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Vitale v. Celadon Trucking Services, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. California

February 15, 2017

Leonard Vitale, et al.
v.
Celadon Trucking Services, Inc., et al.

          Present: The Honorable Philip S. Gutierrez, United States District Judge.

CIVIL MINUTES - GENERAL

         Proceedings (In Chambers): Order GRANTING Plaintiff's Motion to Remand

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Leonard Vitale's (“Plaintiff”) motion to remand. Dkt. #21. The Court finds the matter appropriate for decision without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b); L.R. 7-15. After considering the moving, opposing and reply papers, the Court GRANTS the motion to remand.

         I. Background

         Defendant Celadon Trucking Services, Inc. (“Defendant”) is a New Jersey Corporation with its principal place of business in Indiana. Dkt. # 1, Notice of Removal (“NOR”) ¶ 13. Defendant employed Plaintiff, a citizen of California, as a truck driver in providing shipping services throughout California. Dkt. #1-1, Ex. 1 (“Complaint” or “Compl.”) ¶¶ 5, 9.

         On May 27, 2015, Plaintiff filed this class action in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of himself and all current and former California employees of Defendant, employed in California at any time beginning four years prior to the filing, who drove as “independent contractor[s]” for Defendant. Compl. ¶ 22. The Complaint lists ten causes of action: nine claims under various provisions of the California Labor Code, and one claim for violation of California's Unfair Competition Law, Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17200 et seq. See id.

         Defendant previously removed this action to federal court on July 9, 2015, pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (“CAFA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). See Dkt. #21 (“Mot.”), 1. Challenging Defendant's calculations of the amount in controversy, Plaintiff moved to remand the case. On October 2, 2015, the Court granted Plaintiff's motion, finding that Defendant had failed to carry its burden of demonstrating that it is more likely than not that the amount in controversy reaches $5 million. Id. at 1-2. Specifically, the Court found that Defendant had not alleged sufficient facts to support its assumption that a maximum statutory penalty would apply for each instance of employee misclassification and rejected Defendant's inclusion of Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”) penalties for purposes of determining the amount in controversy. Id.

         Thereafter, the parties engaged in private mediation in state court prior to the exchange of formal discovery. Dkt. #1-5, Declaration of Tae Kim in Support of Defendant's Second Notice of Removal (“Kim Decl.”) ¶ 4. On October 26, 2016, the parties attended mediation. Id. At the mediation, Plaintiff provided Defendant with portions of its mediation brief which contained an estimate of Defendant's liability for damages in excess of $18 million. Kim Decl., Ex. A. The estimate allocated the damages as follows:

Cause of Action

Damages

Willful Misclassification

$885, 000 to $2, 655, 000

Pattern and Practice of Willful Misclassification

$1, 770, 000 to $4, 425, 000

Meal and Rest Break Violations

$4, 106, 250

Penalties for Failure to Pay All Wages Due at Separation

$750, 000

Failure to Furnish Timely and Accurate Wage Statements

$267, 250

Failure to Pay All Wages Owed Every Pay Period

$1, 129, 107

Penalties for Failure to Pay Overtime Wages

$916, 500

Improper Deductions

$10, 783, 080

GRAND TOTAL

$18, 837, 187 to $22, 377, 187

See id. Shortly thereafter, on November 16, 2016, Defendant filed a second notice of removal to federal court on grounds that Plaintiff's mediation brief constitutes a “paper” under 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3), rendering the case removable.[1] See NOR ¶ 5-6. Plaintiff then filed this motion to remand on grounds that the mediation brief does not represent a reasonable estimate of Plaintiff's claims and therefore cannot support Defendant's burden of establishing that the jurisdictional minimum of $5 million under CAFA has been met. Mot. 1.[2]

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. See Gunn v. Minton, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1064 (2013). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441, a defendant may remove a civil action from state court to federal district court only if the federal court has subject matter jurisdiction over the case. See Chicago v. Int'l Coll. of Surgeons, 522 U.S. 156, 163 (1997) (“The propriety of removal thus depends on whether the case originally could have been filed in federal court.”). Under CAFA, federal district courts have subject matter jurisdiction over any class action in which (1) the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million; (2) any plaintiff class member is a citizen of a state different from any defendant; and (3) the number of plaintiffs in the putative class is at least 100. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). While “no antiremoval presumption attends cases invoking CAFA, ” Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens, 135 S.Ct. 547, 554 (2014), “the burden of establishing removal jurisdiction remains, as before, on the proponent of federal jurisdiction.” Abrego v. Dow Chem, 443 F.3d 676, 685 (9th Cir. 2006).

         III. Discussion

         The parties do not dispute that CAFA's jurisdictional requirement of minimal diversity and class numerosity as set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d) have been met; the sole point of contention is whether the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million. See Mot. 1; Dkt. #22 (“Opp.”) at 1. Under CAFA, “a defendant can establish the amount in controversy by an unchallenged, plausible assertion of the amount in controversy in its notice of removal.” Ibarra v. Manheim Invs., Inc., 775 F.3d 1193, 1197-98 (9th Cir. 2015). If the plaintiff challenges the amount in controversy, the defendant must submit summary-judgment-style evidence establishing the amount by preponderance of the evidence. Id.; Rodriguez v. AT & T Mobility Servs. LLC, 728 F.3d 975, 981 (9th Cir. 2013) (“A defendant seeking removal of a putative class action must demonstrate, by a preponderance of evidence, that the aggregate amount in ...


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