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Gardner v. Durham D and M LLC

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 25, 2019

Penny Gardner
Durham D and M LLC, et al.



         Proceedings: IN CHAMBERS - COURT ORDER

         Before the Court is a Notice of Removal filed by defendant Durham D&M LLC (“Defendant”) on July 22, 2019. (Docket No. 1.) Defendant contends that the Court possesses federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 over the action brought against it by plaintiff Penny Gardner (“Plaintiff”). Specifically, Defendant's Notice of Removal asserts that this Court's jurisdiction is based on section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (the “LMRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 185.

         Plaintiff filed her Complaint in San Bernardino County Superior Court on June 12, 2019. (Notice of Removal ¶ 1; see Compl., Notice of Removal Ex. A.) The Complaint alleges a single claim for failure to timely pay wages to employees in violation of California Labor Code section 204, brought pursuant to California's Private Attorney General Act. (Compl. ¶¶ 1, 5, 14-18.) According to the Notice of Removal, Plaintiff and the other employees she seeks to represent were subject to collective bargaining agreements (“CBAs”) between Defendant and the Teamsters Local Union No. 572. (Notice of Removal ¶ 17; see Cozza Decl. & Exs. A, B, Docket No. 5.)

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, having subject matter jurisdiction only over matters authorized by the Constitution and Congress. See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994). A suit filed in state court may be removed to federal court if the federal court would have had original jurisdiction over the suit. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). A removed action must be remanded to state court if the federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Id. § 1447(c). “The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction is on the party seeking removal, and the removal statute is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction.” Prize Frize, Inc. v. Matrix (U.S.) Inc., 167 F.3d 1261, 1265 (9th Cir. 1999). “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).

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, this Court has original jurisdiction over civil actions “arising under” federal law. Removal based on § 1331 is governed by the “well-pleaded complaint” rule. Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 96 L.Ed.2d 318 (1987). Under the rule, “federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of a plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.” Id. at 392. If the complaint does not specify whether a claim is based on federal or state law, it is a claim “arising under” federal law only if it is “clear” that it raises a federal question. Duncan v. Stuetzle, 76 F.3d 1480, 1485 (9th Cir. 1996). Thus, the plaintiff is generally the “master of the claim.” Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 392. There is no federal question jurisdiction simply because there is a federal defense to the claim. Id. The only exception to this rule is where a plaintiff's federal claim has been disguised by “artful pleading, ” such as where the only claim is a federal one or is a state claim preempted by federal law. Sullivan v. First Affiliated Sec., Inc., 813 F.2d 1368, 1372 (9th Cir. 1987).

         Here, Defendant contends that the Court has federal question jurisdiction because this action arises under section 301 of the LMRA. (Notice of Removal ¶¶ 11-31.) Section 301 of LMRA states that “[s]uits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees . . . may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties . . . .” 29 U.S.C. § 185(a). The Supreme Court has interpreted section 301 to require claims “alleging a violation of a provision of a labor contract [to] be brought under § 301 and be resolved by reference to federal law.” Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 210, 105 S.Ct. 1904, 85 L.Ed.2d 206 (1985). This preemption of state claims “extend[s] beyond suits alleging contract violations” to those requiring interpretation of the provisions of labor agreements:

[Q]uestions relating to what the parties to a labor agreement agreed, and what legal consequences were intended to flow from breaches of that agreement, must be resolved by references to uniform federal law, whether such questions arise in the context of a suit for breach of contract or in a suit alleging liability in tort. Any other result would elevate form over substance and allow parties to evade the requirements of § 301 by relabeling their contract claims as claims for tortious breach of contract.

