United States District Court, C.D. California
CIVIL MINUTES - GENERAL
Honorable STEPHEN V. WILSON, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
IN CHAMBERS ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO REMAND .
November 14, 2016, Plaintiff Cheryl Thurston
(“Plaintiff”) filed this action for violation of
California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, California Civil
Code § 51 et seq., in the Superior Court for
the County of San Bernardino against Defendant The Container
Store, Inc. (“Defendant”), a Texas corporation.
See Dkt. 1, Ex. A. On December 28, 2016, the
Defendant removed the case to federal court. Dkt. 1. In
removing the case, the Defendant contended that the Court has
federal question jurisdiction because the Plaintiff's
claim, although not brought under a federal cause of action,
arises under the laws of the United States. Dkt. 1 at 1.
Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to
Remand. Dkt. 10. For the reasons stated below, the Court
GRANTS the motion.
alleges that she is a blind individual who requires screen
reading software to read website content and access the
internet. Complaint, Dkt. 1, Ex. A (“Complaint”),
¶ 1. The Defendant maintains a website,
containerstore.com, in order to sell its products.
Id. The Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant
maintains its website in such a way that it presents numerous
access barriers that prevent the Plaintiff and other blind
individuals from gaining equal access to the website.
Id. The Plaintiff contends that these barriers
violate the Plaintiff's rights under California's
Unruh Civil Rights Act. The Plaintiff seeks both injunctive
relief and an award of damages. Id. at p. 6.
Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant's website violates
the Unruh Act for two reasons. First, the Plaintiff alleges
that containerstore.com is inaccessible to visually-impaired
patrons, which denies those patrons full and equal access to
the facilities, goods, and services that the Defendant makes
available to the non-disabled public. Id. at
¶¶ 19-20. Second, the Plaintiff alleges that the
Defendant's conduct constitutes a violation of various
provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act
(“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §12101 et seq.
Id. at ¶ 21. Such a violation also qualifies as a
violation of the Unruh Act because § 51(f) of the Unruh
Act provides that a violation of the right of any individual
under the ADA shall also constitute a violation of the Unruh
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, ' possessing
‘only that power authorized by Constitution and
statute.'” Gunn v. Minton, 133 S.Ct. 1059,
1064 (2013) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co.
of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). “The burden
of establishing jurisdiction falls on the party invoking the
removal statute … which is strictly construed against
removal.” Sullivan v. First Affiliated Sec.,
Inc., 813 F.2d 1368, 1371 (9th Cir. 1987). Further,
“the court resolves all ambiguity in favor of remand to
state court.” Hunter v. Philip Morris USA, 582
F.3d 1039, 1042 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Gaus v. Miles,
Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992)). However,
removal is proper if the case could have been filed in
federal court originally. 28 U.S.C. § 1441.
case is procedurally unusual because the Plaintiff has
alleged a violation of California's Unruh Act by the
Defendant, but she has not alleged a violation of the
Americans with Disabilities Act, the closely related federal
statute. In fact, one of the Plaintiff's theories for the
Defendant's violations of the state statute is that any
violation of the ADA also constitutes a violation of state
law. Therefore, although the Plaintiff's cause of action
is brought under the state law and not federal law, part of
the Plaintiff's case may still depend upon proving a
violation of federal law.
Defendant contends that removal is proper under federal
question jurisdiction because violations of the ADA are a
federal question, and proving such a violation would be a
necessary element of the Plaintiff's state law claim. It
is clearly established that federal question jurisdiction may
exist even if the right to relief is brought under state law
if deciding the dispute “requires resolution of a
substantial question of federal law in dispute between the
parties.” Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers
Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 13 (1983). In other words,
“original federal jurisdiction is unavailable unless it
some substantial, disputed question of federal law is a
necessary element of one of the well-pleaded state claims, or
that one or the other claim is ‘really' one of
federal law.” Id. At first look, it appears
that the Defendant's argument has some merit. The
resolution of the case might involve whether the Defendant
violated the ADA, a federal law, and therefore a necessary
element of the Plaintiff's cause of action would require
resolving that federal dispute.
response, the Plaintiff puts forward two main reasons why the
case should be remanded. First, she argues that the Ninth
Circuit has issued binding authority directly on point. The
Ninth Circuit has held that “there is no
federal-question jurisdiction over a lawsuit for damages
brought under [a California statute], even though the
California statute makes a violation of the federal Americans
with Disabilities Act a violation of state law. Congress
intended that there be no federal cause of action for damages
for a violation of Title III of the ADA. To exercise
federal-question jurisdiction in these circumstances would
circumvent the intent of Congress. Federal-question
jurisdiction is not created merely because a violation of
federal law is an element of a state law claim.”
Wander v. Kaus, 304 F.3d 856, 857 (9th Cir. 2002).
The Plaintiff argues that Wander represents binding
authority that no federal jurisdiction exists when only a
state law claim is brought in the context of disability civil
rights, even if an element of the state law claim is a
violation of the ADA.
it is clear to the Court that Wander is not directly
applicable to this case. The Ninth Circuit based its decision
that exercising federal jurisdiction would defeat the intent
of Congress under those particular circumstances on the fact
that the Plaintiff was not seeking injunctive relief under
the relevant state law because such relief had already been
rendered moot. Wander, 304 F.3d at 857-58.
Additionally, Congress had specifically declined to allow for
the recovery of damages under the ADA. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 12188(a)(1). Therefore, allowing a federal court to
hear an ADA-related claim solely for damages would defeat
Congress's clear intent to not allow a federal cause of
action for such cases. Wander, 304 F.3d at 857.
However, this case clearly does not present such a scenario,
as the Plaintiff currently seeks both injunctive and monetary
relief. Thus, the holding in Wander is not directly
relevant here, and it remains an open question in this