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Rios v. Wirepath Home Systems, LLC

United States District Court, C.D. California

December 10, 2019

Roy Rios
Wirepath Home Systems, LLC




         Before the Court is Plaintiff Roy Rios's Motion to Remand, currently set for hearing on December 13, 2019, at 10:30 a.m. (Mot., Doc. 9.) Defendant Wirepath Home Systems, LLC (“Wirepath”) opposed, and Plaintiff replied. (Opp., Doc. 15; Reply, Doc. 17.) Having considered the parties' papers and for the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to Remand.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, a California resident, “is a blind individual who requires screen reading software to read website content and access the internet.” (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 7, Doc. 1-1.) At issue in this case is a website maintained by Defendant, (the “Website”), which provides access to Defendant's products and services. (See Id. ¶¶ 4, 9.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant maintains the Website “in such a way that the Website contains numerous access barriers preventing Plaintiff, and other blind and visually-impaired individuals, from gaining equal access to the Website.” (Id. ¶ 4.)

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint in Orange County Superior Court on August 21, 2019, bringing a single cause of action under the Unruh Civil Rights Act (“Unruh Act”). (See Id. ¶¶ 21-28.) As remedies for the alleged Unruh Act violation, Plaintiff seeks statutory damages, a preliminary and permanent injunction, and attorneys' fees.[2] (Id. at 9.) Importantly, “Plaintiff expressly limits the total amount of recovery, including statutory damages, attorneys' fees and costs, and cost of injunctive relief not to exceed $74, 999[.]” (Id.)

         Defendant removed the case to this Court on October 4, 2019 based on diversity jurisdiction, contending that the amount in controversy actually exceeds $75, 000, Plaintiff's express limitation notwithstanding. (See Notice of Removal at 3-7, Doc. 1.) Plaintiff timely seeks to remand the case.


         A federal court has diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 if the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 and the parties to the action are citizens of different states. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). And “[a] defendant may remove an action to federal court based on . . . diversity jurisdiction.” Hunter v. Philip Morris USA, 582 F.3d 1039, 1042 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1441).

         When reviewing a notice of removal, “it is to be presumed that a cause lies outside the limited jurisdiction of the federal courts and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction.” Hunter, 582 F.3d at 1042 (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted) (quoting Abrego Abrego v. Dow Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 684 (9th Cir. 2006)). Indeed, courts “strictly construe the removal statute against removal jurisdiction[, ]” meaning that “the defendant always has the burden of establishing that removal is proper.” Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted).

         “[F]ederal courts permit individual plaintiffs, who are the masters of their complaints, to avoid removal to federal court, and to obtain a remand to state court, by stipulating to amounts at issue that fall below the federal jurisdictional requirement.” Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Knowles, 568 U.S. 588, 595 (2013). “Some courts have required that these affidavits or stipulations be executed prior to the notice of removal as a sign of their bona fides[.]” Patel v. Nike Retail Servs., Inc., 58 F.Supp.3d 1032, 1038 (N.D. Cal. 2014) (citation omitted). “Notwithstanding this, district courts within this circuit have remanded actions on the condition that a plaintiff stipulate to seeking less than the jurisdictional minimum or submitting an affidavit binding him or her not to accept any amount meeting the jurisdictional minimum.” Id. at 1038-39 (collecting cases).


         In this Motion, the parties' dispute turns on the value of the injunctive relief Plaintiff seeks. (See Opp. at 6, Doc. 15 (“Plaintiff's motion to remand can be distilled to one primary argument: Wirepath cannot meet its burden of proof in valuing the injunctive relief Plaintiff demands.”).) In short, Defendant challenges Plaintiff's express limitation of the amount in controversy, arguing that Plaintiff's requested injunctive relief alone would cost Defendant more than $75, 000. (See generally Opp.)

         Although this is not a case where Plaintiff signed a binding pre-removal stipulation averring that the amount in controversy will not exceed the jurisdictional minimum, cf. Blood v. Equifax, Inc., No. 818CV00958JLSPJW, 2018 WL 3636960, at *3 (C.D. Cal. July 30, 2018), Plaintiff's Complaint expressly limits his recovery to $74, 999, inclusive of statutory damages, attorneys' fees and costs, and the cost of injunctive relief (Compl. at 9). Importantly, Plaintiff reaffirms this self-imposed recovery cap in the instant Motion. (See, e.g., Mot. at 8, Doc. 9.) This case therefore presents a situation where the Complaint does more than just “affirmatively allege[] that the amount in controversy is less than the jurisdictional threshold, ” U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n v. Azam, No. SACV-13:633-JLS, 2013 WL 12130577, at *2 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 30, 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted), aff'd, 582 Fed.Appx. 710 (9th Cir. 2014). Rather, taken together, Plaintiff's Complaint and his reaffirmation of the recovery cap in his ...

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