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Rodriguez v. Home Depot, U.S.A., Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 19, 2016

HOME DEPOT, U.S.A., INC., Defendant.




         Plaintiff Rebecca Rodriguez filed this wrongful termination case against Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. (''Home Depot'') in Monterey County Superior Court on February 11, 2016. Home Depot removed the action to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332 and 1441. The action was initially assigned to the Honorable Paul Grewal and then reassigned to the undersigned magistrate judge. Plaintiff now brings a Motion to Remand (''Motion''), contending removal was improper because Defendant has failed to prove that there is diversity of citizenship and that the amount in controversy more likely than not exceeds $75, 000. The Court finds that the Motion is suitable for determination without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b) and therefore vacates the hearing set for Friday, July 29, 2016, at 9:30 a.m. For the reasons stated below, the Motion is DENIED.[1]


         A. Complaint

         Plaintiff alleges that she was terminated after she complained that a fellow employee had assaulted her and created an unsafe work environment. Compl. ¶¶ 7, 9. Specifically, Rodriguez alleges that a coworker "screamed at, assaulted, pushed, and shoved [her], " "attempted to slash [her] car's tire while she was sitting in the car, " and then made an obscene gesture towards her. Id. ¶ 8. According to Rodriguez, following her complaints about assault and an unsafe work environment, Home Depot terminated her in retaliation for her complaints and without paying her all wages due at the time of separation. Id. ¶¶ 9-10.

         Rodriguez asserts three claims in her complaint: 1) wrongful termination in violation of public policy under Tameny v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 27 Cal.3d 167 (1980) based on alleged violation of California Labor Code sections 1102.5 and 6310; 2) failure to pay timely earned wages upon separation of employment in violation of Labor Code sections 201-204; and 3) unfair competition under California's Unfair Competition Law ("UCL"), California Business and Professions Code sections 17200 et seq.

         Rodriguez seeks, inter alia, payment of earned wages and lost income, "equitable relief, including full restitution, disgorgement and/or specific performance of payment of all wages and other earnings including those withheld as a result of assuming a ten percent gratuity on all cash sales that have been withheld from Plaintiff, " waiting time penalties, emotional distress damages, punitive damages and attorneys' fees and costs.

         B. Notice of Removal

         On April 13, 2016, Home Depot filed a Notice of Removal ("NOR") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332 and 1441, removing this action to federal court on the grounds that there is complete diversity of citizenship and the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum of $75, 000. Home Depot claims that complete diversity exists because Rodriguez is a citizen of California and Home Depot is a citizen of Delaware (its state of incorporation) and Georgia (where it has its principal place of business). NOR ¶¶ 5-6.

         Regarding the amount-in-controversy requirement, Home Depot claims it is more likely than not that the amount in controversy in this case will exceed $75, 000. Defendant invokes the more-likely-than-not standard of Sanchez v. Monumental Life Insurance Co., 102 F.3d 398 (9th Cir. 1996) because Rodriguez does not allege in her complaint a specific amount of damages with respect as to each claim. According to Home Depot, ''when taken as a whole, '' the different types of relief Rodriguez seeks are ''clearly in excess of the minimum amount required for diversity jurisdiction.'' NOR ¶ 10. In particular, Home Depot states that if Rodriguez prevails, she may be entitled to $2, 700 in waiting time penalties, unspecified damages on her request for equitable relief, and damages for emotional distress that exceed $75, 0000. Id. ¶ 10. Home Depot also mentions that Rodriguez seeks punitive damages, but does not attempt to place a dollar amount on that request. Id. Home Depot relies primarily on the emotional distress damages, stating that ''the value of Plaintiff‘s emotional distress claims alone substantially exceeds the jurisdictional minimum.'' Id. (citing Landis v. Pinkertons, Inc., 122 Cal.App.4th 985 (2004) and Kolas v. Access Business Group, 2008 WL 496470 (Cal. Superior Ct. Jan. 14, 2008) (verdict and settlement summary) as examples of similar cases in which emotional distress damages exceeded $75, 000).

         C. Motion to Remand

         Rodriguez filed the instant Motion on May 10, 2016. In the Motion, she contends that removal was improper and that the case must be remanded to state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because Home Depot has not ''met its burden to prove the state of which it is a citizen or that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.'' Motion at 2. Other than the bare statement that Home Depot has failed to prove the state of its citizenship, Rodrigues does not address this issue in her brief. The focus of the Motion is the amount-in controversy requirement. In the Motion, Rodriguez emphasizes the presumption against removal and the fact that the burden of establishing the propriety of removal rests with Defendant. Id. at 3 (citing Prize Frize, Inc. v. Matrix (U.S.) Inc., 167 F.3d 1261, 1265 (9th Cir. 1999)). Plaintiff argues that Home Depot has not met this burden as to the amount in controversy requirement.

         First, Rodriguez points to the statement in the NOR that she will be entitled to only $2, 700 in waiting time penalties if she prevails. Id. at 4. Second, she notes that Defendant failed to state a particular amount in controversy in connection with her request for unpaid wages and did ''not even bother to discuss the specifics of the amount of front pay, back pay, or other damages that Plaintiff may be awarded after trial.'' Id. Third, she challenges Defendant‘s assertion that her request for emotional distress damages, by itself, places more than $75, 000 in controversy. Id. at 4-5. In particular, she argues that Home Depot has failed to demonstrate that the two cases it cited in the NOR to show that Plaintiff may be entitled to a large award on her claim for emotional distress damages are factually similar to the allegations here. Fourth, Plaintiff argues that attorneys‘ fees incurred in this action will not meet the amount-in-controversy requirement because only fees incurred up to the time ...

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