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John Flores v. Chevron Corporation

May 31, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Present: The Honorable Jacqueline H. Nguyen


Alicia Mamer Not Reported N/A Deputy Clerk Court Reporter / Recorder Tape No. Attorneys Present for Plaintiffs: Attorneys Present for Defendants:


The matter is before the Court on Plaintiff John Flores' Motion to Remand ("Motion"; docket no. 18). The Court has read and considered the parties' pleadings and deems the matter appropriate for decision without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b); Local Rule 7-15. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion is GRANTED.


Plaintiff originally filed this action in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, asserting claims under California's Song Beverly Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 1747 et seq., and Unfair Competition Law ("UCL"), Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200 et seq., on behalf of seven individual subclasses against seven defendants. (Compl. ¶¶ 13, 36--52.) The classes are comprised of "all persons in the State of California who, during the relevant period . . . purchased gasoline from [a named Defendant]." (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff alleges that each of the named Defendants required Plaintiff to write down his personal information (zip code) in a terminal as a condition of payment, which was recorded and used to Plaintiff's harm. (Id. ¶13.)

On March 25, 2011, Defendants removed this action to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 ("CAFA"), Pub. L. No. 109-2, 119 Stat. 4 (2005). (Docket no. 1.) On April 1, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand, relying on CAFA's local controversy exception to the court's subject matter jurisdiction. (Docket no. 17.)


A defendant may remove a case to federal court if the case could have been brought under the court's original jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441. However, the Court may remand a case to state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction or defects in removal procedure. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). "The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction is on the party invoking federal jurisdiction." U.S. v., 530 F.3d 799, 810 (9th Cir. 2008). "Because of the Congressional purpose to restrict the jurisdiction of the federal courts on removal," courts must strictly construe the removal statute and remand "if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance." Duncan v. Stuetzle, 76 F.3d 1480, 1485 (9th Cir. 1996) (internal quotation marks omitted).


Defendants' Burden to Show Removability

Defendants removed this case to federal court pursuant to CAFA, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2). 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," in which the aggregate number of proposed plaintiffs is 100 or greater, and in which there is minimal diversity between any class member and any defendant. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). Although neither party raises the issue of whether these requirements are met here, the Court has a sua sponte duty to consider its own subject matter jurisdiction. See United Investors Life Ins. Co. v. Waddell & Reed Inc., 360 F.3d 960, 966 (9th Cir. 2004).

"[U]nder CAFA[,] the burden of establishing removal jurisdiction remains . . . on the proponent of federal jurisdiction." Abrego Abrego v. Dow Chemical Co., 443 F.3d 676, 685 (9th Cir. 2006). "Where the complaint does not specify the amount of damages sought, the removing defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy requirement has been met." Quesada v. Herb Thyme Farms, Inc., No. CV 11-00016 ODW(SSx), 2011 WL 1195952, at *2 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 28, 2011) (citing Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566--67 (9th Cir. 1992); see Singer v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 116 F.3d 373, 376 (9th Cir. 1997); see also Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398, 404 (9th Cir.1996)). In determining the amount in controversy, "a court must assume that the allegations of the complaint are true and assume that a jury will return a verdict for the plaintiff on all claims made in the complaint." Kenneth Rothschild Trust v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 199 F. Supp. 2d 993, 1001 (C.D. Cal. 2002) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Here, Defendants have failed to sustain their burden of establishing that CAFA's $5,000,000 amount in controversy requirement has been satisfied. Plaintiff's Complaint does not specify an amount of damages. Instead, Plaintiff seeks an award under Cal. Civ. Code section 1747.08(e), which provides for a civil penalty ranging from maximum of $250 to a maximum of $1,000 per violation, plus attorney's fees and costs. Cal. Civ. Code § 1747.08(e); Linder v Thrifty Oil Co., 23 Cal.4th 429, 448 (Cal. 2000). The complaint indicates that "[w]hile the exact number of class members is unknown at this time and can only be ascertained through discovery, Plaintiffs believe that there are thousands of members of the proposed class." (Compl., ¶ 14.) Plaintiffs, however, does not specify how many thousands. Thus, Plaintiff's proposed class might, for example, have 3,000 members. If so, even if the maximum civil penalty of ...

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