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Luis Enrigue Melchor, On Behalf Ofhimself and v. Foster Poultry Farms

May 21, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge



On January 9, 2012, Plaintiff initiated this wage and hour action as a class action in Merced County Superior Court (Case number CV002414). Plaintiff, and others similarly situated (collectively "Plaintiffs"), alleged six causes of action, including violations of the California Labor Code, for: failure to fully compensate Plaintiffs for all hours worked and for overtime; failure to provide meal and rest periods; recovery of unpaid wages and waiting time penalties; failure to itemize pay stubs; and for unfair business practices under California Business and Professions Code §§ 17200, et seq.

Plaintiffs are production-line employees at Defendant's poultry processing plant in Livingston, California. They allege Defendant failed to fully and properly compensate them as required by California law for inter alia, pre-and post-production-line activities, commonly referred to as "donning and doffing", i.e., putting on and taking off protective gear. Plaintiffs plead no federal causes of action. Moreover, Plaintiffs' allegations on their face raise no federal claims, and there is no alleged diversity of citizenship to bring the case within the jurisdiction of this Court.

On March 5, 2012, Defendant removed this case to federal court claiming that the allegations in Plaintiffs' complaint brought it within Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (29 U.S.C. § 185(a)) ("LMRA") thereby raising federal questions that are subject to this Court's jurisdiction. (Doc. 1). In particular, Defendant argues that the Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") between the parties must be interpreted in order to resolve Plaintiffs' claims thereby bringing this case within the parameters of the LMRA.

On April 4, 2012, Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion to Remand. (Doc. 10). Plaintiffs' contend that their complaint seeks to enforce non-negotiable statutory protections and rights which arise exclusively out of state law and exist independently of the CBA. The Plaintiffs further allege that Section 301 preemption does not result simply because the CBA may be consulted in the course of proving its claim. Plaintiffs also argue that collateral estoppel bars Defendant from raising this argument because this issue was previously decided in Avalos v. Foster Poutry Farms, Inc. 798 F. Supp. 2d 1156 (E.D. Cal. 2011), wherein Judge O'Neill recently remanded a nearly identical case.

On April 20, 2012, Defendant filed its Opposition to the Motion for Remand. (Doc. 13).

Plaintiffs filed a Reply on April 27, 2012. (Doc. 15).*fn1 On May 4, 2012, this Court determined the matter was suitable for decision without oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 230(g).*fn2 The hearing scheduled for May 4, 2012, was vacated and the matter was taken under submission. (Doc. 18.)


A. Preliminary Matters

Plaintiffs have argued that collateral estoppel bars federal jurisdiction of Plaintiffs claims because in Avalos v. Foster Poultry Farms, Inc, supra, Judge O'Neill remanded a class action alleging the same causes of action involving Defendant. In Avalos v. Foster Poultry Farms, Defendant argued similar issues as it does here, namely that federal jurisdiction was established under the LMRA because the CBA between the parties needed to be interpreted in order to resolve the claims.

The preclusive effect of a judgment is defined by claim preclusion and issue preclusion, which are collectively referred to as "res judicata." Taylor v. Sturgell, 128 S. Ct. 2161, 2171 (2008) quoting, New Hampshire v. Maine, 121 S.Ct. 1808 (2001). Under the doctrine of claim preclusion, a final judgment forecloses "successive litigation of the very same claim, whether or not relitigation of the claim raises the same issues as the earlier suit." Id. Issue preclusion, or collateral estoppel, in contrast, bars "successive litigation of an issue of fact or law actually litigated and resolved in a valid court determination essential to the prior judgment," even if the issue recurs in the context of a different claim. Id.

Collateral estoppel applies when : (1) one party against whom the pleas is raised was a party or was in privity with a party to the prior adjudication, 2) there was a final judgment on the merits in a prior action, and 3) the issue necessarily decided in the prior adjudication is identical to the one that is sought to be relitigated. Af-Cap Inc., v. Cheveron Overseas (Congo) Ltd., 475 F. 3d 1080, 1080 (9th Cit. 2007). Contrary to Plaintiff's argument, Defendant is not collaterally estopped from removing this case to federal court because the issue decided in the prior case is not identical to the one raised here. As outlined below, a determination of whether the LMRA applies and has a preclusive effect for purposes of establishing jurisdiction is determined on a case-by-case basis. While the issues presented in Avalos v. Foster Poultry Farms are similar to those presented ...

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