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Salton Sea Venture, Inc., A California Corporation v. Robert Ramsey

October 18, 2011

SALTON SEA VENTURE, INC., A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROBERT RAMSEY, AN INDIVIDUAL; FIRST AMERICAN PETROLEUM, AN UNKNOWN BUSINESS ENTITY; AND DOES 1 THROUGH 30, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irma E. Gonzalez, Chief Judge United States District Court

ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION [Doc. No. 1-6]

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff Salton Sea Venture, Inc. ("SSV")'s motion for a preliminary injunction. [Doc. No. 1-6.] For the reasons below, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Salton Sea Venture, Inc. is the owner and operator of a fuel station and convenience stores known as the "ARCO Travel Center" located in Salton City, California. [Doc. No. 1-3, Compl. ¶¶ 1, 6-7.] Plaintiff's travel center is located six miles from the "Red Earth Travel Center." [Id. ¶ 8.] Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants Robert Ramsey and First American Petroleum through their actions at the Red Earth Travel Center have violated state law by (1) selling fuel at a price below its cost; (2) failing to charge patrons taxes; (3) selling fuel that does not meet California's minimum standards for reformulated gas; (4) failing to register with the Secretary of State; (5) selling fuel at an anti-competitive price in order to put Plaintiff out of business; and (6) selling fuel at an anti-competitive price resulting in the loss of sale of Plaintiff's business. [Id. ¶¶ 10-49.]

The Red Earth Travel Center is owned by the Selnak-is Tem-Al Corporation ("the Selnak-is Corp."), which in turn is owned by the Torres-Martinez Band of Desert Cahuilla Indians (the "Torres-Martinez tribe"). [Doc. No. 18, Declaration of Rodney Bonner ("Bonner Decl.") ¶ 3.] The Torres-Martinez tribe is a federal recognized American Indian entity. See Indian Entities Recognized and Eligible to Receive Services From the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs, 75 Fed. Reg. 60,810, 60,813 (Oct. 1, 2010). [Bonner Decl. ¶ 2.] The Red Earth Travel Center is located on tribal trust land, and the Torres-Martinez tribe sells fuel and convenience stores items at the travel center to help support the tribal economy. [Id. ¶¶ 3, 7.]

The Torres-Martinez tribe has delegated some management authority at the travel center, regarding fuel only, to First American Petroleum. [Id. ¶ 4; Doc. No. 20, Declaration of Robert Ramsey ("Ramsey Decl.") ¶ 7.] First American Petroleum supplies all the fuel sold at the Red Earth Travel Center. [Ramsey Decl. ¶ 7.] First American Petroleum is owned and operated by Robert Ramsey. [Id. ¶ 3.] Mr. Ramsey is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation ("the Yakama Nation"), and First American Petroleum is a corporation formed and licensed under the laws of the Yakama Nation. [Id. ¶¶ 2-3, Exs. A-B; Doc. No. 1, Notice of Removal ¶¶ 10-11.]

On July 28, 2011, Plaintiff filed a complaint in Imperial county state court against Defendants Robert Ramsey and First American Petroleum alleging causes of action for: (1) violation of California Business and Professions Code § 17043; (2) violation of California Business and Professions Code § 17200; (3) declaratory relief; (4) injunctive relief; (5) common law unfair competition; (6) intentional interference with prospective business advantage; (7) negligent interference with prospective business advantage; and (8) civil conspiracy. [Compl.] Defendants removed the action to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. [Notice of Removal.]

By the present motion, Plaintiff moves for a preliminary injunction enjoining: Defendants Robert Ramsey, First American Petroleum and Does 1-30, inclusive, and First American Petroleum's officers, directors, principals, agents, servants, employees, attorneys, successors and assigns, representatives and all persons acting in concert or participation with them from:

(1) selling fuel at 3089 Norm Niver Road, Thermal California, in the County of Imperial ("Defendants' Fuel Station") at a price below First American Petroleum's cost(s);

(2) selling fuel at Defendants' Fuel Station and failing to prepay, collect, and/or remit the taxes and/or fees required by the law to be prepaid, collected and/or remitted on the sale of said fuel; and

(3) selling fuel at Defendants' Fuel Station which does not comply with the requirements for Reformulated Gasoline under California law. [Doc. No. 21-7, Proposed Order.]

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standard for a Motion for Preliminary Injunction

"A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy never awarded as of right." Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 129 S. Ct. 365, 376 (2008). "[P]laintiffs seeking a preliminary injunction must establish that (1) they are likely to succeed on the merits; (2) they are likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief; (3) the balance of equities tips in their favor; and (4) a preliminary injunction is in the public interest." Sierra Forest Legacy v. Rey, 577 F.3d 1015, 1021 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Winter, 129 S. Ct. at 374).

The grant or denial of a preliminary injunction is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Am. Trucking Ass'ns, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, 559 F.3d 1046, 1052 (9th Cir. 2009). "[A] district court necessarily abuses its discretion when it bases its decision on an erroneous legal standard or on clearly erroneous findings of fact." Id. "Stated differently, [a]s long as the district court [gets] the law right, it will not be reversed simply because the appellate court would have arrived at a different result if it had applied the law to the facts of the case." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

II. Analysis

A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19

Defendants argue that Salton Sea's entire lawsuit cannot be maintained because the Torres-Martinez tribe is a necessary party to this action, and joinder of the tribe would not be feasible because it is protected by tribal sovereign immunity. [Doc. No. 17, Def.'s Opp'n at 6-7.] Plaintiff argues that Defendants have not met their burden of proving this defense. [Doc. No. 22, Pl.'s Reply at 5.]

i. Legal Standards

The framework for determining whether a party is necessary and indispensable is provided by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19. Am. Greyhound Racing, Inc. v. Hull, 305 F.3d 1015, 1022 (9th Cir. 2002). Federal ...


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