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Hassler v. Talbots Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. California

September 5, 2019

Linda Hassler
v.
The Talbots, Inc., et al.

          Present: The Honorable DOLLY M. GEE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

          CIVIL MINUTES-GENERAL

         Proceedings: IN CHAMBERS - ORDER RE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND AND REQUEST FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES AND COSTS [15]

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand and Request for Attorneys' Fees and Costs. [Doc. # 15 (“MTR”).] For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Remand is GRANTED and the Request for Attorneys' Fees and Costs is DENIED.

         I.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On April 11, 2019, Plaintiff Linda Hassler filed a Complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Defendants The Talbots, Inc. (“Talbots”) and Wendy Gomez (“Gomez”), a Talbots loss prevention manager. [Doc. # 1, Ex. A (“Complaint”).] Hassler filed a first amended complaint on June 24, 2019. [Doc. # 1, Ex. C (“FAC”).] The FAC alleges causes of action for: (1) disparate treatment in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”); (2) discrimination in violation of FEHA California Government Code section 129040(j) based on race, color, national origin, and/or ancestry; (3) retaliation for complaining of discrimination in violation of FEHA; (4) failure to prevent discrimination and retaliation in violation of FEHA, Government Code section 12940(k); (5) violation of California Labor Code section 1102.5; (6) wrongful termination in violation of public policy; and (7) intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”).

         Hassler brings claims one through six against Talbots, and claim seven against all Defendants, including Gomez. Id. The FAC alleges that Hassler resides in Los Angeles County, Gomez resides in Los Angeles County, and Talbots is a citizen of Massachusetts and Delaware. FAC at ¶¶ 5, 6, 8, 10, 11; Notice of Removal [Doc. # 1] at ¶ 2.

         Hassler is Caucasian. Id. at ¶ 18. She alleges that during her employment with Talbots, Kesha Bey, an African-American subordinate employee, received preferential treatment even though Bey “was often tardy for work, took long breaks and lunches, and routinely failed to clock in.” Id. at ¶ 21-24. In October and November 2017, Hassler complained to Defendants of race discrimination. Id. at ¶¶ 23-25. In December 2017, Gomez and a Talbots Human Resources representative accused Hassler “of using store funds to buy potato chips; of bringing customers into the stockroom; of failing to clock in and out for lunch; and of failing to train her staff on clocking in and out.” Id. at ¶ 27. Talbots then terminated Hassler's employment. Hassler claims that it did so on the basis of her race and in retaliation for making discrimination complaints. Id. at ¶ 28.

         On July 3, 2019, Defendants removed this action from Los Angeles County Superior Court on the ground that Hassler fraudulently joined Gomez in order to defeat federal diversity jurisdiction. See Notice of Removal. Hassler filed the instant MTR on July 23, 2019.

         II.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 requires that the parties to a suit be of diverse citizenship. Diaz v. Davis (In re Digimarc Corp. Derivative Litig.), 549 F.3d 1223, 1234 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Strawbridge v. Curtiss, 7 U.S. (3 Cranch) 267, 267, 2 L.Ed. 435 (1806)) (“Diversity jurisdiction requires complete diversity between the parties-each defendant must be a citizen of a different state from each plaintiff.”). “A defendant seeking removal has the burden to establish that removal is proper and any doubt is resolved against removability. However, a plaintiff seeking remand has the burden to prove that an express exception to removal exists.” Luther v. Countrywide Home Loans Servicing LP, 533 F.3d 1031, 1034 (9th Cir. 2008) (internal citations omitted.) “The burden of establishing federal subject matter jurisdiction falls on the party invoking removal.” Marin Gen. Hosp. v. Modesto & Empire Traction Co., 581 F.3d 941, 944 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Toumajian v. Frailey, 135 F.3d 648, 652 (9th Cir. 1998)). There is a “strong presumption against removal jurisdiction, ” and courts must reject it “if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance.” Geographic Expeditions, Inc. v. Estate of Lhotka ex rel. Lhotka, 599 F.3d 1102, 1107 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992) (per curiam)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         “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.'” Morris v. Princess Cruises, Inc., 236 F.3d 1061, 1067 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting McCabe v. General Foods Corp., 811 F.2d 1336, 1339 (9th Cir. 1987)).

         A defendant opposing remand may introduce evidence beyond the pleadings to establish fraudulent joinder. Id. (citing McCabe, 811 F.2d at 1339). But that defendant must “show that there is no possibility that the plaintiff could prevail on any cause of action it brought against the non-diverse defendant. Remand must be granted unless the defendant shows that the plaintiff would not be afforded leave to amend his complaint to cure the purported deficiency.” Padilla v. AT&T Corp., 697 F.Supp.2d 1156, 1159 (C.D. Cal. ...


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