Id. at 210-11. However, the scope of section 301 preemption is not absolute:

[N]ot every dispute concerning employment, or tangentially involving a provision of a collective-bargaining agreement, is pre-empted by § 301 other provisions of the federal labor law. . . . Clearly, § 301 does not grant the parties to a collective-bargaining agreement the ability to contract for what is illegal under state law. In extending the pre-emptive effect of § 301 beyond suits for breach of contract, it would be inconsistent with congressional intent under that section to preempt state rules that proscribe conduct, or establish rights and obligations, independent of a labor contract.

Id. at 211-12. “In order to help preserve state authority in areas involving minimum labor standards, the Supreme Court has distinguished between claims that require interpretation or construction of a labor agreement and those that require a court simply to ‘look at' the agreement.” Balcorta v. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 208 F.3d 1102, 1108 (9th Cir. 2000) (citing Livadas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 123-26, 114 S.Ct. 2068, 129 L.Ed.2d 93 (1994)). In particular, “when the meaning of contract terms is not subject to dispute, the bare fact that a collective-bargaining agreement will be consulted in the course of state-law litigation plainly does not require the claim to be extinguished.” Livadas, 512 U.S. at 124 (citing Lingle v. Norge Div. of Magic Chef, Inc., 486 U.S. 399, 413 n.12, 108 S.Ct. 1877, 100 L.Ed.2d 410 (1988)).

         “[E]ven if dispute resolution pursuant to a collective-bargaining agreement, on one hand, and state law, on the other, would require addressing precisely the same set of facts, as long as the state-law claim can be resolved without interpreting the agreement itself, the claim is ‘independent' of the agreement for § 301 preemption purposes.” Lingle, 486 U.S. at 409-10. Accordingly, preemption under section 301 requires a two-step analysis. Alaska Airlines Inc. v. Schurke, 898 F.3d 904, 920-22 (9th Cir. 2018) (en banc); Burnside v. Kiewit Pac. Corp., 491 F.3d 1053, 1059-60 (9th Cir. 2007). First, the Court must determine “whether the asserted cause of action involves a right conferred upon an employee by virtue of state law, not by a CBA.” Burnside, 491 F.3d at 1059. “If a claim arises entirely from a right or duty of the CBA-for example, a claim for violation of the labor agreement, whether sounding in contract or in tort-it is, in effect, a CBA dispute in state law garb, and is preempted. In such cases, the CBA is the ‘only source' of the right the plaintiff seeks to vindicate.” Alaska Airlines, 898 F.3d at 921 (footnote, citations, and internal quotation marks omitted). “[C]laims are not simply CBA disputes by another name, and so are not preempted under this first step, if they just refer to a CBA-defined right; rely in part on a CBA's terms of employment; run parallel to a CBA violation; or invite use of the CBA as a defense.” Id. (citations omitted).

         If the right asserted by the plaintiff is conferred by state law, the Court proceeds to the second step, in which it must determine whether the plaintiff's claim is nevertheless “substantially dependent on analysis of a collective bargaining agreement.” Burnside, 491 F.3d at 1059 (quoting Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 394). If the claim requires the court to “interpret, ” rather than merely “look to, ” the collective bargaining agreement, then the claim is substantially dependent thereon and is preempted by section 301. Id. at 1060. “The plaintiff's claim is the touchstone for this analysis; the need to interpret the collective bargaining agreement must inhere in the nature of the plaintiff's claim.” Detabali v. St. Luke's Hosp., 482 F.3d 1199, 1203 (9th Cir. 2007) (alteration omitted) (quoting Cramer v. Consol. Freightways, Inc., 255 F.3d 683, 691 (9th Cir. 2001) (en banc))). “[It is not] enough that resolving the state law claim requires a court to refer to the CBA and apply its plain or undisputed language-for example, to discern that none of its terms is reasonably in dispute; to identify bargained-for wage rates in computing a penalty; or to determine whether the CBA contains a clear and unmistakable waiver of state law rights.” Alaska Airlines, 898 F.3d at 921-22 (alterations, citations, and internal quotation marks omitted).

         Plaintiff asserts a single claim for failure to timely pay wages in violation of ...

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