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Miller v. Yellow Pages

United States District Court, S.D. California

May 23, 2018

MARK L. MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
YELLOW PAGES; YP; AT&T ADVERTISING; MCCARTHY, BURGESS & WOLF; YP ADVERTISING LP formerly known as AT&T Advertising L.P. doing business as AT&T Advertising Solutions as Successor In Interest to Pacific Bell Directory; FIRST COLLECTION SERVICES; “800-801-7311”; “844-266-2462”; and DOES 1-500, inclusive, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Hon. William Q. Hayes United States District Court

         On November 6, 2017, Defendants Yellow Pages; YP; AT&T Advertising; YP Advertising LP f/k/a AT&T Advertising d/b/a/ AT&T Advertising Solutions as successor in interest to Pacific Bell Directory; McCarthy, Burgess & Wolf; and First Collection Services (the “removing Defendants”) filed a Notice of Removal of Action from the Superior Court of the State of California, County of San Diego. (ECF No. 1). The Notice of Removal states

Pursuant to 28 US.C. § 1331, this Court has original jurisdiction of this matter. This matter is one that Defendant may remove to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c) because the action is one arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. More specifically, Plaintiff asserts claims for violations of the United States Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692, et. seq.

(ECF No. 1 at 3).

         While Plaintiff's Complaint references the FDCPA, the Complaint does not bring a cause of action under the FDCPA and only asserts causes of action arising under state law. On April 3, 2018, the Court issued an Order stating:

The removing Defendants are ORDERED TO SHOW CAUSE why this action should not be remanded for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The removing Defendants shall file a response to this Order no later than April 25, 2018. If the removing Defendants fail to satisfy their burden of establishing that subject matter jurisdiction exists, this action will be remanded to the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of San Diego where it was originally filed.

(ECF No. 10 at 3) (footnote omitted).

         On April 25, 2018, the removing Defendants filed a response to the Order to Show Cause. (ECF No. 11).

         DISCUSSION

         In the response to the Order to Show Cause, the removing Defendants contend that subject matter jurisdiction is proper because Plaintiff asserts a claim for relief under the FDCPA and seeks to recover damages under the FDCPA. The removing Defendants contend that “[w]hile Plaintiff has labeled each of his claims as a state law cause of action, these labels are not determinative of jurisdiction” and “Plaintiff has asserted multiple allegations indicating that he seeks relief under the FDCPA.” Id. at 4. Further, the removing Defendants assert that Plaintiff's claims raise a federal question because alleged violations of the FDCPA form the basis of Plaintiff's state law causes of action.

         “Unless Congress has expressly provided otherwise, a defendant may remove to federal court ‘any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction.'” Dennis v. Hart, 724 F.3d 1249, 1252 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a)). “Federal courts are required sua sponte to examine jurisdictional issues.” Bernhardt v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 279 F.3d 862, 868 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting B.C. v. Plumas Unified Sch. Dist., 192 F.3d 1260, 1264 (9th Cir. 1999)). At any time during proceedings, a district court may sua sponte remand a case to state court if the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) (“If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.”); Kenny v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 881 F.3d 786, 789-90 (9th Cir. 2018) (“In essence, subject matter jurisdiction is the touchstone for a district court's authority to remand sua sponte.”). “The removal statute is strictly construed, and any doubt about the right of removal requires resolution in favor of remand.” Moore-Thomas v. Alaska Airline, Inc., 553 F.3d 1241, 1244 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992)). The defendant bears the burden of establishing that removal is proper. Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566.

         “The presence or absence of federal-question jurisdiction is governed by the well-pleaded complaint rule, which provides that federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.” Wayne v. DHL Worldwide Express, 294 F.3d 1179, 1183 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Caterpillar v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987)). “Federal courts may exercise federal-question jurisdiction over an action in two situations. First and most commonly, a federal court may exercise federal-question jurisdiction if a federal right or immunity is ‘an element, and an essential one, of the plaintiff's cause of action.'” Provincial Gov't of Marinduque v. Placer Dome, Inc., 582 F.3d 1083, 1086 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 11 (1983)). “Second, a federal court may have such jurisdiction if a state-law claim ‘necessarily raise[s] a stated federal issue, actually disputed and substantial, which a federal forum may entertain without disturbing any congressionally-approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.'” Id. (quoting Grable & Sons Metal Prod., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 314 (2005)). “Such a federal issue must be ‘a substantial one, indicating a serious federal interest in claiming the advantages thought to be inherent in a federal forum.'” Id. at 1086- 87 (quoting Grable, 545 U.S. at 313). The “mere presence of a federal issue in a state cause of action does not automatically confer federal question jurisdiction.” Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 813 (1986).

         In this case, the removing Defendants assert that removal was proper based on federal question jurisdiction. The removing Defendants first contend that Plaintiff asserts a claim for relief under the FDCPA even though “he has labeled each of his claims as a state law cause of action.” (ECF No. 11 at 4). Defendants rely on Cox v. Superior Court, 205 Cal.Rptr.3d 188 (Ct. App. 2016) in support of their argument that Plaintiff's labeling of his causes of action is not determinative of jurisdiction. In Cox, a state appellate court addressed whether the trial court had the authority to construe a civil complaint filed by a prisoner as a habeas corpus petition. The appellate court stated that “[a] court has authority to treat one type of writ petition as another type when it is procedurally appropriate to do so” but held that “deeming a civil complaint to be a habeas corpus proceeding is not an appropriate remedy to ensure a prisoner's access to court when the civil complaint seeks damages which are inappropriate or unavailable in a habeas corpus proceeding.” Id. at 191-92.

         Cox is not binding authority on this Court and is procedurally distinguishable from this case in which the Court must determine whether it can properly exercise federal subject matter jurisdiction based on the allegations of Plaintiff's well-pleaded complaint. Further, Plaintiff clearly identifies each cause of action he asserts against Defendants and all arise under state law. Plaintiff brings the following causes of action: negligence; breach of illusory contract; fraud; violation of California's Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“Rosenthal Act”), California Civil Code section 1788, et seq.; violation of California's Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”), California Business & Professions Code section 17200 et seq.; and, intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Complaint does not bring a cause of action under the FDCPA or any other federal cause of action. See Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 392 (“The [well-pleaded complaint] rule makes the plaintiff the master of the claim; he or she may avoid federal ...


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