United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER REASSIGNING CASE AND REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
IN FAVOR OF GRANTING MOTION TO REMAND REGARDING DOCKET NOS.
KIM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Dayana Medina (“Plaintiff”) moves to remand this
action to state court. The Court has carefully considered the
parties' papers, relevant legal authority, the record in
the case, and has heard oral argument. Because not all
Defendants have appeared and consented to the jurisdiction of
the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636, the Court
hereby ORDERS that this matter be REASSIGNED to a district
judge. Based on the Court's review of the case, the Court
RECOMMENDS that the district judge GRANT Plaintiffs'
motion for the reasons set forth below.
filed her original complaint against Defendants Wells Fargo
& Company, Wells Fargo National Bank, N.A., Wells Fargo
Bank, Ltd., and Wells Fargo Central Pacific Holdings, Inc.
(“Defendants”) on June 14, 2019, in California
Superior Court for the County of Alameda. (Dkt. 1-1.)
Plaintiff's complaint alleges that she began working at a
Wells Fargo Bank branch in Alameda County, California in June
of 2010. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that she received a
promotion, a position transfer, and positive performance
reviews over the course of her employment. (Id.) She
also completed on 30-day performance improvement plan.
(Id.) Plaintiff alleges that she informed her
manager she was pregnant on January 2, 2018. (Id.)
On January 11, 2018, Plaintiff's employment was
terminated. (Id.) Plaintiff brings claims for
violation of the California Pregnancy Disability Leave Act,
Cal. Gov. Code § 12945, et seq., retaliation
for taking CFRA leave in violation of the California Fair
Employment and Housing Act, Cal. Gov. Code § 12940,
et seq., discrimination on the basis of sex
in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing
Act, Cal. Gov. Code § 12940, et seq., and
wrongful termination in violation of public policy.
(Id.) Plaintiff's complaint alleges only claims
under California law.
Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (“Wells Fargo N.A.”)
removed the complaint to federal district court on July 25,
2019. (Dkt. 1.) In its notice of removal, Wells Fargo N.A.
contends that its co-Defendants Wells Fargo & Company,
Wells Fargo Bank, Ltd., and Wells Fargo Central Pacific
Holdings, Inc. are all separate corporate entities that had
nothing to do with Plaintiff's employment, which was
through Wells Fargo N.A. alone. (Id.) Accordingly,
Wells Fargo N.A. argues that the other three Defendants are
sham defendants who have been fraudulently joined to this
suit and whose citizenship should not be considered for
purposes of determining subject matter jurisdiction. Wells
Fargo N.A. removed the action on the basis of diversity
jurisdiction. (Id.) Wells Fargo N.A. is a citizen of
South Dakota. (Dkt. 1-4.) Wells Fargo & Company
(“Wells Fargo & Co.”), Wells Fargo Bank,
Ltd., and Wells Fargo Central Pacific Holdings, Inc., are all
citizens of California. (Dkt. 1-7.) Plaintiff is a citizen of
California. (Dkt. 1-1.) Plaintiff's complaint alleges
damages of an indefinite amount; Defendants assert that the
amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. (Dkts. 1, 1-1.)
Legal Standards on Motion to Remand.
diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 ordinarily
requires complete diversity of the parties, see
Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U.S. 61, 68 (1996),
removal is proper despite the presence of a nondiverse
defendant when that defendant is fraudulently joined.
“Fraudulent joinder is a term of art. If 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, the joinder of the resident
defendant is fraudulent.” McCabe v. Gen.
Foods, 811 F.2d 1336, 1339 (9th Cir. 1987). “[A]ll
disputed questions of fact and all ambiguities in the
controlling state law are [to be] resolved in plaintiff's
favor.” Calero v. Unisys Corp., 271 F.Supp.2d
1172, 1176 (N.D. Cal. 2003). If after doing so, “there
is a non-fanciful possibility that plaintiff can state a
claim under [state] law against the non-diverse defendants[,
] the court must remand.” Macey v. Allstate Prop.
