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Behrazfar v. Unisys Corp.

October 23, 2009

ELALEH BEHRAZFAR, ON BEHALF OF HERSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF(S),
v.
UNISYS CORPORATION, AND DOES 1 THROUGH 10 DEFENDANT(S).



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Andrew J. Guilford United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR REMAND

This is a class action concerning allegations that Defendant Unisys Corporation ("Defendant") violated California's wage and hour laws. Plaintiff Elaheh Behrazfar ("Plaintiff") originally brought this case in state court, but Defendant removed it to federal court. Plaintiff filed this motion to remand the case to state court ("Motion"). After reviewing all papers and arguments submitted, the Court GRANTS the Motion.

BACKGROUND

This Motion concerns the amount in controversy in this case and other procedural issues, so a detailed explanation of the Complaint's allegations is unnecessary. For now, it is sufficient to state that Plaintiff asserts seven wage and hour claims against Defendant. (Compl. ¶ 1.)

Plaintiff seeks to represent a class of Defendant's employees comprised of two subclasses. The first subclass is "[a]ll persons employed by [Defendant] in California, at any time during the four-year class period preceding the filing of this action through the date notice is mailed to the class," who meet certain other criteria. (Compl. ¶ 11.) The second subclass is "[a]ll persons employed by [Defendant] in California, who [meet certain other criteria and] whose employment with [Defendant] ended at any time during the four-year period preceding the filing of this action through the date notice is mailed to the class." (Compl. ¶ 11.)

Plaintiff filed this action in California state court. The Complaint alleges that there is "not less than 300 class members," and that the class members worked "between 40 and 60 hours per week" during the class period. (Compl. ¶¶ 6, 12.) But the Complaint does not specify the amount of damages that Plaintiff seeks or allege how many weeks per year the class members worked.

On July 31, 2008, Defendant filed a Notice of Removal to federal court based on the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA"). To support removal, Defendant assumed that if a class was certified and Plaintiff prevailed on all claims, each class member would receive over $20,000. (Notice of Removal 4:12-17.) Since Plaintiff alleged that there are at least 300 class members, Defendant multiplied 300 times $20,000 to assert that "the amount in controversy exceeds the sum of $5,000,000.00," the amount required for federal jurisdiction. (Notice of Removal 4:17-19.)

Over a year after the Notice of Removal was filed, Plaintiff filed this Motion, contending that the case was not properly removed. Defendant opposed the Motion and submitted more specific calculations concerning the amount in controversy based on the Complaint's allegations, Plaintiff's deposition testimony, and Defendant's assumptions.

ANALYSIS

Plaintiff argues that Defendant cannot prove this case meets the amount in controversy requirement for removal. Defendant makes two arguments in response. First, Defendant contends that Plaintiff's motion must fail because it was not timely filed. Second, Defendant asserts that it has, in fact, met the amount in controversy requirement. The Court will discuss the general rules concerning removal under CAFA and then address Defendant's arguments.

1. REMOVAL UNDER CAFA

CAFA provides for removal of certain class action lawsuits. Abrego Abrego v. Dow Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 681 (9th Cir. 2006). 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d), "added by CAFA, vests the district court with 'original jurisdiction of any civil action in which the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $5,000,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is a class action in which' the parties satisfy, among other requirements, minimal diversity." Abrego Abrego, 443 F.3d at 680. "While § 1332 allows plaintiffs to invoke diversity jurisdiction, [28 U.S.C.] § 1441 gives defendants a corresponding opportunity." Id. Under Section 1441(a), defendants may remove to federal court "civil action[s] brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).

"Under the plain terms of § 1441(a), in order properly to remove [an] action pursuant to that provision, [defendants] must demonstrate that original subject-matter jurisdiction lies in the federal courts." Syngenta Crop Prot., Inc. v. Henson, 537 U.S. 28, 33 (2002). While defendants removing lawsuits based on Section 1332(d) bear the burden of proving that the amount in controversy exceeds $5,000,000, the standard of proof that defendants must produce varies based on the allegations in the complaint. Lowdermilk v. U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 479 F.3d 994, 998 (9th Cir. 2007). If the plaintiff specifies an amount of damages in the complaint of $5,000,000 or less, and there is no evidence of bad faith, the defendant must prove to a "legal certainty" that the amount in controversy exceeds $5,000,000. Id. at 999 (since, "subject to a 'good faith' requirement in pleading, a plaintiff may sue for less than the amount she may be entitled to if she wishes to avoid federal jurisdiction and remain in state court . . . the defendant must not only contradict the ...


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