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Holcomb v. Weiser Security Services, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. California

December 3, 2019

JAMAL F. HOLCOMB, Plaintiff,
v.
WEISER SECURITY SERVICES, INC., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO REMAND [15]

          OTIS D. WRIGHT, II UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On February 7, 2019, Plaintiff Jamal F. Holcomb (“Holcomb”) filed this putative class action in Los Angeles Superior Court against his employer Weiser Security Services, Inc. (“Weiser”). (Decl. of Bradley E. Schwan Ex. A (“Compl.”), ECF No. 1-2.) On March 21, 2019, Weiser removed the action pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d) (“CAFA”). (Notice of Removal (“Removal”) ¶ 1, ECF No. 1.) Holcomb now moves to remand this action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction (“Motion”). (Mot. to Remand (“Mot.”), ECF No. 15.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that Weiser has not met its evidentiary burden to establish that the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Holcomb's Motion to Remand and DENIES Holcomb's Motion for Reimbursement of Fees.[1]

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Holcomb brings this class action against Weiser on behalf of himself and the class he seeks to represent (collectively “putative class”). The putative class consists of “[a]ll current and former persons employed by Weiser . . . in California as non-exempt employees at any time during the period beginning four years prior to the filing of this Complaint.” (Compl. ¶ 7.) Holcomb is a citizen of California. (See Compl. ¶ 6.) Weiser is incorporated and has its principal place of business in Louisiana. (Removal ¶ 22.) Holcomb alleges ten causes of action against Weiser: (1) Failure to Pay Minimum Wage; (2) Failure to Pay Overtime Wages; (3) Failure to Provide Meal Periods; (4) Failure to Provide Rest Periods; (5) Failure to Furnish Accurate Wage Statements; (6) Failure to Pay All Wages Due to Discharged and Quitting Employees; (7) Failure to Maintain Required Records; (8) Failure to Indemnify Employees for Necessary Expenditures Incurred in Discharge of Duties; (9) Unfair and Unlawful Business Practices (“UCL”); and (10) Civil Penalties Under PAGA. (Compl. ¶¶ 38-96.) Holcomb does not allege a specific damages amount. (See Compl. at 23.)

         Weiser removed the action to this Court on March 21, 2019, pursuant to CAFA. (Removal ¶ 2.) On July 11, 2019, Holcomb moved to remand arguing that Weiser's removal relies on speculative violation rates to calculate the amount in controversy (Mot. 1.) Holcomb contends that, as a result, Weiser has not established that the amount in controversy is met and, thus, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. (Mot. 1.) Weiser opposes the Motion and argues that the amount in controversy is satisfied because Weiser calculated the alleged violation rates based on reasonable assumptions derived from the Complaint. (Opp'n to Mot. (“Opp'n”) 9, ECF No. 20.)

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         CAFA allows for federal jurisdiction over a purported class action when all of the following apply: (1) the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million (2) at least one putative class member is a citizen of a state different from any defendant, and (3) the putative class exceeds 100 members. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(d)(2), (5). “[T]he burden of establishing removal jurisdiction remains . . . on the proponent of federal jurisdiction.” Abrego Abrego v. Dow Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 685 (9th Cir. 2006). Generally, removal statutes are strictly construed against removal jurisdiction. Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). However, “no antiremoval presumption attends cases invoking CAFA.” Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens, 574 U.S. 81, 89 (2014).

         “[A] defendant's notice of removal need include only a plausible allegation that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional threshold. Id. If the plaintiff disputes the alleged amount in controversy, “both sides submit proof and the court decides, by a preponderance of the evidence, whether the amount-in-controversy requirement has been satisfied.” Id. at 88. The parties may submit evidence, “including affidavits or declarations, or other summary-judgment-type evidence relevant to the amount in controversy at the time of removal.” Ibarra, 775 F.3d at 1197 (quoting Singer v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 116 F.3d 373, 377 (9th Cir. 1997)). “[A] defendant cannot establish removal jurisdiction by mere speculation and conjecture, with unreasonable assumptions.” Id.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Weiser asserts that removal is proper because there are more than 100 putative class members, minimal diversity is satisfied, and the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million. (Removal ¶¶ 2, 13-16, 24, 30.) Holcomb does not dispute that the class is over 100 members or that the parties are minimally diverse, but argues Weiser has not established the amount in controversy. (Mot. 4.)

         Weiser contends that the face of the Complaint clearly demonstrates that the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million, and over $6, 461, 288.13 when including attorney's fees, reimbursement, and maintenance of records claims. (Removal ¶¶ 30, 71.) Weiser reaches this calculation by adding together Weiser's estimates for Holcomb's claims: (1) minimum wage, (2) overtime compensation, (3) meal periods, (4) rest periods, (5) accurate wage statements, (6) final wages due, (7) and attorney fees. (See Removal ¶ 71.) Holcomb argues that Weiser has not provided sufficient evidence in support of the amount in controversy and relies on fabricated violation rates in its amount in controversy calculation. (Mot. 6-8.)

         A. Amount in Controversy

         Holcomb does not allege a specific amount in damages, but seeks compensatory damages, available penalties, interest, costs and attorney's fees. (Compl., Prayer for Relief ¶¶ 1-12.) Weiser alleges that the amount in controversy, excluding attorney's fees, is $5, 169, 030.50. (Removal ¶ 71.) Holcomb responds that ...


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