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Buckles v. City of Hope National Medical Center et al.

January 31, 2012



Present: The Honorable MARGARET M. MORROW

ANEL HUERTA Deputy Clerk

Court Reporter None

Attorneys Present for Plaintiffs: Attorneys Present for Defendants: None None

Proceedings: Order Remanding Action for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction[7]

On September 21, 2011, plaintiff Milissa Buckles filed this action in Los Angeles Superior Court against defendants City of Hope National Medical Center ("CHMC"), City of Hope ("CH"), and certain fictitious defendants, alleging wrongful termination based on discrimination.*fn1 On October 21, 2011, defendants removed the action to federal court.*fn2 Buckles filed a motion to remand the action to state court on November 3, 2011,*fn3 which defendants oppose.*fn4


Buckles asserts she is physically disabled due to a patent foramen ovale, that is, a hole in her *fn5 Buckles was hired by defendants in 2003. She worked first as a registered nurse and later as a nurse case manager.*fn6 At the time of Buckles' termination, her employment was governed by a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between the California Nurses Association ("CNA") and defendants.*fn7 In August 2010, Buckles allegedly needed to take a medical leave to undergo surgery to repair her heart. She asserts she updated defendants on her status and expected return date throughout her leave.*fn8 In October 2010, defendants terminated Buckles' employment. Buckles contends she was terminated while still on medical leave*fn9 due to her physical disability.*fn10 Defendants argue that she was discharged because she exceeded her maximum available medical leave.*fn11

Buckles asserts six causes of action: (1) employment discrimination based on physical disability; (2) failure reasonably to accommodate her physical disability; (3) failure to engage in a timely, good faith, interactive process with a physically disabled employee; (4) failure to provide medical leave; (5) wrongful termination; and (6) wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The first five claims allege violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), California Government Code § 12900 et seq.*fn12

In its notice of removal, defendant contend that Buckles' claims arise out of or require reference to the CBA, and that the court thus has federal question jurisdiction to hear the action under section 301 of the Labor Management and Relations Act ("LMRA") 29 U.S.C. § 185(a).*fn13 In her motion to remand, plaintiff counters that the complaint pleads solely state law claims, and that sjhe chose not to file federal claims.*fn14 Plaintiff argues that the mere fact that she was employed pursuant to a CBA does not mean that her claims are preempted by the LMRA.*fn15

Pursuant to Rule 78 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Local Rule 7-15, the court finds the matter appropriate for decision without oral argument and vacates the hearing scheduled for February 6, 2012.


A. Legal Standard Governing Removal Jurisdiction

The right to remove a case to federal court is entirely a creature of statute. See Libhart v. Santa Monica Dairy Co., 592 F.2d 1062, 1064 (9th Cir. 1979). The removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441, allows defendants to remove when a case originally filed in state court presents a federal question or is between citizens of different states and involves an amount in controversy that exceeds $75,000. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441(a), (b); see also 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332(a). Only state court actions that could originally have been filed in federal court may be removed. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); see Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987); Ethridge v. Harbor House Rest., 861 F.2d 1389, 1393 (9th Cir. 1988). "Federal district courts have original federal question jurisdiction of actions 'arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.'" Sullivan v. First Affiliated Securities, Inc., 813 F.2d 1368, 1371 (9th Cir.1987 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1331). Generally, a claim "arises under" federal law only if a federal question appears on the face of plaintiff's complaint. Thus, removal jurisdiction is lacking even if defendant asserts a defense based exclusively on federal law. Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 392 ("The party who brings the suit is master to decide what law he will rely upon").

There are, however, exceptions to this "well-pleaded complaint rule" that allow the court to look beyond the face of plaintiff's pleading. Among these is the "artful pleading" doctrine, which provides that a plaintiff cannot defeat removal of a federal claim by disguising or pleading it artfully as a state law cause of action. If the claim arises under federal law, the federal court will recharacterize the claim and uphold removal. Federated Dept. Stores, Inc. v. Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 398 n. 2 (1981); Schroeder v. TransWorld Airlines, Inc., 702 F.2d 189, 191 (9th Cir. 1983). The "artful pleading" doctrine applies to state claims that are completely preempted by federal law. See Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 393 ("Once an area of state law has been completely pre-empted, any claim purportedly based on that pre-empted state law is considered, from its inception, a federal claim, and therefore arises under federal law"); Sullivan, 813 F.2d at 1372 ("A traditional example of the artful pleading doctrine is one in which the defendant has a federal preemption defense to a state claim and federal law provides a remedy"). See also ARCO Environmental Remediation, L.L.C. v. Department of Health & ...

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