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Seshadri v. British Airways Plc

United States District Court, S.D. California

November 4, 2014

KARTIK SESHADRI, Plaintiff,
v.
BRITISH AIRWAYS PLC, Defendant.

ORDER: (1) DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL REMAND (ECF NO. 9); (2) GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS (ECF NO. 5); AND (3) DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO STRIKE (ECF NO. 4)

CYNTHIA BASHANT, District Judge.

On March 6, 2014, Plaintiff Kartik Seshadri ("Plaintiff") commenced this action against Defendant British Airways, Plc ("Defendant") in San Diego Superior Court alleging claims for property damage pursuant to Articles 17 and 22 of the Montreal Convention and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendant removed this action to federal court on April 8, 2014 on the grounds of diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 and federal question under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

Defendant now moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (ECF No. 5), and to strike Plaintiff's prayer for punitive damages pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) (ECF No. 4). Plaintiff concurrently moves to remand his cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress to San Diego Superior Court (ECF No. 9).

The Court finds these motions suitable for determination on the papers submitted and without oral argument. See Civ. L.R. 7.1(d)(1). For the following reasons, the Court (1) DENIES Plaintiff's motion for partial remand; (2) GRANTS Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (3) DENIES Defendant's motion to strike Plaintiff's prayer for punitive damages.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges he is a "world-renowned musician" in the field of Indian Classical Music. (ECF No. 1-2 ("Compl.") at ¶ 15.) When Plaintiff performs, he does so with a specific sitar ("Sitar") which he has owned for over thirty-five years. ( Id. at ¶ 16.) The Sitar had been "specially handcrafted for Plaintiff to fit his needs and individual tone' which is a hallmark of his style and playing." ( Id. ) When he travels with the Sitar, Plaintiff uses a "specialized protective instrument case" whose shape, materials, and design allegedly make it apparent to any person that the case holds a fragile musical instrument. ( Id. at ¶ 21.)

On or about July 29, 2013, Plaintiff alleges he purchased a round-trip ticket from Defendant, a global airline, to travel from the United States to India. ( Id. at ¶¶ 8, 17.) Plaintiff's return flight was scheduled to leave New Delhi, India on September 15, 2013 and arrive in San Diego on the same day, with a connection through London. ( Id. at 17.) The return flight was allegedly operated by Defendant on an aircraft owned by Defendant, and all baggage on the plane was allegedly handled by Defendant, its agents or employees. ( Id. at ¶ 18.) On September 15, 2013, Plaintiff contends he arrived at the New Delhi airport with the Sitar in its case and communicated to a check-in representative for Defendant that he was transporting a fragile musical instrument requiring special handling. ( Id. at ¶¶ 20-22.) Defendant's agent allegedly acknowledged the delicate nature of the Sitar, placed a fragile tag on the bag holding the case, and then took control of it. ( Id. at ¶ 22-23.)

Upon arriving in San Diego, Plaintiff learned the Sitar had not been on the connecting flight out of London which distressed Plaintiff. ( Id. at ¶¶25-26.) The Sitar arrived in San Diego the next day on September 16, 2013. ( Id. at ¶ 28.) After Plaintiff collected the Sitar at the San Diego airport from Defendant's baggage agent and took it home, he discovered the outer canvas bag was allegedly "extremely damp." ( Id. ) When Plaintiff unpacked the Sitar, he contends the hard case had a "thick layer of condensation over its entirety" and the "Sitar itself was freezing to the touch, a combination of frozen and soaked." ( Id. ) Upon discovering the Sitar was "in an unsalvageable condition, " Plaintiff allegedly became "extremely distressed to the point of panic." ( Id. ) On September 17, 2013, Plaintiff contends a representative of Defendant contacted him in response to his numerous calls and messages. ( Id. at ¶¶ 28-29.) The representative allegedly stated that the only way luggage could arrive either frozen or with extreme condensation is if it had been placed in the wrong cargo hold which was not pressurized for baggage. ( Id. at ¶ 29.)

