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Bill Taylor v. Coxcom

January 29, 2013

BILL TAYLOR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COXCOM, INC., COXCOM, LLC, COX COMMUNICATIONS, INC. AND DOES 1 THROUGH 50 INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cormac J. Carney United States District Judge

JS-6

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND

I.INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Bill Taylor ("Plaintiff") filed this putative class action on October 23, 2012 in Santa Barbara County Superior Court. Plaintiff alleges that he is a former hourly employee of CoxCom, Inc., CoxCom, LLC, and Cox Communications, Inc. (collectively, "Defendants").*fn1 He seeks to represent a class of current and former hourly employees who worked for Defendants within the four years preceding the filing of the complaint and who held the title of Field Service Technician, Field Service Representative, Universal Home Technician In-Training, or Universal Home Technician and whose duties included cable/internet service and/or installation for Defendants' customers. (Dkt No. 9, Attach. 2 [Glugoski Decl.] Exh. 2 [First Amended Complaint ("FAC")] ¶ 10.) He alleges that Defendants violated the California Labor Code ("Labor Code") and California Business and Professions Code and asserts five causes of action: (1) failure to provide meal period breaks and accurate wage statements pursuant to IWC wage orders and Labor Code sections 226, 226.7, and 512; (2) failure to provide rest period breaks and accurate wage statements pursuant to IWC wage orders and Labor Code sections 226 and 226.7; (3) failure to pay minimum wage in violation of Labor Code sections 1194, 1194.2, and 1197; (4) failure to make payment within the required time pursuant to Labor Code sections 201, 202, and 203; and, (5) unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices pursuant to Business and Professions Code section 17200, et seq. Defendants removed the action pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 ("CAFA") on November 28, 2012. (Dkt. No. 1 [Notice of Removal] at 2.) Defendants contend that minimal diversity exists and that the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million. (Id. at 2-- 3.)

Before the Court is Plaintiff's motion to remand the action to Santa Barbara Superior Court. Plaintiff argues that the $5 million CAFA amount in controversy requirement is not met because the FAC explicitly states:

The claims of the individual class members, including Plaintiff, are under the $75,000 jurisdictional threshold for federal court. For example, a class member who was or has been employed for a relatively brief period would never reasonably be expected to receive a recovery of $75,000 or more. The total amount in controversy for the entire case does not exceed $5,000,000.

(FAC ¶ 1.) Defendants contend that removal was proper because they have shown by preponderance of the evidence, and to a legal certainty, that the amount in controversy is well over the jurisdictional threshold. By Defendants' calculations, the amount in controversy is at least $25 million. (Notice of Removal.) For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motion to remand is GRANTED. Defendants' pending motion to dismiss is DENIED AS MOOT.*fn2

II.ANALYSIS

A.LEGAL STANDARD

A civil action brought in a state court but over which a federal court may exercise original jurisdiction may be removed by the defendant to a federal district court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). CAFA provides federal jurisdiction over class actions in which the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million, there is minimal diversity between the parties, and the number of proposed class members is at least 100.*fn3 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(d)(2), 1332(d)(5)(B). The removal statute is "strictly construe[d] . . . against removal jurisdiction. Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance." Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992) (internal citations omitted). A district court must remand the case to state court if it appears at any time before final judgment that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

B.REMOVING PARTY'S BURDEN OF PROOF

The Court first addresses the burden of proof as the parties disagree over which standard applies.*fn4 This Circuit has identified three burdens of proof placed on removing defendants, two of which are relevant here. First, where it is "unclear or ambiguous from the face of a state-court complaint whether the requisite amount in controversy is pled," a preponderance of the evidence standard applies. Guglielmino v. McKee Foods Corp., 506 F.3d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 2007). Second, where "the plaintiff has pled an amount in controversy less than $5,000,000, the party seeking removal must prove with legal certainty that CAFA's jurisdictional amount is met." Lowdermilk v. U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 479 F.3d 994, 1000 (9th Cir. 2007). Plaintiff argues that the Lowdermilk "legal certainty" standard applies because the FAC explicitly states under a subheading entitled "Parties, Jurisdiction, and Venue" that "[t]he total amount in controversy for the entire case does not exceed $5,000,000." Defendants contend that the preponderance of the evidence standard applies because Plaintiff does not allege the amount in controversy in good faith and the FAC's jurisdictional limitation is not repeated in the prayer.

Contrary to Defendants' contentions, there is no ambiguity that the FAC specifically pleads an amount in controversy that does not exceed $5,000,000. The "amount in controversy" allegation explicitly refers to "the entire case," which is reasonably interpreted to include all forms of relief. The cases cited by Defendants are inapposite. In Guglielmino, the plaintiffs alleged in the jurisdiction and venue section of their complaint that the "damages" to each plaintiff were below the jurisdictional minimum. In their prayer for relief, the plaintiffs did not mention a dollar amount but sought monetary relief such as attorneys' fees and other amounts that "do not fall comfortably within the realm of 'damages' ", creating uncertainty as to the specific total amount in controversy. 506 F.3d at 700--01. Similarly, the courts in Trahan v. U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n, No. C 09-03111 JSW, 2009 WL 4510140 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 30, 2009), and Ray v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. CV 11-01477 AHM JCX, 2011 WL 1790123 (C.D. Cal. May 9, 2011), applied the preponderance of the evidence standard where the plaintiffs asserted that the "aggregate damages" and "damages," not the total amount in controversy, were under the jurisdictional limit. Lyon v. W.W. Grainger Inc. did not address jurisdiction under CAFA and there was ambiguity because the prayer included requested relief not factored into the plaintiff's amount in controversy determination. No. C 10-00884 WHA, 2010 WL 1753194 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 29, 2010).

Here, Plaintiff's jurisdictional statement is not limited to damages, but avers that the amount of controversy for the entire case falls below the CAFA jurisdictional minimum. Accordingly, this case more closely resembles Lowdermilk than Guglielmino. As the court in Ray pointed out, "[t]he key distinction . . . between Guglielmino and Lowdermilk was that the plaintiffs in Guglielmino did not mention the total amount in controversy." 2011 WL 1790123, at *3. It is true that Plaintiff does not repeat his amount in controversy allegation in his prayer for relief, but nothing in the prayer contradicts the alleged amount in controversy and no ambiguity is created because of this omission. See Fletcher v. Toro Co., No. 08-cv-2275 DMS (WMc), 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 126693, at *14 (S.D. Cal. Feb. 3, 2009) (noting that "the ...


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