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Hall v. Kraft Heinz Foods Company LLC

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 24, 2019

PATRICK HALL and CARLOS CANTU, Plaintiffs,
v.
KRAFT HEINZ FOOD COMPANY LLC, MATT NINO, and DOES 1 through 50, inclusive, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND AND GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS (ECF NOS. 6, 9)

          LAWRENCE J. O'NEILL UNITED STATES CHIEF DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This case concerns claims brought by Patrick Hall (“Hall”) and Carlos Cantu (“Cantu”) against Kraft Heinz Food Company (LLC) (“Kraft”), Matt Nino (“Nino”), and Does 1 through 50. This case was originally filed in Tulare County Superior Court on March 26, 2019. ECF No. 1-1, Ex. A. On May 1, 2019, Defendant Kraft filed a notice of removal to this court. ECF No. 1. On May 8, 2019, Defendant Nino filed a motion to dismiss. ECF No. 6. On May 27, 2019, Plaintiffs filed a motion to remand that also served as their opposition to the motion to dismiss. ECF No. 9. Defendant filed their opposition to the motion to remand on June 4, 2019, and Plaintiffs filed their reply regarding their motion to remand on June 11, 2019. ECF Nos. 11, 12.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs, Patrick Hall and Carlos Cantu, are former employees of the Kraft Heinz Foods Company at a factory in Tulare. ECF No. 1-1, Ex. A. On February 22, 2019, Patrick Hall received a Right to Sue notice after filing a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) against Kraft, the local affiliate Kraft Heinz, and David Bogan, alleging harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. Id. On March 26, 2019, the Plaintiffs filed a complaint against Kraft, Matt Nino, and Does 1-50. Id. The Complaint brings fourteen causes of action, thirteen of which name “every non-individual Defendant.”[1] Id. The exception is the sixth cause of action, for workplace harassment in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, which also names as a defendant Matt Nino, Plaintiff Hall's superior at work. Id. ¶¶ 19, 91-99. Defendant Nino's presence in the suit is the basis for the Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand, and the sixth cause of action is the sole target of Defendant Nino's Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 6, 9.

         Plaintiff Hall alleges that in and around January 2018, Defendant Nino posted a harassing comment on a social media website. ECF No. 1-1, Ex. A at ¶ 19. The Complaint alleges that the comment was posted while Plaintiff Hall was on medical leave for anxiety and depression, and that the harassing comment was related to these medical issues. ECF No. 1-1, Ex. A. Plaintiff Hall alleges his employment was terminated on or about March 27, 2018, and that this termination was retaliatory, related to the harassment, or harassing in its own right. Id. The Plaintiffs also allege that all relevant conduct of all Defendants was approved or ratified by all other Defendants. Id.

         Defendants removed the case to this Court on May 1, 2019, arguing that there was complete diversity of citizenship between Plaintiffs and all properly joined Defendants, and that the amount in controversy was more than $75, 000. ECF No. 1. Defendants argued that Matt Nino's citizenship could be ignored under the fraudulent joinder doctrine because it was obvious under the settled laws of the state that Plaintiff had failed to state a claim. Id. On May 8, 2019, Defendant Nino filed a Motion to Dismiss the sixth cause of action against him pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), presenting an argument similar to the argument for removal. ECF No. 6. On May 23, 2019, Plaintiff Hall filed an amendment to his earlier DFEH complaint, adding Matt Nino to the caption, and on May 27, 2019, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Remand which also served as their opposition to the Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 9. Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand argues that Matt Nino was a properly joined Defendant because the amended DFEH complaint related back to the original DFEH complaint from February 22, 2019, and disagreed with the Defendant's determination of when the statute of limitations began to run. Id. Defendants filed their Opposition to the Motion to Remand on June 4, 2019, and Plaintiffs filed their Reply in support of their Motion to Remand on June 11, 2019. ECF Nos. 11, 12. Pursuant to Local Rule 230(g), the Court determined that this matter was suitable for decision on the papers and took it under submission on May 28, 2019. ECF No. 10.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Motion to Dismiss

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is a challenge to the sufficiency of the allegations set forth in the complaint. Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper where there is either a “lack of a cognizable legal theory” or “the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.” Balisteri v. Pacifica Police Dept., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court generally accepts as true the allegations in the complaint, construes the pleading in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, and resolves all doubts in the pleader's favor. Lazy Y Ranch LTD v. Behrens, 546 F.3d 580, 588 (9th Cir. 2008).

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the Plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations omitted). Thus, “bare assertions . . . amount[ing] to nothing more than a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements' . . . are not entitled to be assumed true.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681. “[T]o be entitled to the presumption of truth, allegations in a complaint . . . must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively.” Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011). In practice, “a complaint . . . must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 562. To the extent that the pleadings can be cured by the allegation of additional facts, a plaintiff should be afforded leave to amend. Cook, Perkiss and Liehe, Inc. v. N. Cal. Collection Serv., Inc., 911 F.2d 242, 247 (9th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted).

         B. Motion to Remand

         Removal to federal court is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1441, which in relevant part states that “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 defendants.” Original jurisdiction may be based on diversity or the existence of a federal question, as set forth in 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1332. District courts have diversity jurisdiction over all civil actions between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. “Federal 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). The defendant always bears the burden of establishing that removal is proper, and the Court “resolves all ambiguity in favor of remand.” Hunter v. Philip Morris USA, 582 F.3d 1039, 1042 (9th Cir. 2009). The existence of federal jurisdiction is determined by the complaint at the time of removal. Libhart v. Santa Monica Dairy Co., 592 F.2d 1062, 1065 (9th Cir. 1979). See also Williams v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 471 F.3d 975, 976 (9th Cir. 2006) (“We have long held that post-removal amendments to the pleadings cannot affect whether a case is removable, because the propriety of removal is determined solely on the basis of the pleadings filed in state court.”).

         Although federal law requires complete diversity of citizenship, one exception to this requirement is where a non-diverse defendant has been “fraudulently joined.” Morris v. Princess Cruises, Inc., 236 F.3d 1061, 1067 (9th Cir. 2001). “Joinder of a non-diverse defendant is deemed fraudulent, and the defendant's presence in the lawsuit is ignored for purposes of determining diversity, ‘[i]f the plaintiff fails to state a cause of action against a resident defendant, and the failure is obvious according to the settled rules of the state.” Id. at 1067 (quoting McCabe v. General Foods Corp., 811 F.2d 1336, 1339 (9th Cir. 1987)). “The defendant seeking removal to the federal court is entitled to present the facts showing the joinder to be fraudulent.” McCabe, 811 F.2d at 1339. A defendant cannot successfully prove fraudulent joinder, however, by merely arguing either that a plaintiff will not prevail against the non-diverse defendant or that a plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged a claim against that defendant. See Munoz v. Lab. Corp. of America, No. CV 15-902-GW, 2015 WL 4507104 (C.D. Cal. July 23, 2015). Instead, a defendant must provide “clear and convincing evidence” that a plaintiff cannot succeed against the non-diverse ...


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