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Saldana v. Home Depot USA, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 20, 2016

HOME DEPOT USA, INC.; and DOES 1 through 20, inclusive, Defendants.


         On February 4, 2016, Yvonne Saldana (“plaintiff”) filed the current action against Home Depot USA, Inc. (“defendant”) in the Kern County Superior Court, alleging multiple violations of the California Fair Employment Housing Act (“FEHA”), codified at California Government Code § 12900 et seq., and state wage and hour laws. (See Doc. No. 1-2.) Defendant removed the action to this court on April 4, 2016 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(a), 1441(b), and 1446. (Doc. No. 1.) On May 10, 2016, plaintiff filed a motion to remand the case back to state court, alleging defendant had failed to establish both diversity of citizenship between the parties and an amount in controversy exceeding $75, 000 as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Doc. No. 11.) Defendant filed its opposition on May 24, 2016. (Doc. No. 12.) Plaintiff subsequently filed a reply on May 31, 2016. (Doc. No. 15.) Oral argument was heard on June 7, 2016. Attorney Lawrence Freiman appeared telephonically on behalf of plaintiff, and Attorney Michael Wilson, Jr. appeared telephonically on behalf of defendant.

         I. Legal Standard

         A defendant in state court may remove a civil action to federal court so long as that case could originally have been filed in federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); City of Chicago v. Int’l Coll. of Surgeons, 522 U.S. 156, 163 (1997). Thus, removal of a state action may be based on either diversity jurisdiction or federal question jurisdiction. City of Chicago, 522 U.S. at 163; Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). Removal jurisdiction is based entirely on federal statutory authority. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441 et seq. These removal statutes are strictly construed, and removal jurisdiction is to be rejected in favor of remand to the state court if there are doubts as to the right of removal. Geographic Expeditions, Inc. v. Estate of Lhotka, 599 F.3d 1102, 1107 (9th Cir. 2010); Provincial Gov’t of Marinduque v. Placer Dome, Inc., 582 F.3d 1083, 1087 (9th Cir. 2009); Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). The defendant seeking removal of an action from state court bears the burden of establishing grounds for federal jurisdiction. Geographic Expeditions, 599 F.3d at 1106-07; Hunter v. Philip Morris USA, 582 F.3d 1039, 1042 (9th Cir. 2009); Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566-67. The district court must remand the case “[i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c); see also Bruns v. NCUA, 122 F.3d 1251, 1257 (9th Cir. 1997) (holding that remand for lack of subject matter jurisdiction “is mandatory, not discretionary”).[1]

         Diversity jurisdiction exists in actions between citizens of different States where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Diversity of citizenship must be complete, and the presence “of a single plaintiff from the same State as a single defendant deprives the district court of original diversity jurisdiction over the entire action.” Abrego Abrego v. The Dow Chemical Co., 443 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted).

         The removing party bears the burden of showing the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398, 404 (9th Cir. 1996). The amount in controversy must be determined as of the date of removal. Conrad Assoc. v. Hartford Acc. & Indem. Co., 994 F.Supp. 1196, 1200 (N.D. Cal. 1998) (citing Miranti v. Lee, 3 F.3d 925, 928 (5th Cir. 1993) and United Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v. Human Relations Comm’n, 24 F.3d 1008, 1014 (7th Cir. 1994)). “[T]he amount in controversy is simply an estimate of the total amount in dispute, not a prospective assessment of [the] defendant’s liability.” Lewis v. Verizon Comm. Inc., 627 F.3d 395, 400 (9th Cir. 2010). “In calculating the amount in controversy, a court must assume that the allegations in the complaint are true and that a jury will return a verdict for plaintiffs on all claims alleged.” Page v. Luxottica Retail North Am., No. 2:13-cv-01333-MCE-KJN, 2015 WL 966201, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 4, 2015) (citing Korn v. Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., 536 F.Supp.2d 1199, 1205 (E.D. Cal. 2008)).

         II. Analysis

         Plaintiff argues defendant has failed to satisfy both elements of diversity jurisdiction. Regarding citizenship, plaintiff asserts defendant does not affirmatively allege its citizenship in its notice of removal. (Doc. No. 11 at 4.) Plaintiff also claims defendant fails to prove by a preponderance of the evidence the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. (Id. at 5-8.) The court will analyze each argument in turn.

         a. Diversity of Citizenship

         As discussed above, § 1332 requires complete diversity of citizenship. A natural person who is a United States citizen is a citizen of the state in which he is domiciled. Kanter v. Warner-Lambert Co., 265 F.3d 853, 857 (9th Cir. 2001). “A person’s domicile is her permanent home, where she resides with the intention to remain or to which she intends to return.” Id. (citing Lew v. Moss, 797 F.2d 747, 749 (9th Cir. 1986)). “[A] corporation shall be deemed to be a citizen of every State and foreign state by which it has been incorporated and of the State or foreign state where it has its principal place of business[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c). “‘[P]rincipal place of business’ is best read as referring to the place where a corporation’s officers direct, control, and coordinate the corporation’s activities.” Hertz Corp v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 92-93 (2010).

         Here, defendant argues complete diversity is established because plaintiff alleges in her complaint she resides in California and because defendant is a corporation neither incorporated in or having its principal place of business located in California. Generally, “[a] person residing in a given state is not necessarily domiciled there, and thus is not necessarily a citizen of that state.” Kanter, 265 F.3d at 857. However, a plaintiff’s residence can serve as “prima facie” evidence of his domicile. Socoloff v. LRN Corp., No. CV 13-4910-CAS (AGRx), 2013 WL 4479010, at *3 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 2013); Bey v. SolarWorld Industries Am., Inc., 904 F.Supp.2d 1103, 1105 (D. Or. 2012) (citing Hollinger v. Home State Mut. Ins. Co., 654 F.3d 564, 571 (5th Cir. 2011)). In its notice of removal, defendant includes a declaration from Benita Radcliffe-a district human resources manager for defendant-stating plaintiff worked in Bakersfield, California from 2006 up until her termination in 2014. (Doc. No. 17 at ¶ 4.) The court finds defendant has adequately established plaintiff is a citizen of California based on her long employment history in California as well as plaintiff’s own assertions regarding her residency.[2]

         The court also finds defendant has adequately asserted it is not a citizen of California. Defendant is incorporated in Delaware and has its principal place of business in Georgia, making it a citizen of those two states. (Doc. Nos. 1 at ¶ 10; 1-7 at ¶ 3.) Because there is no overlap in citizenship between plaintiff and defendant, complete diversity is satisfied.

         b. Amount in Controversy

         The court addresses in turn each category of relief defendant contends should factor into determining the amount in controversy posed by this action.

         i. ...

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