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Reyes v. Staples The Office Superstore, LLC

United States District Court, C.D. California

September 3, 2019

JANICE REYES, Plaintiff,
STAPLES THE OFFICE SUPERSTORE, LLC, and DOES 1 through 100, inclusive, Defendants.




         On June 6, 2019, Plaintiff Janice Reyes brought an action against Staples the Office Superstore, LCC (“Staples”) and Does 1 through 100 in Los Angeles Superior Court. (Dkt. 1-3 [Complaint, hereinafter “Compl.”].) Before the Court is Plaintiff's motion to remand. (Dkt. 10 [hereinafter “Mot.”].) For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.[1]


         The allegations in Plaintiff's complaint arise from an altercation that occurred while she was working at Staples's East Hollywood location on February 1, 2018. That morning, two women named Sherri Shepard and Kim Tavares allegedly entered Staples and asked Plaintiff if there was a restroom in the store. (Compl. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff, who allegedly believed that the restrooms were closed for maintenance, related this information to the customers and suggested they try another store. (Id.) A few minutes later, Plaintiff's supervisor told her that the two women were accusing her of being a racist for not letting them use the restroom. (Id. ¶ 10.) Ms. Shepard is African-American and Ms. Tavares's race is not disclosed in the pleadings. (Id. ¶ 17.) The Plaintiff is Hispanic. (Id. ¶ 43.)

         A few minutes later, Plaintiff returned to her post at a checkout aisle and saw Ms. Shepard and Ms. Tavares standing in her line. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff's supervisor, who was aware that the women were angry with Plaintiff, allegedly saw them approaching but did nothing. (Id.) As Ms. Shepard and Ms. Tavares were checking out, they allegedly began berating Plaintiff, calling her a racist and a liar for telling them that the bathroom was out of order when it was not. (Id. ¶¶ 12-17.) This altercation allegedly lasted for several minutes without Plaintiff's supervisor intervening. (Id. ¶ 18.) Eventually, Plaintiff said, “I'm not taking this shit, ” and left the checkout counter. (Id.) Later that day, Plaintiff learned that Ms. Shepard was a celebrity and that her assistant had been making calls to Staples's corporate office, requesting that Plaintiff be terminated for racial profiling. (Id. ¶ 21.) Ms. Shepard also posted a video on Instagram making similar accusations. (Id. ¶ 22.)

         Staples, allegedly feeling pressure to take action due to Ms. Shepard's celebrity status, investigated the incident over the next few days. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24.) Plaintiff discussed the matter with a Staples corporate employee over the phone and provided a statement. (Id.) When Plaintiff arrived at work on February 6, 2018, her manager informed her that she had been terminated by corporate for swearing in front of a customer. (Id. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff alleges that this given reason was pretextual and that she was actually terminated because of Ms. Shepard's allegations of racial profiling. (Id. ¶ 27.) Following her termination, Plaintiff exhausted her administrative remedies with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) and received a notice of the right to sue on June 11, 2018. (Id. ¶¶ 29-30.)

         Plaintiff's sued Staples in Los Angeles Superior Court, asserting a number of violations of California law including (1) violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act's (“FEHA”) prohibition of harassment in employment on the basis of race, (2) violation of FEHA's prohibition of discrimination in employment on the basis of race, (3) failure to remedy and prevent discrimination and harassment, (4) wrongful termination, and (5) negligent retention and supervision. (See generally id.) On August 14, 2019, Staples removed the case to federal court, invoking diversity jurisdiction. (Dkt. 1 [Notice of Removal, hereinafter “NOR”].) Plaintiff then filed a motion to remand the case to Los Angeles Superior Court.


         A civil action brought in state court may be removed by the defendant to a federal district court if the action could have been brought there originally. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction falls on the defendant, and the removal statute is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction. Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). “Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance.” Id. Federal district courts have diversity jurisdiction over suits where more than $75, 000 is in controversy if the citizenship of each plaintiff is different from that of each defendant. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The parties dispute both (a) whether there is complete diversity between the parties and, (b) whether the amount in controversy has been met. The Court will address each issue in turn.

         A. Complete Diversity

         The parties first dispute whether there is complete diversity of citizenship. Federal courts only have diversity jurisdiction over a matter when the parties are completely diverse. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Plaintiff, a California citizen, alleges that complete diversity is not present here due to her claims against Doe Defendants, who she alleges are also California citizens. Staples asserts that Plaintiff's inclusion of “Does 1 through 100” cannot be used to destroy complete diversity. On this point, the Court agrees with Staples.

         In 1987, the Ninth Circuit held “the presence of Doe defendants . . . destroys diversity and, thus, precludes removal.” Bryant v. Ford Motor Co., 844 F.2d 602, 605 (9th Cir. 1987). Congress swiftly abrogated this decision by amending the removal statute. See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(b)(1) (“In determining whether a civil action is removable on the basis of the jurisdiction under section 1332(a) of this title, the citizenship of defendants sued under fictitious names shall be disregarded.”). Since these amendments, the rule has been clear. “The citizenship of fictitious defendants is disregarded for removal purposes and becomes relevant only if and when the plaintiff seeks leave to substitute a named defendant.” Soliman v. Philip Morris Inc., 311 F.3d 966, 971 (9th Cir. 2002). Here, Plaintiff has not sought to substitute any named defendants. Accordingly, the unnamed Doe Defendants in Plaintiff's complaint cannot be used to destroy complete diversity. Absent the Does, Plaintiff does not dispute that the parties are completely diverse. For diversity purposes, Plaintiff is a citizen of California and Staples is a citizen of Delaware and Massachusetts, so there is complete diversity between the parties.

         B. Amount ...

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