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Heffington v. FCA U.S. LLC

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 30, 2017

FCA U.S. LLC, Defendant.


         On January 10, 2017, plaintiff Robert Heffington filed this action against defendant FCA U.S. LLC (“FCA”) in the Sacramento County Superior Court, alleging state law causes of action for breaches of express and implied warranties under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, California Civil Code § 1790 et seq. (the “Song-Beverly Act”), and fraudulent concealment. (See Doc. No. 1-1.) Defendant removed the action to this court on February 14, 2017, on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. No. 1.)

         On June 5, 2017, plaintiff filed the instant motion to remand the case to state court, arguing that defendant FCA had failed to establish both complete diversity of citizenship of the parties and that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Doc. No. 15.) Defendant did not file an opposition to that motion. The court heard oral argument on August 1, 2017. Attorney Alastair F. Hamblin appeared telephonically on behalf of plaintiff, and attorney Kristi Livedalen appeared telephonically on behalf of defendant. At the hearing, the court granted defendant leave to file an opposition within two weeks, and granted plaintiff leave to file a reply one week thereafter. On August 15, 2016, defendant filed its opposition. (Doc. No. 19.) Plaintiff did not file a reply.

         Having considered the parties' written submissions and oral argument, and for the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion to remand will be denied.


         A defendant in state court may remove a civil action to federal court so long as that case could originally have been filed in federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); City of Chicago v. Int'l Coll. of Surgeons, 522 U.S. 156, 163 (1997). Thus, removal of a state action may be based on either diversity jurisdiction or federal question jurisdiction. City of Chicago, 522 U.S. at 163; Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). Removal jurisdiction is based entirely on federal statutory authority. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441 et seq. These removal statutes are strictly construed, and removal jurisdiction is to be rejected in favor of remand to the state court if there are doubts as to the right of removal. Nevada v. Bank of Am. Corp., 672 F.3d 661, 667 (9th Cir. 2012); Geographic Expeditions, Inc. v. Estate of Lhotka, 599 F.3d 1102, 1107 (9th Cir. 2010); Provincial Gov't of Marinduque v. Placer Dome, Inc., 582 F.3d 1083, 1087 (9th Cir. 2009); Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). The defendant seeking removal of an action from state court bears the burden of establishing grounds for federal jurisdiction, by a preponderance of the evidence. Geographic Expeditions, 599 F.3d at 1106-07; Hunter v. Philip Morris USA, 582 F.3d 1039, 1042 (9th Cir. 2009); Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566-67. The district court must remand the case “[i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c); see also Smith v. Mylan, Inc., 761 F.3d 1042, 1044 (9th Cir. 2014); Bruns v. NCUA, 122 F.3d 1251, 1257 (9th Cir. 1997) (holding that remand for lack of subject matter jurisdiction “is mandatory, not discretionary”).[1]


         Plaintiff contends that defendant FCA failed to establish facts necessary to support diversity jurisdiction in the federal courts. Diversity jurisdiction exists in actions between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

         A. Citizenship of Defendant FCA

         Section 1332 first requires complete diversity of citizenship, and the presence “of a single plaintiff from the same State as a single defendant deprives the district court of original diversity jurisdiction over the entire action.” Abrego Abrego v. Dow Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). For purposes of diversity jurisdiction, a natural person is a citizen of the state in which she is domiciled, and she is presumptively domiciled at her place of residence. See Kantor v. Wellesley Galleries, Ltd., 704 F.2d 1088, 1090 (9th Cir. 1983); accord Naegele v. Tonius, 320 F. App'x 550, 551 (9th Cir. 2009).[2] A corporation, including one incorporated in a foreign country, is a citizen of its place of incorporation and its principal place of business. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1); Nike, Inc. v. Comercial Iberica de Exclusivas Deportivas, S.A., 20 F.3d 987, 990 (9th Cir. 1994). A limited liability company is a citizen of all the states of which its owners or members are citizens. Johnson v. Columbia Props. Anchorage, LP, 437 F.3d 894, 899 (9th Cir. 2006).

         As to plaintiff's citizenship, the only evidence now before the court is the allegation in plaintiff's complaint that he resides in California. (See Doc. No. 1-1 ¶ 2.) On defendant's motion to remand, neither party disputes that plaintiff is a citizen of California. Thus, absent any countervailing evidence or argument, the court finds plaintiff more likely than not to be a citizen of the state of California.

         In its notice of removal and accompanying declaration, defendant FCA states that (1) FCA is a limited liability company organized under the laws of the state of Delaware; (2) the sole member of FCA is FCA North America Holding LLC (“FCA North America”), a limited liability company organized under the laws of the state of Delaware; and (3) the sole member of FCA North America is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, N.V., a publically traded company (naamloze vennootschap) incorporated under the laws of the Netherlands, and with its principal place of business in London, England. (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 6, 9-11; Doc. No. 3 ¶¶ 2-4, 7-9.) Because both defendant FCA and its sole member FCA North America are limited liability companies, their citizenship ultimately depends on the citizenship of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, N.V. Accordingly, based on the evidence presented, defendant FCA is more likely than not a citizen of the Netherlands and England, for purposes of diversity jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1).

         For these reasons, the court concludes that this is an action between citizens of different states or foreign states.[3]

         B. Amount in Controversy

         In addition to diversity of citizenship, the party asserting diversity jurisdiction also bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398, 404 (9th Cir. 1996). The amount in controversy, which must be determined as of the date of removal, see Conrad Assoc. v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 994 F.Supp. 1196, 1200 (N.D. Cal. 1998) (citing Miranti v. Lee, 3 F.3d 925, 928 (5th Cir. 1993); and United Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v. Human Relations Comm'n, 24 F.3d 1008, 1014 (7th Cir. 1994)), “is simply an estimate of the total amount in dispute, not a prospective assessment of [the] defendant's liability, ” Lewis v. Verizon Comm. Inc., 627 F.3d 395, 400 (9th Cir. 2010). “In calculating the amount in controversy, a court must assume that the allegations in the complaint are true and that a jury will return a verdict for plaintiffs on all claims alleged.” Page v. Luxottica ...

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