On March 6, 2014, Plaintiff commenced this action against Defendant in San Diego Superior Court alleging claims for property damage pursuant to Articles 17 and 22 of the Montreal Convention and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendant now moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (ECF No. 5), and to strike Plaintiff's prayer for punitive damages pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) (ECF No. 4). Plaintiff also moves to remand his cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress to San Diego Superior Court (ECF No. 9).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). "They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree." Id. (internal citations omitted). "It is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction." Id. (internal citations omitted); see also Abrego Abrego v. The Dow Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 684 (9th Cir. 2006). "The Ninth Circuit strictly construe[s] the removal statute against removal jurisdiction." Grace v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 926 F.Supp.2d 1173, 1174 (S.D. Cal. 2013) (quoting Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992)).

1. Federal Question

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, "a defendant may generally remove a civil action from state court to federal district court if the district court would have had subject matter jurisdiction had the action been originally filed in that court." Roth v. CHA Hollywood Med. Ctr., L.P., 720 F.3d 1121, 1124 (9th Cir. 2013). Federal question jurisdiction is governed by the well-pleaded complaint rule, which provides that federal jurisdiction exists only if a federal question is presented on the face of a properly pleaded complaint. Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). An affirmative defense raising a federal question is insufficient to confer federal question jurisdiction. Beneficial Nat. Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 6-9 (2003); Hall v. N. Am. Van Lines, Inc., 476 F.3d 683, 687 (9th Cir. 2007). The doctrine of complete preemption is a narrow corollary to the well-pleaded complaint rule. Balcorta v. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 208 F.3d 1102, 1107 (9th Cir. 2000). Under the complete preemption doctrine, "the preemptive force of some statutes is so strong that they completely preempt' an area of state law" and give rise to federal question jurisdiction. Id. (citing Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 65 (1987); Franchise Tax Bd. of State of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 24 (1983)). "The test is whether Congress clearly manifested an intent to convert state law claims into federal-question claims." Holman v. Laulo-Rowe Agency, 994 F.2d 666, 668 (9th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). "If so, then the cause of action necessarily arises under federal law and the case is removable. If not, then the complaint does not arise under federal law and is not removable." Beneficial Nat. Bank, 539 U.S. at 9.

2. Diversity Jurisdiction

"District courts... have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000' and where all parties to the action are citizens of different states.'" Grace, 926 F.Supp.2d at 1174 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)). "The calculation of the amount in controversy takes into account claims for general damages, special damages, punitive damages if recoverable as a matter of law, and attorneys' fees recoverable by statute or contract." Rippee v. Boston Market Corp., 408 F.Supp.2d 982, 984 (S.D. Cal. 2005) (citations and internal quotations omitted); see also Conrad Assocs. v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 994 F.Supp. 1196, 1198-99 (N.D. Cal. 1998). The amount in controversy does not include interest or costs of suit. Id.; 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).

"Generally, the amount in controversy is to be decided from the complaint itself." Rippee, 408 F.Supp.2d at 984; see also Singer v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 116 F.3d 373, 377 (9th Cir.1997) (citation omitted); 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(2). "Where it is not facially evident from the complaint that more than $75, 000 is in controversy, the removing party must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy meets the jurisdictional threshold." Matheson v. Progressive Specialty Ins. Co., 319 F.3d 1089, 1090 (9th Cir. 2003); see also 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(a), 1446.

Under the preponderance of the evidence standard, "the defendant must provide evidence establishing that it is more likely than not' that the amount in controversy exceeds [$75, 000]." Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398, 404 (9th Cir. 1996). Conclusory allegations and speculative arguments regarding the potential value of the award are insufficient. Valdez v. Allstate Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 1115, 1117 (9th Cir.2004) (citing Gaus, 980 F.2d at 567); see also Conrad Assocs., 994 F.Supp. at 1198. A statement in the petition for removal that "upon information and belief" the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 does not constitute proof by a preponderance of the evidence. Id. A district court may consider facts in the petition for removal, and may require parties to submit "summary-judgment type evidence" relevant to the amount in controversy at the time of removal. Singer, 116 F.3d at 377 (citation omitted).

B. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of the claims asserted in the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). The court must accept all allegations of material fact pleaded in the complaint as true and must construe them and draw all reasonable inferences from them in favor of the nonmoving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996). To avoid a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, rather, it must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal quotations omitted).

"[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (alteration in original)). A court need not accept "legal conclusions" as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Despite the deference the court must pay to the plaintiff's allegations, it is not proper for the court to assume that "the [plaintiff] can prove facts that [he or she] has not alleged or that defendants have violated ...


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