The opinion of the court was delivered by: M. James Lorenz United States District Court Judge
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND [DOC. 8]
Defendant Swift Transportation Corporation removed this wages-and-hours action from the San Diego Superior Court. The notice of removal is based on diversity jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). Plaintiff Simona Montalvo now moves to remand this action, arguing that Defendant failed to establish CAFA's amount-in-controversy requirement. Defendant opposes.
The Court found this motion suitable for determination on the papers submitted and without oral argument. See Civ. L.R. 7.1(d.1). (Doc. 13.) For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's motion. (Doc. 8.)
Plaintiff is a California resident who worked for Defendant as a California-based driver. (First Am. Compl. ("FAC") ¶¶ 6--7 [Doc. 1-2].) Defendant is a truckload motor carrier service incorporated in Arizona that serves customers throughout the United States. (Rohwer Decl. ¶¶ 3--5, 7--10 [Doc. 1-4].) Plaintiff brings this action on behalf of certain of Defendants' California-based drivers and/or other employees for the purposes of unpaid payment of straight, minimum and/or overtime wages, particularly for hours attending orientations and/or training. ¶¶ 4, 24.) She asserts eight causes of action: (1) failure to pay all wages; (2) failure to timely furnish accurate itemized wage statements; (3) violations of California Labor Code § 203; (4) violations of California Labor Code § 212; (5) violations of California Labor Code § 203 regarding late checks; (6) penalties pursuant to California Labor Code § 2699; (7) unfair business practices; and (8) declaratory relief.
The proposed class includes six sub-classes categorized by the causes of action asserted in the FAC, such as failure to pay wages, failure to pay accurate itemized wage statements, and failure to comply with various California statutes. (FAC ¶ 24.) These sub-classes are as follows: (1) the Orientation Class, (2) the Wage Statement Class, (3) the Derivative LC 203 Class, (4) the LC 212 Class, (5) the Independent LC 203 Class, and (6) the 17200 Class. (Id.) Plaintiff seeks to recover alleged unpaid straight-time, minimum and overtime wages, prejudgment interest, injunctive relief, penalties, attorneys' fees and costs, among others. (See Prayer for Relief.) As related to the amount in controversy, Plaintiff set forth the following allegation:
[T]he individual claims of Plaintiff SIMONA MONTALVO and the members of the putative Classes herein, including each such putative Class Member's pro-rata share of attorneys' fees and all other requested relief, are under the seventy-five thousand dollar ($75,000.00) jurisdictional threshold for Federal Court and the aggregate claims, including attorneys' fees and all other requested relief, are under the five million dollar ($5,000,000.00) threshold of the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. ¶ 21; see also Prayer for Relief.) The parties do not dispute minimal diversity and numerosity of the class. Rather, the only immediate dispute between the parties is the amount in controversy.
An action is removable to federal court only if it might have been brought there originally. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The removal statute is "strictly construe[d] . . . against removal jurisdiction." Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992) (per curiam). "Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal." Id. "The 'strong presumption' against removal jurisdiction means that the defendant always has the burden of establishing that removal is proper." Id. "If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).
CAFA vests district courts with "original jurisdiction of any civil action in which, inter alia, the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $5,000,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and in which the aggregate number of proposed plaintiffs is 100 or greater, and any member of the plaintiff class is a citizen of a state different from any defendant." Lowdermilk v. United States Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 479 F.3d 994, 997 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)) (internal quotations marks omitted). After a plaintiff files an action in state court, the defendant must allege and bear the burden of proof that the amount in controversy exceeds $5,000,000.
Abrego Abrego v. Dow Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 685 (9th Cir. 2006). Mere conclusory allegations are insufficient. Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398, 404 (9th Cir. 1996). The defendant must set forth, in the removal petition itself, the underlying facts supporting its assertion that the amount in controversy exceeds $5,000,000. See Abrego Abrego, 443 F.3d at 689.
Although the defendant bears the burden of proving that the plaintiff's action meets the requirements of CAFA, the court must also consider what level of proof that the defendant must meet. Lowdermilk, 479 F.3d at 998. The Ninth Circuit has articulated two pertinent scenarios that dictate what level of proof that the defendant must meet in order to show that the amount-in-controversy requirement has been satisfied. Id. (citing Abrego Abrego, 443 F.3d at 683). In the first, "where it is unclear or ambiguous from the face of a state-court complaint whether the requisite amount in controversy is pled[,]" the removing defendant must prove by "a preponderance of the evidence" that the amount in controversy has been met. Guglielmino v. McKee Foods Corp., 506 F.3d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 2007). And in the second, "when a state-court complaint affirmatively alleges that the amount in controversy is less than the jurisdictional threshold, the 'party seeking removal must prove with legal certainty that CAFA's jurisdictional amount is met.'" Id. (citing Lowdermilk, 479 F.3d at 1000).
Courts have observed that "[a]lthough the precise meaning of legal certainty is not immediately apparent, it is something less than absolute certainty and more stringent than a preponderance of the evidence." Campbell v. Vitran Express, Inc., No. CV-10-04442-RGK(SHx), 2010 WL 4971944, at *2 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 16, 2010) (quoting Faracchao v. Harrah's Entm't, Inc., No. 06-1364, 2006 WL 2096076, at *2 n.1 (D.N.J. May 25, 2006)) (internal quotation marks omitted). To determine whether the removing defendant has met the more stringent burden of legal certainty, the court may consider facts in the notice of removal and may "require parties to submit summary-judgment-type evidence ...