& Cas. Ins. Co., 220 F.Supp.2d 1116, 1117 (N.D. Cal.
2002). The party asserting the fraudulent joinder bears the
burden of proof, and the court must remand unless the
defendant can show that there is no possibility that the
plaintiff could prevail on any cause of action brought
against the non-diverse defendant. See Levine v.
Allmerica Fin. Life Ins. & Annuity Co., 41 F.Supp.2d
1077, 1078 (C.D. Cal. 1999). “Courts should resolve
doubts as to removability in favor of remanding the case to
state court.” Gaus v. Miles, 980 F.2d 564, 566
(9th Cir. 1992) (internal quotations omitted).
Plaintiff's Motion to Remand.
argues that Defendants improperly removed this action because
there is a “non-fanciful possibility” that
nondiverse Defendant Wells Fargo & Co. was properly named
alongside diverse Defendant Wells Fargo N.A. in
Plaintiff's complaint. Macey, 220 F.Supp.2d at
1117. Plaintiff's argument is that joinder of Wells Fargo
& Co. was not fraudulent because Wells Fargo & Co.
was Plaintiff's joint employer, with Wells Fargo N.A. In
support of her position, Plaintiff provides her personnel
records - which contain the terms and conditions of her
employment as well as performance goals, means of measuring
her performance, and comments from supervisors. (Dkt. 8-3.)
The majority of these documents are clearly marked
“Wells Fargo & Co.” (Id.) Some refer
only to “Wells Fargo” (e.g., Offer
Letter, Dkt. 8-3 at 28-30), and some are marked “Wells
Fargo Bank, N.A.” (e.g., Harassment Policy,
Dkt. 8-3 at 31-34). Pages from each of these categories of
documents show the same square logo with the text
“Wells Fargo” in capital block letters inside.
(Compare Dkt. 8-3 at 28, 31, 52.)
also directs the Court's attention to Fraser v. Wells
Fargo Bank, N.A., 2015 WL 1938448 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 28,
2015). In that case, a plaintiff sued Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.
alongside Wells Fargo Bank, Ltd., in California state court,
alleging employment-based claims. Id. at *1.
Defendants removed the suit to federal court, and the
plaintiff objected because Wells Fargo Bank, Ltd., is a
California entity. Id. Defendants argued that the
plaintiff had joined the California entity as a sham
defendant. The court held that “Defendants […]
failed to meet their heavy burden” of showing that
Wells Fargo Bank, Ltd., was a sham defendant because there
was insufficient evidence that the two entities were not
joint employers under California law. Id. The
defendants submitted “two perfunctory
declarations” saying they were not joint employers, but
the court found those statements insufficient to meet the
defendants' burden of proof. Id. Similarly, in
Jankins, a plaintiff brought employment-based claims
against Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., with Wells Fargo & Co.
(the California entity, as here). Jankins v. Wells Fargo
Bank, N.A., et al., 2017 WL 1181562 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 29,
2017). Defendants removed based on fraudulent joinder.
Id. at *5. The court remanded the action, finding
that “[a]s Plaintiff has presented some evidence that
[Wells Fargo & Co.] could be Plaintiff's joint
employer, construing this evidence in Plaintiff's favor
[…] Defendants have failed to carry their heavy burden
of demonstrating the improper joinder by clear and convincing
evidence.” Id. at *6 (quotation omitted).
counter that the labelling of the documents in
Plaintiff's personnel file is irrelevant because Wells
Fargo & Co. lacked day-to-day control over
Plaintiff's employment. They argue that an entity that
pays an employee's salary is presumptively the employer,
citing Helmick v. Dave & Buster's, Inc.,
2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42246, at *15-18 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 14,
2018). Defendants further contended at oral argument that the
case at bar is distinguishable from Fraser and
Jankins because the declarations they submit here
are more fulsome and address the requirements for finding a
joint employer relationship.