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Petropolous v. FCA US, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. California

July 7, 2017

PETER PETROPOLOUS, et at., Plaintiffs,
FCA US, LLC, Defendant.


          Hon. Thomas J. Whelan United States District Judge

         Defendant removed this action from the Superior Court of California on February 27, 2017. (Notice of Removal [Doc. 1].) Plaintiffs now move to remand. (Pls.' Mot. [Doc. 6].) Defendant opposes. (Def.'s Opp'n [Doc. 8].) The Court decides the matters on the papers submitted and without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1(d)(1). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs' motion will be denied.

         I. Background

         In March of 2011, Plaintiffs purchased a new 2011 Dodge Durango from Defendant FCA U.S. LLC. (See Compl. [Doc. 1-2, Exh. A] ¶¶ 4, 8.) The vehicle experienced recurrent problems. (See Id. [Doc. 1-2, Exh. A] ¶ 9.) The Complaint alleges that between August of 2012 and July of 2015, Plaintiffs delivered it to an FCA U.S. repair facility on nine separate occasions due to issues with a part known as the “totally integrated power module, ” or TIPM. (See Id. [Doc. 1-2, Exh. A] ¶¶ 10-13, 94-102.) According to the Complaint, Defendant concealed the defect with the part, together with safety risks resulting from the problem. (See Id. [Doc. 1-2, Exh. A] ¶ 103.) Plaintiffs joined as putative class members in Velasco, v. Chrysler Group LLC, No. 13-CV-8080 DDP (VBK) (C.D. Cal.), a class action dealing with substantially similar facts to those alleged here. (Id. [Doc. 1-2, Exh. A] ¶¶ 117-133.) Plaintiffs opted out of the class in order to pursue their individual claims. (Id. [Doc. 1-2, Exh. A] ¶ 131.)

         Plaintiffs brought this action in the Superior Court of California against FCA U.S. LLC and Peck Jeep Eagle, Inc., on March 30, 2016, alleging: (1) breach of an express warranty in violation of the Song-Beverly Act; (2) breach of an implied warranty in violation of the Song-Beverly Act; (3) fraudulent inducement through concealment; and (4) negligent repair. (Compl. [Doc. 1-2, Exh. A].) Parties engaged in discovery over the next eleven months, and the matter was set for trial on March 17, 2017. (Hamblin Decl. [Doc. 6-1] ¶¶ 7-8.)

         Defendant Peck Jeep Eagle, a California corporation with its principal place of business in California, filed for Bankruptcy in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California on January 17, 2017. (Def.'s Opp'n [Doc. 8] 2:3-8; Compl. [Doc. 1-2, Exh. A] ¶ 3.) It filed a Notice of Automatic Stay in the state-court action. (Def.'s Opp'n [Doc. 8] 2:3-8; Register of Actions [Doc. 1-7, Exh. F] 2.) Thereafter, on February 15, 2017, Plaintiffs dismissed Peck Jeep Eagle from the state-court action with prejudice. (See Notice of Removal [Doc. 1] ¶¶ 5-7; Register of Actions [Doc. 1-7, Exh. F] 2.) On February 27, 2017, within two weeks of the dismissal of Peck Jeep Eagle, Defendant FCA U.S. LLC removed the action. (Notice of Removal [Doc. 1].)

         Plaintiffs now move to remand, arguing: (1) that this case does not meet the complete diversity and amount in controversy requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 1332; and (2) that comity principles counsel against the exercise of original federal subject matter jurisdiction in this case. (See Pls.' Mot. [Doc. 6].)

         II. Legal Standard A.Removal Jurisdiction-Diversity of Citizenship

         “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between . . . citizens of a State and citizens or subjects of a foreign state . . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(2). “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree.” In re Hunter, 66 F.3d 1002, 1005 (9th Cir. 1995) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)).

         The party seeking to invoke removal jurisdiction bears the burden of supporting its jurisdictional allegations with competent proof. See Gaus v. Miles. Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992) (per curiam); Emrich v. Touche Ross & Co., 846 F.2d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 1988). “The propriety of removal . . . depends on whether the case originally could have been filed in federal court.” Chicago v. International College of Surgeons, 522 U.S. 156, 163 (1997); 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Where the amount in controversy is unclear from the face of the complaint, courts apply a preponderance of the evidence standard. Guglielmino v. McKee Foods Corp., 506 F.3d 696, 701 (9th Cir. 2007).

         There is a “strong presumption” against removal jurisdiction, and the defendant always bears the burden of establishing the propriety of removal. See Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566 (internal quotation omitted); Nishimoto v. Federman-Bachrach & Associates, 903 F.2d 709, 712 n.3 (9th Cir. 1990) (internal citation omitted).

         III. Discussion

         A.The Court Has Original Subject Matter Jurisdiction.

         1. Diversity of Citizenship

         The existence of diversity jurisdiction requires that the citizenship of each plaintiff be diverse from that of each defendant. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332; Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U.S. 61, 68 (1996). Put another way, no plaintiff may be a citizen of the same state as any defendant. See Owen Equip. & Erection Co. v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365, 374 (1978) (internal citation omitted).

         A person's citizenship “is . . . determined by her state of domicile, . . . her permanent home, where she resides with the intention to remain or to which she intends to return.” See Kanter v. Warner-Lambert, 265 F.3d 853, 857 (9th Cir. 2001) (internal citation omitted).

         a) Plaintiffs' Citizenship

         As to Plaintiffs' citizenship, the Complaint alleges that Petropolous and Nelson are “individuals residing in the City of San Diego, County of San Diego, and State of California.” (Compl. [Doc. 1-2, Exh. A] ¶ 1.) The Notice of Removal alleges that Plaintiffs are both “citizens and residents of the State of California.” (Notice of Removal [Doc. 1] ¶ 9.) Plaintiffs do not argue otherwise in their motion. (See Pls.' Mot. [Doc. 6] 10:15-12:23.) However, in their reply brief, they contend for the first time that “Defendant has failed to [e]stablish Plaintiffs' [c]itizenship.” (Pls.' Reply [Doc. 12] 3:2- 19.) The Court “need not consider arguments raised for the first time in a reply brief.” Zamani v. Carnes, 491 F.3d 990, 997 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Koerner v. Grigas, 328 F.3d 1039, 1048 (9th Cir. 2003)). Plaintiffs produce no evidence to indicate that they are not California citizens. In the absence of such evidence, it would be unfair to Defendant to consider an empty factual challenge made for the first time in a reply brief. The Notice of Removal adequately alleges that Plaintiffs are California citizens. There is no reason to suspect that this allegation is incorrect.

         B) Defendant's Citizenship

         As to Defendant's citizenship, the Notice of Removal alleges that FCA U.S. LLC is a limited liability company, the sole member of which is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, N.V., “a [publicly] traded company incorporated under the laws of ...

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