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Emmons v. Quest Diagnostics Clinical Laboratories, Inc.

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

June 27, 2013

DOROTHEA EMMONS and LISA STAPELTON, Plaintiffs,
v.
QUEST DIAGNOSTICS CLINICAL LABORATORIES, INC., et al., Defendants.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO REMAND (Doc. 7)

BARBARA A. McAULIFFE, Magistrate Judge.

Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs Dorothea Emmons and Lisa Stapelton's ("Plaintiffs") Motion to Remand for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction. (Doc. 7). Plaintiffs argue that Defendants Quest Diagnostic Clinical Laboratories, Inc., Quest Diagnostics Incorporated, and Quest Diagnostics Nichols Institute (collectively "Defendants" or "Quest") have failed to meet their burden of proving that the amount in controversy in this case exceeds $5 million. Defendants filed an opposition (Doc. 9) on May 24, 2013, and Plaintiffs filed a reply on May 31, 2013 (Doc. 10). The motion was referred to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 302. The Court deemed the matter suitable for decision without oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 230(g), and vacated the hearing scheduled for June 21, 2013.[1] For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand should be GRANTED.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The Complaint alleges that Defendant Quest Diagnostics is the "world's leading provider of diagnostic testing, " "including blood testing, gene-based and molecular testing, and testing for diseases and cancer." Pl.'s Complaint ("Compl."), Doc. 1, at ¶ 6. Defendants employed Plaintiff Dorothea Emmons as a Phlebotomist, trained and certified to draw blood for diagnostic testing, for approximately five years and eight months ending in August 2011. Compl. at ¶ 28. Plaintiff Lisa Stapelton was employed as a Floater Phlebotomist, also certified to draw blood, in various locations in and around Haywood, California from November 2001 to June 2012. Id. at ¶ 29.

On February 23, 2013, this class action was filed on behalf of Plaintiffs and others similarly situated in the Stanislaus County Superior Court. Plaintiffs allege nine causes of action including: (1) unpaid overtime wages, in violation of Cal. Lab. Code §§ 510 and 1198; (2) unpaid minimum wages, in violation of Cal. Lab. Code §§ 1194, 1197, and 1197.1; (3) unpaid meal period premiums, in violation of Cal. Lab. Code §§ 226.7 and 512(a); (4) unpaid rest period premiums, in violation of Cal. Lab. Code § 226.7; (5) wages not timely paid upon termination, in violation of Cal. Lab. Code §§ 201 and 202; (6) non-compliant wage statements, in violation of Cal. Lab. Code § 226(a); (7) unpaid business related expenses, in violation of Cal. Lab. Code § 2800, 2802; (8) civil penalties under California Labor Code sections 2698, et seq ("PAGA"); and (9) violations of Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17200, et seq.

Plaintiffs define three classes of similarly situated persons. First, Plaintiffs purport to represent the "Class" defined as "all person who worked as non-Floater Phlebotomists for Defendants in California, within four years prior to the filing of this complaint until the date of certification." Id. at ¶ 19. Second, Plaintiffs purport to represent a subclass of persons referred to as the "Floater Sub-Class" defined as "all persons who worked as Floater Phlebotomists for Defendants in California, from June 3, 2011 until the date of certification." Id. at ¶ 20. Finally, Plaintiffs also represent another subclass of persons referred to as the "One Year Subclass" consisting of "all persons who worked as non-Floater Phlebotomists or Floater Phlebotomists for Defendants in California, within one year prior to the filing of this complaint until the date of certification." Id. at ¶ 21.

The Complaint further alleges that Plaintiffs and class members: (i) did not receive proper overtime compensation; (ii) did not receive proper minimum wages for off-the-clock work; (iii) did not receive required meal periods or proper compensation in lieu thereof; (iv) did not receive required rest periods or proper compensation in lieu thereof; (v) were not provided with complete and accurate wage statements; and (vi) did not timely receive all payments of wages, both during employment and upon termination. Id. at ¶¶ 26-49. In addition, the Complaint alleges that "the aggregate amount in controversy for the proposed class action, including monetary damages, restitution, penalties, injunctive relief, and attorneys' fees, is less than five million dollars ($5, 000, 000), exclusive of interest and costs." Id. ¶ 1. The Complaint further alleges that "Plaintiffs reserve the right to seek a larger amount based upon new and different information resulting from investigation and discovery." Id.

On April 1, 2013, Defendants filed a Notice of Removal, alleging that the amount in controversy exceeds $5, 000, 000, and that this Court has jurisdiction pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). Supporting removal, Defendants attached the declaration of Megan Bassler, the Senior Human Resources Generalist for Quest Diagnostics, Incorporated, in support of their arguments as to the jurisdictional amount. Declaration of Megan Bassler ("Bassler Decl."), Doc. 1-1. Her declaration states that: (i) at least 2, 000 employees worked in California as non-Floater Phlebotomists for Defendants during the four year period preceding the complaint; (ii) 785 of those employees are former employees; (iii) at least 180 employees worked in California as Floater Phlebotomists; and (iv) 30 of those employees are former employees. Id. at 4-5. Based on this information, Defendants indicate that the entire alleged class (including subclasses) consists of at least 2, 180 individuals. (Notice of Removal; Doc. 1 at 5).

Plaintiffs move to remand this action on the grounds that Defendants have failed to meet their burden of establishing that the total amount in controversy exceeds $5, 000, 000.

REMOVAL STANDARD

A motion to remand is the proper procedure for challenging removal. See N. Cal. Dist. Council of Laborers v. Pittsburg-Des Moines Steel Co., 69 F.3d 1034, 1038 (9th Cir.1995). The removal statute is strictly construed, and any doubt about the right of removal is resolved in favor of remand. See Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992); see also Prize Frize, Inc. v. Matrix, Inc., 167 F.3d 1261, 1265 (9th Cir.1999). Consequently, if a Plaintiff challenges the Defendant's removal of a case, the defendant bears the burden of establishing the propriety of the removal. See Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566; see also Duncan v. Stuetzle, 76 F.3d 1480, 1485 (9th Cir. 1996) (citations and quotations omitted) ("Because of the Congressional purpose to restrict the jurisdiction of the federal courts on removal, the statute is strictly construed, and federal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance.").

"A civil action in state court may be removed to federal district court if the district court has original jurisdiction' over the matter." Lowdermilk v. United States Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 479 F.3d 994, 997 (9th Cir. 2007). Under CAFA, a federal district court has subject matter jurisdiction over a class action in which: (1) there are 100 or more proposed class members; (2) at least some of the members of the proposed class have a different citizenship from the defendant; and (3) the aggregated claims of the proposed class members exceed the sum or value of $5, 000, 000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). "[U]nder CAFA the burden of establishing removal jurisdiction remains, as before, on the proponent of federal jurisdiction." Lowdermilk, 479 F.3d at 997 (quoting Abrego Abrego v. The Dow Chemical Co., 443 F.3d 676, 685 (9th Cir.2006) (per curiam)).

Here, Plaintiffs' motion for remand is based solely upon their assertion that Defendants have not met their burden of proof to establish that the case meets the amount in controversy requirement under CAFA. No dispute is raised ...


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