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Bloomquist v. Covance, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. California

May 3, 2017

DANIEL L. BLOOMQUIST, an individual on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
COVANCE, INC., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND [ECF NO. 7]

          Hon. Cynthia Bashant, United States District Judge

         On August 3, 2016, Plaintiff Daniel L. Bloomquist commenced this wage-and-hour class action in San Diego Superior Court against Defendants Covance, Inc. (“Covance”), I-Shan Chiang, and Amy Stastny. Covance subsequently removed this action to federal court. Bloomquist now moves to remand this action to state court. (ECF No. 7.) Covance opposes.

         The Court finds this motion suitable for determination on the papers submitted and without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b); Civ. L.R. 7.1(d)(1). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Bloomquist's motion to remand.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Bloomquist is a citizen of California, and worked for Covance continuously from February 2009 until December 2015. (Compl. ¶ 5.) Covance is a Delaware corporation whose principle place of business is in Princeton, New Jersey, with a regional office in San Diego, California. (Id. ¶ 6.) Chiang and Stastny are citizens of the state of California, and are employed by Covance as the Senior Director of Strategy and Planning, and the Director of Global Clinical Trial Operations, respectively (collectively, “in-state defendants”). (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) Bloomquist brings this class action on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated as current and former employees of Covance holding the title of Clinical Research Associate and/or Senior Clinical Research Associate at any time commencing on the date four years prior to the filing of the complaint and through the date of trial. (Id. ¶ 12.)

         Covance offers clinical development services in fifty-five different countries, providing services through all stages of pharmaceutical drug development. (Compl. ¶ 21.) Covance is typically hired by pharmaceutical drug companies to assist in administering clinical trials for newly developed and unapproved drug compounds. (Id.) Clinical Research Associates and Senior Clinical Research Associates monitor clinical trials by conducting routine visits to trial sites and reporting the results of those visits to their superiors at Covance. (Id. ¶ 24-25.) Bloomquist alleges that Clinical Research Associates and Senior Clinical Research Associates were improperly classified by Covance as exempt employees ineligible for certain protections of the California Labor Code and Wage Order of the Industrial Welfare Commissions. (Id. ¶ 26.) As a result of this improper classification, Bloomquist alleges that he, and others, were denied overtime pay, meal periods, and rest periods prescribed by law. (Id. ¶ 28-29, 33.)

         On August 3, 2016, Bloomquist commenced this action against Covance, Chiang, and Stastny in the San Diego Superior Court, asserting causes of action against all defendants for: (1) failure to pay overtime compensation; (2) failure to provide meal periods and rest periods; (3) failure to properly itemize wage statements; (4) failure to pay all wages due owed upon termination; and (5) unlawful and unfair business practices in violation of California's Business and Professions Code § 17200, et seq[1] (Compl ¶¶ 34-81.)

         In the notice of removal, Covance asserts the basis for removal is diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d), the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”). (Removal Notice ¶ 8, ECF No. 1.) Bloomquist now moves to remand based on a CAFA exception known as the “local controversy exception, ” which requires federal courts to decline jurisdiction if certain conditions are met in cases that are truly local in nature. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4). Covance opposes.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). “They possess only that power authorized by Constitution or a statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree.” Id. (internal citations omitted). “It is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction.” Id. (internal citations omitted); see also Abrego Abrego v. The Dow Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 684 (9th Cir. 2006).

         Consistent with the limited jurisdiction of federal courts, the removal statute is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction. Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992); see also Sygenta Crop Prot. v. Henson, 537 U.S. 28, 32 (2002); O'Halloran v. Univ. of Wash., 856 F.2d 1375, 1380 (9th Cir. 1988). “The strong presumption against removal jurisdiction means that the defendant always has the burden of establishing that removal is proper.” Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566; see also Nishimoto v. Federman-Bachrach & Assoc., 903 F.2d 709, 712 n.3 (9th Cir. 1990); O'Halloran, 856 F.2d at 1380. “Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance.” Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566.

         CAFA confers federal jurisdiction over class actions involving: (1) minimal diversity; (2) at least 100 putative class members; and (3) at least $5 million in controversy, inclusive of attorneys' fees but exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1223(d)(2), (5). CAFA maintains the historical rule that places the burden on the removing party to establish a prima facie case of removal jurisdiction. Serrano v. 180 Connect, Inc., 478 F.3d 1018, 1020 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Abrego, 443 F.3d at 684-85). However, when a plaintiff moving to remand seeks to rely on a statutory exception to CAFA, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the exception, such as the local-controversy exception, applies to the facts of a given case. Mondragon v. Capital One Auto Finance, 736 F.3d 880, 883 (9th Cir. 2013); Coleman v. Estes Express Lines, Inc., 631 F.3d 1010, 1013 (9th Cir. 2011); Serrano, 478 F.3d at 1019, 1022. But the burden of proof placed upon a plaintiff should not be exceptionally difficult to bear, and district courts are permitted to make reasonable inferences from facts in evidence in applying CAFA's local-controversy exception. Mondragon, 736 F.3d at 886.

         III. DISCUSSION

         CAFA's local-controversy exception is intended to identify a controversy that “uniquely affects a particular locality and to ensure that it is decided by a state rather than a federal court.” Bridewell-Sledge v. Blue Cross of Cal., 789 F.3d 923, 928 (9th Cir. 2015) (quoting Evans, 449 F.3d at 1163-64)). CAFA's language favors federal jurisdiction over class actions, and its legislative history suggests that Congress intended the local-controversy exception to be a narrow one. Benko v. ...


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