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Johnson v. FCA U.S. LLC

United States District Court, S.D. California

June 23, 2017

RIADON JOHNSON; MARK JOHNSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
FCA U.S. LLC, A Delaware Limited Liability Company; DOES 1 through 10, Inclusive, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND (DOC., 11)

          Hon. Anthony J. Battaglia United States District Judge

         Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs Riadon and Mark Johnson's (“Johnson”) motion to remand.[1] (Doc. No. 11.) Defendant FCA U.S. LLC (“FCA”) opposes the motion. (Doc. No. 16.) Having reviewed the parties' moving papers and controlling legal authority, and pursuant to Local Civil Rule 7.1.d.1, the Court finds the matter suitable for decision on the papers and without oral argument. Accordingly, the hearing currently set for July 6, 2017, at 2:00 p.m. in Courtroom 4A is hereby VACATED. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Johnson's motion.

         Background

         This dispute arises from FCA's alleged breach of warranty obligations owed to Johnson for a new 2012 Dodge Durango (“Dodge”) he purchased from FCA. Johnson asserts FCA concealed a known defect from him, specifically, a defect with the totally integrated power module (“TIPM”), which is responsible for controlling and distributing electrical power to the entire vehicle. (Doc. No. 1 at 11-12 ¶¶ 9, 12, 14.) Based on this concealment, Johnson instituted this action in San Diego Superior Court on August 3, 2016, bringing causes of action for breaches of express and implied warranties in violation of California's Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (“Song-Beverly Act” or “Act”), as well as a cause of action for fraudulent inducement/concealment under California state common law. (Doc. No. 1 at 2 ¶ 1.)

         FCA removed the action to this Court on March 17, 2017, asserting the Court has diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. No. 1 at 1.) On April 18, 2017, Johnson filed the instant motion to remand, arguing FCA has failed to carry its burden of establishing that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 and that the parties are completely diverse. (Doc. No. 11.) FCA filed an opposition, (Doc. No. 16), and Johnson replied, (Doc. No. 20). This order follows.

         Legal Standard

         The right to remove a case to federal court is entirely a creature of statute. See Libhart v. Santa Monica Dairy Co., 592 F.2d 1062, 1064 (9th Cir. 1979). The removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441, allows defendants to remove an action when a case originally filed in state court presents a federal question, or is between citizens of different states and involves an amount in controversy that exceeds $75, 000. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441(a), (b); 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332(a). Only state court actions that could originally have been filed in federal court can be removed. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); see also Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987); Ethridge v. Harbor House Rest., 861 F.2d 1389, 1393 (9th Cir. 1988).

         “[J]urisdiction founded on [diversity] requires that parties be in complete diversity and the amount in controversy exceed $75, 000.” Matheson v. Progressive Specialty Ins. Co., 319 F.3d 1089, 1090 (9th Cir. 2003) (per curiam); see 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Complete diversity requires that the plaintiff's citizenship is diverse from that of each named defendant. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(a)(1), 1332(c)(1); Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U.S. 61, 68 n.3 (1996). Whether or not complete diversity is present is determined at the time of removal. See Am. Dental Indus., Inc. v. EAX Worldwide, Inc., 228 F.Supp.2d 1155, 1157 (D. Or. 2002) (citing St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, (1938)).

         The Ninth Circuit “strictly construe[s] the removal statute against removal jurisdiction, ” and “[f]ederal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance.” Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992) (per curiam) (citations omitted). “The ‘strong presumption' against removal jurisdiction means that the defendant always has the burden of establishing that removal is proper.” Id.; see also McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., Inc., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936) (finding that the removing party must prove its allegations by a preponderance of the evidence). The Court takes this proof from the notice of removal and may, if it chooses, construe the opposition to the motion to remand as an amendment to the notice of removal. See Cohn v. Petsmart Inc., 281 F.3d 837, 840 n.1 (9th Cir. 2002).

         Discussion

         Johnson argues three points that he contends require remand of this action to California state court: (1) FCA's amount-in-controversy calculation ignores California state law; (2) FCA, as a limited liability company (“LLC”), has not established the citizenship of its foreign member, nor has it established Johnson's citizenship; and (3) comity dictates that this case be remanded to state court. (Doc. Nos. 11, 20.)

         I. Amount in Controversy

         In his complaint, Johnson seeks, inter alia, “reimbursement of the price paid for the [Dodge] less that amount directly attributable to use by the Plaintiff[] prior to discovery of the nonconformities” and “a civil penalty of up to two times the amount of actual damages in that FCA [] has willfully failed to comply with its responsibilities under the [Song-Beverly] Act.” (Doc. No. 1 at 31-32 ¶¶ 142, 145.) Johnson asserts that FCA has not proven the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. (Doc. No. 11-1 at 7-9; Doc. No. 20 at 7-8.)

         Johnson contends FCA's notice of removal improperly relies on the amount financed, but offers no explanation as to why this number is the proper figure to base the amount-in-controversy calculation on. (Doc. No. 11-1 at 8-9.) In response, FCA points to the retail installment sale contract (“RISC”), attached to the complaint, as well as FCA warranty claim reports, documents upon ...


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