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Shum v. Air Canada, Inc

United States District Court, C.D. California

February 27, 2018

Susan Shum
v.
Air Canada, Inc., et al.

          PRESENT: HONORABLE FERNANDO M. OLGUIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

          CIVIL MINUTES - GENERAL

         Proceedings: (In Chambers) Order Remanding Action

         On January 9, 2018, Susan Shum (“Shum” or “plaintiff”) filed a complaint (“Complaint”) in the Los Angeles County Superior Court (“state court”) against Air Canada, Inc. (“Air Canada” or “defendant”) and Alioune Sow (“Sow”). (See Dkt. 1, Notice of Removal (“NOR”) at ¶¶ 2-3; Dkt. 1-3, Complaint). Having reviewed the pleadings, the court hereby remands this action to state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute[.]” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 1675 (1994). The courts are presumed to lack jurisdiction unless the contrary appears affirmatively from the record. See DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U.S. 332, 342 n. 3, 126 S.Ct. 1854, 1861 (2006). Federal courts have a duty to examine jurisdiction sua sponte before proceeding to the merits of a case, see Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 583, 119 S.Ct. 1563, 1569 (1999), “even in the absence of a challenge from any party.” Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514, 126 S.Ct. 1235, 1244 (2006).

         “The right of removal is entirely a creature of statute and a suit commenced in a state court must remain there until cause is shown for its transfer under some act of Congress.” Syngenta Crop Protection, Inc. v. Henson, 537 U.S. 28, 32, 123 S.Ct. 366, 369 (2002) (internal quotations omitted). Where Congress has acted to create a right of removal, those statutes, unless otherwise stated, are strictly construed against removal jurisdiction.[1] See id. Unless otherwise expressly provided by Congress, “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); see Dennis v. Hart, 724 F.3d 1249, 1252 (9th Cir. 2013) (same). A removing defendant bears the burden of establishing that removal is proper. See Abrego Abrego v. The Dow Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 684 (9th Cir. 2006) (per curiam) (noting the “longstanding, near-canonical rule that the burden on removal rests with the removing defendant”); Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992) (“The strong presumption against removal jurisdiction means that the defendant always has the burden of establishing that removal is proper.”) (internal quotations omitted). Moreover, if there is any doubt regarding the existence of subject matter jurisdiction, the court must resolve those doubts in favor of remanding the action to state court. See Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566 (“Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance.”).

         “Under the plain terms of § 1441(a), in order properly to remove [an] action pursuant to that provision, [the removing defendant] must demonstrate that original subject-matter jurisdiction lies in the federal courts.” Syngenta Crop Protection, 537 U.S. at 33, 123 S.Ct. at 370. Failure to do so requires that the case be remanded, as “[s]ubject matter jurisdiction may not be waived, and . . . the district court must remand if it lacks jurisdiction.” Kelton Arms Condo. Owners Ass'n, Inc. v. Homestead Ins. Co., 346 F.3d 1190, 1192 (9th Cir. 2003). Indeed, “[i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c); see Emrich v. Touche Ross & Co., 846 F.2d 1190, 1194 n. 2 (9th Cir. 1988) (“It is elementary that the subject matter jurisdiction of the district court is not a waivable matter and may be raised at anytime by one of the parties, by motion or in the responsive pleadings, or sua sponte by the trial or reviewing court.”); Washington v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 2009 WL 1519894, *1 (C.D. Cal. 2009) (a district court may remand an action where the court finds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction either by motion or sua sponte).

         DISCUSSION

         The court's review of the NOR and the attached state court Complaint makes clear that this court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the instant matter. In other words, plaintiff could not have originally brought this action in federal court, as plaintiff does not competently allege facts supplying diversity jurisdiction.[2] Therefore, removal was improper. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 2429 (1987) (“Only state-court actions that originally could have been filed in federal court may be removed to federal court by the defendant.”) (footnote omitted).

         When federal subject matter jurisdiction is predicated on diversity of citizenship pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), complete diversity must exist between the opposing parties and the amount in controversy must exceed the jurisdictional threshold of $75, 000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) (providing that a district court has diversity jurisdiction “where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, . . . and is between . . . citizens of different States” or “citizens of a State and citizens or subjects of a foreign state”). Here, plaintiff appears to be citizen of California. (See Dkt. 1-3, Complaint at ¶ 1; Dkt. 1, NOR at ¶ 14). Air Canada has shown that it is a citizen of Canada. (See Dkt. 1, NOR at ¶ 11). But as Air Canada appears to concede, Sow is a citizen of California. (See, generally, id. at ¶¶ 15-23). Thus, complete diversity does not exist. See Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U.S. 61, 68, 117 S.Ct. 467, 472 (1996) (stating that the diversity jurisdiction statute “applies only to cases in which the citizenship of each plaintiff is diverse from the citizenship of each defendant”) (footnote omitted).

