United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO REMAND AND DENYING REQUEST FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES Re: Dkt. No. 10
JACQUELINE SCOTT CORLEY, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Ray Ghazvini ("Plaintiff") sued his former employer-Defendant Pittsburgh Wholesale Grocers, Inc., dba PITCO FOODS 1, ("PITCO") and Defendant Pacific Groservice, Inc., dba PITCO FOODS 1, (collectively, "Defendants")-for various labor law violations in the Superior Court for the County of Alameda. Defendants subsequently removed the action to this Court alleging federal question jurisdiction. Now pending before the Court is Plaintiff's motion to remand and request for attorney's fees. (Dkt. No. 10.) After carefully considering the parties' submissions, and having had the benefit of oral argument on November 6, 2014, the Court concludes that the totality of the circumstances favors construing Plaintiff's complaint as alleging only state law causes of action that do not raise a "substantial question" of federal law, and therefore GRANTS Plaintiff's motion to remand. Nevertheless, because Defendants had an objectively reasonable basis for removal, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's request for attorney's fees.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff was employed by PITCO from August 31, 1998 until his termination on January 30, 2014. (Complaint ¶¶ 9-10.)
On July 16, 2014, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants in the Superior Court of California, County of Alameda (Case No. RG14733198), alleging that he was improperly classified as an exempt employee throughout his employment with PITCO and that he was not paid statutory overtime. ( Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff's complaint appears to assert the following four causes of action: (1) failure to pay all wages due (overtime and accrued paid time off) in violation of California Labor Code ("CLC") §§ 227.3, 510, and 1194, Industrial Welfare Commission ("IWC") Wage Order 4-2001, and the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 207; (2) waiting time penalties under CLC §§ 201 and 203; (3) improper wage statements in violation of CLC § 226(a); and (4) unlawful business practices under California Business and Professions Code §17200, et seq. ( Id. ¶¶ 18-41.)
Defendants subsequently removed the case to this Court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction, asserting that removal was proper because Plaintiff's first cause of action was brought in part under the FLSA. (Dkt. No. 1 at 4.) The first cause of action specifically alleges that:
Plaintiff did not qualify for any exemption under California law.
... PITCO failed and refused to pay Plaintiff compensation for paid time off required by 29 USC § 207, California Labor Code §§ 227.3 and 1194, and IWC Wage Order 4-2001.
... PITCO failed and refused to pay Plaintiff a total of $87, 746.00 in overtime compensation required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 USC § 207, California Labor Code §§ 510 and 1194, and IWC Wage Order 4-2001.
( Id. ¶¶ 19-21.) The complaint caption characterizes the first cause of action as "FAILURE TO PAY ALL WAGES DUE, INCLUDING OVERTIME (FLSA 29 USC § 207, CAL. LABOR CODE §§ 510, 1194)." ( Id. at 1).
Plaintiff's motion to remand and request for attorney's fees followed. (Dkt. No. 10.)
"A motion to remand is the proper procedure for challenging removal." Leo v. Alameda Cnty. Med. Ctr., No. C 06-03799 SI, 2006 WL 2669001, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 18, 2006). A district court must remand a removed action "if at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). The Ninth Circuit "strictly construe[s] the removal statute against removal jurisdiction." Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). "Th[is] strong presumption' against removal jurisdiction means that the defendant always has the burden of establishing that removal is proper." Id.
The Court has original "federal question" jurisdiction over civil actions "arising under" federal law. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Removal based on jurisdiction under section 1331 is governed by the "well-pleaded complaint rule." Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). Under the rule, "federal jurisdiction exists only when a ...