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Raphael v. Tesoro Refining and Marketing Co. LLC

United States District Court, C.D. California

June 30, 2015

CYRUS RAPHAEL; individually, and on behalf of other aggrieved employees pursuant to the California Private Attorneys General Act, Plaintiff,
v.
TESORO REFINING AND MARKETING CO. LLC; and DOES 1-100, inclusive, Defendants.

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND [12]

OTIS D. WRIGHT, II, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Cyrus Raphael ("Raphael") has brought suit against his former employer, Tesoro Refining and Marketing Co., LLC ("Tesoro"), on behalf of himself and other aggrieved employees of Tesoro for violations of several provisions of the California Labor Code ("CLC"). Raphael initially filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court, and Tesoro promptly removed the action to this Court. Tesoro argues § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA") preempts Raphael's state law claims and creates federal question jurisdiction over those claims. For the reasons discussed below, the Court DENIES Raphael's Motion to Remand.[1] (ECF No. 12.)

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Raphael was an employee of Tesoro working in the County of Los Angeles, California from approximately April 2007 until March 2014. (ECF No. 1, Ex. A Compl. ¶ 13.) During this period, Raphael claims that Tesoro engaged in "a uniform policy and systematic scheme of wage abuse" against him and the other aggrieved employees. ( Id. ¶ 20.) Raphael further alleges that Tesoro violated various CLC provisions due to Tesoro's: (1) failure to pay for overtime hours worked; (2) failure to provide uninterrupted meal and rest periods; (3) failure to pay at least minimum wage for all hours worked; (4) failure to pay all wages owed upon discharge or resignation; (5) failure to pay within a period of time statutorily permissible; (6) failure to provide complete and accurate wage statements; (7) failure to keep complete and accurate payroll records; (8) failure to reimburse for necessary business-related expenses and costs; and (9) failure to properly compensate employees.[2] ( Id. ¶¶ 32-40.)

Shortly after Raphael filed his complaint with the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Tesoro removed the suit to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (ECF No. 1, Notice of Removal 1.) Tesoro claimed that federal question jurisdiction existed due to the necessary analysis of eight different collective bargaining agreements ("CBAs")[3], which, as discussed below, preempts any state law claim in the current suit. ( Id. at 2-8.) Raphael now moves to remand. (ECF No. 12, Motion to Remand ["Remand"].) A timely opposition and reply were filed. (ECF Nos. 18, 21.) Raphael's Motion is now before the Court for consideration.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

A federal court may exercise removal jurisdiction over a case only if jurisdiction existed over the suit as originally brought by the plaintiffs. 28 U.S.C. § 1441. The removing party bears the burden to establish that federal subject matter jurisdiction exists. Emrich v. Touche Ross & Co., 846 F.2d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 1988). The right to remove a case to federal court is entirely a creature of statute. See Libhart v. Santa Monica Dairy Co., 592 F.2d 1062, 1064 (9th Cir. 1979). The removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441, allows defendants to remove when a case originally filed in state court presents a federal question or is between citizens of different states and involves an amount in controversy that exceeds $75, 000. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441(a), (b); see also 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332(a). A case presents a "federal question" if a claim "aris[es] under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." Sullivan v. First Affiliated Sec., Inc., 813 F.2d 1368, 1371 (9th Cir. 1987) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1331).

Whether removal jurisdiction exists must be determined by reference to the "well-pleaded complaint." Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 808 (1986). The well-pleaded complaint rule makes plaintiff the "master of the claim." Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). Thus, where the plaintiff can state claims under both federal and state law, he can prevent removal by ignoring the federal claim and alleging only state law claims. Rains v. Criterion Sys., Inc., 80 F.3d 339, 344 (9th Cir. 1996).

However, there is an exception to the "well-pleaded complaint" rule. Under the "artful pleading" doctrine, a plaintiff cannot defeat removal of a federal claim by disguising or pleading it artfully as a state law cause of action. If the claim arises under federal law, the federal court will re-characterize it and uphold removal. Federated Dept. Stores, Inc. v. Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 398 n. 2 (1981); Schroeder v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 702 F.2d 189, 191 (9th Cir. 1983). The "artful pleading" doctrine applies to state claims that are completely preempted by federal law. See Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 393 ("Once an area of state law has been completely pre-empted, any claim purportedly based on that pre-empted state law is considered, from its inception, a federal claim, and therefore arises under federal law").

To support a finding of complete preemption, the preemptive force of the federal statute at issue must be "extraordinary." See Metro. Life Ins. Co., 481 U.S. at 65. For this reason, the complete preemption doctrine is narrowly construed. See Holman v. Laulo-Rowe Agency, 994 F.2d 666, 668 (9th Cir. 1993) ("The [complete preemption] doctrine does not have wide applicability; it is a narrow exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule'"). "[O]nly three areas have been deemed areas of complete preemption by the United States Supreme Court: (1) claims under the Labor Management Relations Act [LMRA § 301]; (2) claims under the Employment Retirement and Insurance Security Act (ERISA); and (3) certain Indian land grant rights." Gatton v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., No. SACV 03-130 DOC, 2003 WL 21530185, *5 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 18, 2003); see also Robinson v. Michigan Consol. Gas Co., Inc., 918 F.2d 579, 585 (6th Cir. 1990).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. LMRA § 301 Creates Federal Question Jurisdiction

Section 301(a) of the LMRA gives federal courts exclusive jurisdiction to hear "[s]uits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization." 29 U.S.C. § 185(a). The question at the heart of the Court's analysis regarding preemption is whether the Court will be required to interpret the relevant CBAs. The line that must be drawn to separate state law claims from claims preempted by LMRA § 301 is far from clear; many wise men and women have ruled on this issue, yet a dispositive answer continues to elude the courts. This distinction, which divides reference to CBAs from interpretation of CBAs, is not one "that lends itself to analytical precision." Cramer v. Consol. Freightways, Inc., 255 F.3d 683, 691 (9th Cir. 2001) (en banc), 534 U.S. 1078 (2002). However, even without precedent ...


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