         Defendant, however, contends that Sow is a “sham defendant” who has been fraudulently joined to destroy diversity of citizenship. (See Dkt. 1, NOR at ¶¶ 15-23). “If a plaintiff fails to state a cause of action against a resident defendant, and the failure is obvious according to the well-settled rules of the state, the joinder is fraudulent and the defendant's presence in the lawsuit is ignored for purposes of determining diversity.” United Computer Sys., Inc. v. AT & T Corp., 298 F.3d 756, 761 (9th Cir. 2002) (internal quotations omitted). However, “[i]t is only where the plaintiff has not, in fact, a cause of action against the resident defendant, and has no reasonable ground for supposing he has, and yet joins him in order to evade the jurisdiction of the federal court, that the joinder can be said to be fraudulent, entitling the real defendant to a removal.” Albi v. Street & Smith Publ'ns, 140 F.2d 310, 312 (9th Cir. 1944); see Allen v. Boeing Co., 784 F.3d 625, 634 (9th Cir. 2015) (“[J]oinder is fraudulent when a plaintiff's failure to state a cause of action against the resident defendant is obvious according to the applicable state law.”). Defendant must show by “clear and convincing evidence” that plaintiff does not have a colorable claim against the alleged sham defendant. Hamilton Materials Inc. v. Dow Chemical Corp., 494 F.3d 1203, 1206 (9th Cir. 2007) (“Fraudulent joinder must be proven by clear and convincing evidence.”); see Weeping Hollow Avenue Trust v. Spencer, 831 F.3d 1110, 1113 (9th Cir. 2016) (“[T]he party invoking federal court jurisdiction on the basis of fraudulent joinder bears a heavy burden since there is a general presumption against fraudulent joinder.”) (internal quotation marks omitted); Mireles v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 845 F.Supp.2d 1034, 1063 (C.D. Cal. 2012) (“Demonstrating fraudulent joinder” requires showing that “after all disputed questions of fact and all ambiguities . . . are resolved in the plaintiff's favor, the plaintiff could not possibly recover against the party whose joinder is questioned.”) (emphasis in original); Vasquez v. Bank of Am., N.A., 2015 WL 794545, *4 (C.D. Cal. 2015) (finding defendants had not met the “heavy burden of persuasion to show to a near certainty that joinder was fraudulent” because plaintiff could amend complaint to state at least one valid claim) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Here, defendant fails to meet its heavy burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that plaintiff does not have a colorable claim against Sow. See, e.g., Morcote v. Oracle Corp., 2005 WL 3157512, *7 (N.D. Cal. 2005) (rejecting the co-employee privilege and allowing intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against individual defendant to go forward); Graw v. Los Angeles Cty. Metro. Transp. Auth., 52 F.Supp.2d 1152, 1155-58 (C.D. Cal. 1999) (rejecting the co-employee privilege set form in Sheppard v. Freeman, 67 Cal.App.4th 339, 342 (1998)); see also Padilla v. AT & T Corp., 697 F.Supp.2d 1156, 1159 (C.D. Cal. 2009) (“[A] defendant seeking removal based on an alleged fraudulent joinder must do more than show that the complaint at the time of removal fails to state a claim against the non-diverse defendant.”). As such, defendant cannot show that it is “obvious according to the well-settled rules of [California]” that plaintiff has not stated a claim against Sow. See United Computer Sys., Inc., 298 F.3d at 761; Allen, 784 F.3d at 634 (“[J]oinder is fraudulent when a plaintiff's failure to state a cause of action against the resident defendant is obvious according to the applicable state law.”).

         Even assuming defendant had met its burden to show that Sow is a sham defendant, there is no basis for diversity jurisdiction because the amount in controversy does not appear to exceed the diversity jurisdiction threshold of $75, 000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Air Canada bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy meets the jurisdictional threshold. See Valdez v. Allstate Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 1115, 1117 (9th Cir. 2004); Matheson v. Progressive Specialty Ins. Co., 319 F.3d 1089, 1090 (9th Cir. 2003) (per curiam) (“Where it is not facially evident from the complaint that more than $75, 000 is in controversy, the removing party must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy meets the jurisdictional threshold. Where doubt regarding the right to removal exists, a case should be remanded to state court.”) (footnotes omitted). As an initial matter, the amount of damages plaintiff seeks cannot be determined from the Complaint, as the Complaint does not set forth a specific amount. (See, generally, Dkt. 1-3, Complaint at 10-11, “Prayer for Relief”).

         Air Canada's reliance on plaintiff's request for emotional distress damages, (see Dkt. 1, NOR at ¶¶ 26-27), is unpersuasive. Even if emotional distress damages are recoverable, plaintiff's Complaint does not allege any specific amount for her emotional distress claims (or as general damages), (see, generally, Dkt. 1-3, Complaint), and therefore it would be speculative to include these damages in the total amount in controversy. See Cable v. Merit Life Ins. Co., 2006 WL 1991664, *3 (E.D. Cal. 2006) (Defendant's argument that emotional distress damages exceeded the jurisdictional threshold was insufficient when “[d]efendant provide[d] no reliable basis for determining the amount of emotional distress damages likely to be recovered in this case.”). Further, Air Canada fails to provide any analogous cases with substantially similar factual scenarios to guide the court as to the amount of emotional distress damages that might be recovered in this case. (See, generally, Dkt. 1, NOR at ¶ 27); see, e.g., Mireles, 845 F.Supp.2d at 1055 (remanding where defendants “proffer[ed] no evidence that the lawsuits and settlements alleged in the ...


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