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Cisneros v. Centene Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. California

November 7, 2019

CARMELA CISNEROS, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
CENTENE CORPORATION, a Delaware corporation; HEALTH NET FEDERAL SERVICES, LLC, a Delaware corporation; MICHAELINE FLOWER, an individual; and DOES 2 through 25, inclusive, Defendants.


          Hon M. James Lorenz United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Carmela Cisneros's (“Plaintiff”) Motion to Remand [ECF No. 8]. The Court decides this matter on the papers submitted and without oral argument. See Civ. L. R. 7.1(d)(1). For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         From July 25, 2006, through March 7, 2018, Plaintiff was employed by Centene Corporation (“Centene”) and Health Net Federal Services, LLC (“Health Net”) as a Clerical Specialist in San Diego County. ECF No. 1-3, Ex. C at 36 ¶ 8.

         On January 30, 2019, Plaintiff's filed a complaint against Centene and Michaeline Flower (“Flower”) in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego, alleging various claims relating from her termination of employment. See ECF No. 1-3, Exhibit A. The complaint sought damages on the following bases: (1) associational disability discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), (2) failure to engage in a good faith interactive process under FEHA, (3) failure to accommodate under FEHA, (4) retaliation under FEHA, (5) unlawful workplace language policy under Cal. Gov. Code § 12951, (6) national origin discrimination based on associational disability under Cal. Gov. Code § 12900, (7) failure to take all reasonable steps to discrimination, harassment and/or retaliation, (8) violation of the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”), (9) retaliation under CFRA, (10) wrongful termination against public policy, and (11) defamation. See Id. On March 25, 2019, Plaintiff amended that complaint and filed her First Amended Complaint (“Complaint”) against Centene, Flower, and newly-added defendant Health Net. See ECF No. 1-3, Ex. C. Plaintiff alleges that, in March 2018, she took leave to care for her husband who suffered a shoulder injury. ECF No. 1-3, Ex. C at 36 ¶ 11. Upon returning from leave, she was terminated for falsifying medical documents related to her husband's injury. Id. at ¶ 12. Plaintiff claims she was terminated in retaliation for taking leave to care for her injured husband. Id. at ¶¶ 94-101. Plaintiff alleges the same eleven causes of action related to her termination of employment. See id.

         On April 30, 2019, Health Net deposed Plaintiff in the related class action case.[1] See ECF No.1 at ¶ 6. On May 30, 2019, Centene[2] removed the case to this Court, claiming diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§§ 1332, 1441, 1446(b)(3). The timeliness of Centene's removal is not in dispute. Plaintiff now moves to remand.


         “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). “They possess only that power authorized by Constitution or a statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree.” Id. (internal citations omitted). “It is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction.” Id. (internal citations omitted); see also Abrego Abrego v. The Dow Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 684 (9th Cir. 2006). Consistent with the limited jurisdiction of federal courts, the removal statute is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction. Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992); see also Sygenta Crop Prot. v. Henson, 537 U.S. 28, 32 (2002); O'Halloran v. Univ. of Wash., 856 F.2d 1375, 1380 (9th Cir. 1988). “The strong presumption against removal jurisdiction means that the defendant always has the burden of establishing that removal is proper.” Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566; see also Nishimoto v. Federman-Bachrach & Assoc., 903 F.2d 709, 712 n.3 (9th Cir. 1990); O'Halloran, 856 F.2d at 1380. “Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance.” Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566.

         Diversity jurisdiction requires (1) complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and (2) an amount in controversy exceeding $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Diversity jurisdiction does not exist if any defendant is of the same citizenship as any plaintiff. 28 U.S.C. § 1332; Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U.S. 61, 68 (1996). Furthermore, removal on diversity grounds is improper if any defendant is a citizen of the forum state. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2). A court may disregard the citizenship of any fraudulently joined defendants. Morris v. Princess Cruises, Inc., 236 F.3d 1061, 1067 (9th Cir. 2001). “Joinder of a non-diverse defendant is deemed fraudulent . . . 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.” Id. (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). A defendant bears the burden of proving fraudulent joinder by clear and convincing evidence. Hamilton Materials, Inc. v. Dow Chemical Corp., 494 F.3d 1203, 1206 (9th Cir. 2007).


         Plaintiff contends there are two reasons the case must be remanded to state court. First, Plaintiff contends that Flower is not a sham defendant; thus, there is not complete diversity among the parties. ECF No. 8 at 9-14. Second, Plaintiff contends the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000. Id. at 7-9.

         Sham Defendant

         Plaintiff alleges two claims against Flower: (1) retaliation in violation of the CFRA and (2) defamation under California law. See ECF No. 1, Ex. C. Centene asserts Flower was fraudulently joined in the action and that her citizenship should be disregarded in evaluating whether complete diversity exists. ECF No. 1 at 6-10.

         A. ...

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