD") conducts pretextual internal affairs investigations of officers who have joined as plaintiffs in the FLSA actions. According to Petitioners, these investigations are intended to harass and intimidate police officers, to "pre-litigate" issues that are pending in the FLSA actions, to coerce the plaintiff officers in those suits into abandoning their overtime claims, and to deter other officers from joining as plaintiffs. (Pet. ¶¶ 24--25.) To carry out its illicit objectives, the LAPD allegedly threatens each officer under investigation that it will file misconduct charges against him for violating the LAPD's overtime policies if the officer expresses that he seeks overtime pay for any activities other than donning and doffing his police uniform and protective equipment. (Pet. ¶¶ 26, 38--39.) Petitioners aver that, faced with the prospect of disciplinary action, none of the approximately fifty officers who have been interviewed by the internal affairs department in connection with these investigations has asserted that his overtime claims extend to activities other than donning and doffing. (Pet. ¶ 39.) Petitioners seek, among other things, a peremptory writ of mandate and a permanent injunction directing Respondents to cease the allegedly unlawful internal affairs investigations, and $25,000 for each violation of the PBRA. (Pet. at 35.)

Respondents received a copy of the petition on March 5, 2009, and removed the action to this Court on April 3, 2009. After reviewing the petition, the Court issued an Order to Show Cause on April 13, 2009 in which it questioned whether it can exercise subject matter jurisdiction over the present petition because the petition asserts only violations of state law. (4/13/2009 Order to Show Cause (Docket No. 9) at 2.) Both sides submitted responses to the Order to Show Cause (Docket Nos. 10, 12--13), and Respondents subsequently filed a special motion to strike pursuant to California's anti-SLAPP statute, Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 425.16 (Docket No. 14), which is currently scheduled for a hearing on June 1, 2009. The Court has considered the parties' arguments regarding jurisdiction and, as set forth in detail below, concludes that it may not properly exercise removal jurisdiction over the present action. Accordingly, the case

REMANDED to Los Angeles Superior Court for further proceedings. Because the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the action, the Court does not consider the merits of Respondents' motion to strike.

DISCUSSION

The principles governing the removal of state-court actions to federal courts are well-established. The federal removal statutes provide:

Any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction founded on a claim or right arising under the Constitution, treaties or laws of the United States shall be removable without regard to the citizenship or residence of the parties. Any other such action shall be removable only if none of the parties in interest properly joined and served as defendants is a citizen of the State in which such action is brought.

28 U.S.C. § 1441(b). In general,

[t]he presence or absence of federal-question jurisdiction is governed by the "well-pleaded complaint rule," which provides that federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint. The rule makes the plaintiff the master of the claim; he or she may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law.

Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987) (citation and footnotes omitted). Thus, "a case may not be removed to federal court on the basis of a federal defense, . . . even if the defense is anticipated in the plaintiff's complaint, and even if both parties concede that the federal defense is the only question truly at issue." Id. at 393 (emphasis in original) (citing Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 12 (1983)); see ...


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