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Jones v. G2 Secure Staff LLC

United States District Court, C.D. California

March 6, 2017

Shalamar Jones
G2 Secure Staff, LLC




         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Shalamar Jones' ("Jones" or "Plaintiff") Motion to Remand ("Motion"), filed on February 3, 2017. In the same Motion, Plaintiff also seeks an award of attorney's fees ("Request for Attorney's Fees"). Defendant G2 Secure Staff, LLC ("G2" or "Defendant") filed an Opposition on February 13, 2017. Plaintiff filed a Reply brief on February 17, 2017. The Court found the matter suitable for disposition without oral argument and vacated the hearing set for March 6, 2017. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's Motion to Remand.


         Plaintiff alleges that she worked for G2 until she was terminated on or about January 12, 2016. (See Notice of Removal ("Removal"), Ex. A Compl. ("Compl."), ECF No. 1-1.) Plaintiff, through counsel, sent G2 a written request of her personnel file on March 8, 2016. (Compl. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff's counsel was told to request the file from an employee at ¶ 2's Texas headquarters. (Compl. ¶ 13.) After contacting said employee, Plaintiff's counsel was told to send $15 to cover the costs of copying and mailing, and the personnel file would be sent to her. (Compl. ¶ 13.) On May 20, 2016, Plaintiff's counsel mailed a check for $15, which was cashed on June 2, 2016. (Compl. ¶ 14.) As of June 6, 2016, Plaintiff had not received the personnel file. (Compl. ¶ 16.)

         On July 6, 2016, Plaintiff initiated the instant action against Defendant in the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles, asserting one cause of action: violation of California Labor Code section 1198.5 ("Section 1198.5"). (See Compl.) Section 1198.5 provides that "[e]very current and former employee, or his or her representative, has the right to inspect and receive a copy of the personnel records that the employer maintains relating to the employee's performance or to any grievance concerning the employee, " and that, generally, the records must be made available no later than 30 days from the date the employer receives the written request. Cal. Lab. Code § 1198.5(a), (b)(1). In the Complaint, Plaintiff seeks a statutory penalty for G2's failure to produce a copy of her personnel records within thirty days of request, attorneys' fees, cost of suit, and other and further relief the Court may deem just and proper. (Compl. 5.) The statutory penalty for violation of Section 1198.5 is $750. (Compl. ¶ 56.) Defendant filed its Answer on August 8, 2016. (See Removal, Ex. B Answer, ECF No. 1-2.)

         On December 5, 2016, Plaintiff's counsel emailed Defendant's counsel a proposed first amended complaint ("PFAC") and indicated that it would be filed on or after December 19, 2016.[1] (See Decl. of Lara C. De Leon in Supp. of Removal ("De Leon Decl."), Ex. 1, ECF No. 3.) The PFAC alleged damages in excess of $80, 000. (De Leon Decl., Ex. 2 PFAC ¶ 73.) On December 22, 2016, Defendant's counsel informed Plaintiff's counsel that it would not stipulate to the PFAC. (Decl. of Ann Hendrix in Supp. of Mot. ("Hendrix Decl.") ¶ 8, ECF No. 17-1.) In response, Plaintiff's counsel informed defense counsel that it would file an amended complaint as a matter of right in January, which would omit all but the PAGA claims. (Mot. 2-3.)

         On January 4, 2017, Plaintiff's counsel emailed Defendant's counsel stating that Plaintiff would file the PFAC the next day or the following; Defendant's counsel did not respond. (Hendrix Decl. ¶ 9.) That same day, Defendants removed the action to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction, under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 & 1446. (Removal ¶¶ 6-7.) On January 5, 2017, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which differs from the PFAC; that same day, Plaintiff received notice of removal.[2] (Mot. 1.) Plaintiff now seeks to remand the action, arguing that the operative pleading-the Complaint-alleges only one cause of action and which places the amount in controversy far below the $75, 000 threshold. (Mot. 1.) In its Opposition, Defendant argues that the amount in controversy requirement is satisfied because, based on the PFAC, the estimated value of Plaintiff's claims is in excess of $75, 000. (Opp'n 1, ECF No. 18.) For the following reasons, the Court remands the action because based on the operative pleading at the time of removal, the amount in controversy is less than $75, 000.


         A. Legal Standard

         A district court has removal jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. section 1332 "where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different States." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Diversity jurisdiction requires "complete diversity" of citizenship. Carden v. Arkoma Assocs., 494 U.S. 185, 187 (1990). Moreover, the removing party has the burden of showing that "the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interests and costs." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a); Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d, 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992).

         The procedure for proper removal is set forth in 28 U.S.C. section 1446 ("Section 1446"). The statute provides "provides two thirty-day windows during which a case may be removed, " the first of which is open during the first thirty days after the defendant receives the initial pleading provided that the case is clearly removable based on the facts alleged in the complaint. See Harris v. Bankers Life and Cas. Co., 425 F.3d 689, 692-93 (9th Cir. 2005). If the case is not removable based on the initial pleading, a second thirty-day window opens after the defendant receives "an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable." Id. (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3)) (emphases added).

         Courts must "strictly construe the removal statute against removal jurisdiction." Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566 (citations omitted). "The strong presumption against removal jurisdiction means that the defendant always has the burden of establishing that removal is proper." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "Where doubt regarding the right to removal exists, a case should be remanded to state court." See ...

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