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Lisa Leage v. Bechtel Construction Company

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


February 27, 2013

LISA LEAGE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BECHTEL CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dean D. Pregerson United States District Judge

cc: order, docket, remand letter to San Luis Obispo Superior Court, No. CV12835

ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO REMAND [Dkt. No. 8]

Presently before the court is Plaintiff Lisa Leage's Motion for Remand to State Court. Having considered the parties' submissions, the court adopts the following order.

Plaintiff brought an action against Defendant Bechtel Construction Company ("BCC") on December 6, 2012, in the Superior Court of the State of California. In the Complaint, she alleged discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination under the California Fair Employment Housing Act and the California Labor Code. On January 11, 2013, BCC timely removed the action to this court.

A defendant may remove to federal court "any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction . . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). District courts have original jurisdiction over "all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interest and cost, and is between . . . citizens of different states." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The removal statute is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction, and federal jurisdiction must be rejected if any doubt exists as to the propriety of removal. Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). A removing defendant bears the burden of establishing that removal is proper. Id.

"[I]n cases where a plaintiff's state court complaint does not specify a particular amount of damages, the removing defendant bears the burden of establishing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy exceeds" the required amount. Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398 (9th Cir. 1996). In other words, Defendant must "provide evidence establishing that it is 'more likely than not' that the amount in controversy exceeds that amount." Id.

Defendant presents evidence that it employed Plaintiff as a laborer from January 9, 2012, until March 30, 2012. (Schwartzmiller Decl. ¶ 2.) She received a base pay of $28.39 per hour, as well as $2.32 per hour for vacation and $1.28 for supplemental dues. (Id.) Additionally, she received fringe benefits including health and welfare benefits and pension contribution. (Id. ¶ 3.) Her base pay plus benefits totaled $45.78 per hour. (Id.)

Defendant calculates that if Plaintiff had continued to work for BCC for a full year at 40 hours per week, her overall compensation package (taxable wages and non-taxable fringe benefits) would have amounted to $95,222.40. (Id. ¶ 4.) Defendant asserts that these economic damages alone exceed the amount in controversy, and that Plaintiff is also seeking punitive damages and attorneys fees which increase the amount further.*fn1 The court finds that these damages are too speculative. Plaintiff worked for BCC for only three months before being terminated, and no evidence has been presented that despite her short tenure and the nature of the construction business, she would have remained in BCC's employ for an extended period. The court sees no good reason to speculate that Plaintiff would have earned a full year's salary but for the termination in March 2012. Nor has any evidence been presented regarding amount or likelihood of a punitive damage award.

Because the court finds that the amount in controversy has not been established by preponderance of the evidence, it declines to address the issue of the diversity of parties.

The Motion is GRANTED. IT IS SO ORDERED.


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