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Mozingo v. Japan Airlines Co., Ltd

United States District Court, S.D. California

January 9, 2020

PAMELA MOZINGO, Plaintiff,
v.
JAPAN AIRLINES CO., LTD., a foreign company Japan that is duly qualified to and in fact conducting business with the State of California as company number C0282499; and DOES 1 through 100, Defendants.

          ORDER REMANDING ACTION TO THE SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO (ECF NO. 1)

          Hon. Janis L. Sammartino, United States District Judge.

         Presently before the Court is the Notice of Removal of Japan Airlines Co., Ltd. to United States District Court (“Not. of Removal, ” ECF No. 1). On December 27, 2019, Defendant removed this action from the Superior Court of the State of California, County of San Diego on the grounds that “it is a civil action between a citizen of the State of California and a citizen of a foreign state, and the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, ” id. ¶ 7, and “[t]his is an action over which the Court has original jurisdiction based on the existence of a federal question under 28 U.S.C. Section 1331” because “plaintiff's claims indisputably arise under the Montreal Convention.” Id. ¶¶ 22, 25. Although Plaintiff Pamela Mozingo did not file a motion to remand, “[t]he court may-indeed must-remand an action sua sponte if it determines that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction.” GFD, LLC v. Carter, No. CV 12-08985 MMM FFMX, 2012 WL 5830079, at *2 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 15, 2012) (citing Kelton Arms Condominium Owners Ass'n v. Homestead Ins. Co., 346 F.3d 1190, 1192 (9th Cir. 2003)); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) (“If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.”).

         “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Consequently, it is “presume[d] that federal courts lack jurisdiction unless the contrary appears affirmatively from the record.” DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U.S. 332, 342 (2006) (quoting Renne v. Geary, 501 U.S. 312, 316 (1991)). “The right of removal is entirely a creature of statute and a suit commenced in a state court must remain there until cause is shown for its transfer under some act of Congress.” Syngenta Crop Protection, Inc. v. Henson, 537 U.S. 28, 32 (2002). The party invoking the removal statute bears the burden of establishing that federal subject-matter jurisdiction exists. Emrich v. Touche Ross & Co., 846 F.2d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 1988). Moreover, courts “strictly construe the removal statute against removal jurisdiction.” Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992) (citing Boggs v. Lewis, 863 F.2d 662, 663 (9th Cir. 1988)); Takeda v. Nw. Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 765 F.2d 815, 818 (9th Cir. 1985)). Therefore, “[f]ederal 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 (citing Libhart v. Santa Monica Dairy Co., 592 F.2d 1062, 1064 (9th Cir. 1979)).

         I. Diversity Jurisdiction

         Federal courts have diversity jurisdiction “where the amount in controversy” exceeds $75, 000, and the parties are of “diverse” state citizenship. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. “Where it is not facially evident from the complaint that more than $75, 000 is in controversy, the removing party must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy meets the jurisdictional threshold.” Matheson v. Progressive Specialty Ins. Co., 319 F.3d 1089, 1090 (9th Cir. 2003) (per curiam); accord Valdez v. Allstate Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 1115, 1117 (9th Cir. 2004) (quoting Matheson, 319 F.3d at 1090). “Where doubt regarding the right to removal exists, a case should be remanded to state court.” Matheson, 319 F.3d at 1090.

         Here, the underlying complaint states only that it is an unlimited civil case seeking in excess of $25, 000. See Compl. (ECF No. 1-2) at 10.[1] Nonetheless, Defendant claims- based on the severity of the injuries Plaintiff alleges she sustained, see Not. of Removal ¶¶ 17-19 (citing Compl. ¶¶ 9-10, 17-18)-that “[i]t is facially apparent” that she is seeking damages in excess of $75, 000 because she “seeks compensatory damages, general damages for past and future pain and suffering[, ] costs of suit and interest, and attorneys' fees.” Not. of Removal ¶¶ 17 (citing Compl. ¶ 19), 20.

         Defendant misconstrues the “facially apparent” standard. Under Ninth Circuit jurisprudence, “it is facially apparent from the complaint that the jurisdictional amount is in controversy” where the plaintiff alleges a specific amount of damages in her complaint.[2] See Lowdermilk v. U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 479 F.3d 994, 998 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Abrego Abrego v. Dow Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 690 (9th Cir. 2006)), overruled on other grounds as recognized by Rodriguez v. AT&T Mobility Servs. LLC, 728 F.3d 975, 981 (9th Cir. 2013); see also Id. at 998 n.4. Here, Plaintiff does not allege “a specific dollar amount with respect to the money damages sought”; consequently, “it is not facially apparent that the jurisdictional amount is in controversy.” See Lamke, 319 F.Supp.2d at 1033; see also, e.g., Singer, 116 F.3d at 376.

         Consequently, Defendant bears the burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy exceeds the $75, 000 jurisdictional threshold. See Singer, 116 F.3d at 376 (citing Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398, 404 (9th Cir. 1996)). This it is has failed to do. See, e.g., Corbelle v. Sanyo Elec. Trading Co., No. C-03-1509 EMC, 2003 WL 22682464, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 4, 2003) (“Because [the plaintiff]'s complaint contains allegations that she sustained serious and permanent injuries, that she has incurred and will continue to incur medical expenses, and that she has lost and will continue to lose wages, it is clear that the amount in controversy is not a small sum. However, the Court is not persuaded that these allegations alone establish that it is more likely than not that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.”); Conrad Assocs. v. Hartford Acc. & Indem. Co., 994 F.Supp. 1196, 1198-99 (N.D. Cal. 1998) (noting that “[a] speculative argument regarding the potential value of the award is insufficient” and remanding action where the “[d]efendant contends that the amount in controversy, which includes contract damages in the amount of $56, 500, plus attorneys fees, plus punitive damages, exceeds $75, 000” because estimates of attorneys' fees and punitive damages were speculative); see also, e.g., Gaus, 980 F.2d at 567 (sua sponte remanding action where “[the defendant] has offered no facts whatsoever to support the court's exercise of jurisdiction”). Consequently, Defendant has failed to produce evidence to meet its burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy attributable to Plaintiff's claims exceeds the $75, 000 threshold and that this Court has diversity jurisdiction.

         II. Federal-Question Jurisdiction

         Federal courts have federal-question jurisdiction for “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. “Federal-question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 arises in two situations.” Cummings v. Cenergy Int'l Servs., LLC, 258 F.Supp.3d 1097, 1106 (E.D. Cal. 2017). “First, a court may exercise federal-question jurisdiction where a federal right or immunity is ‘an element, and an essential one, of the plaintiff's cause of action.'” Id. (quoting Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 11 (1983)). “Second, federal-question jurisdiction arises where a state-law claim ‘necessarily raise[s] a stated federal issue, actually disputed and substantial, which a federal forum may entertain without disturbing any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.'” Id. (quoting Grable & Sons Metal Prod., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 314 (2005)).

         “To assess federal-question jurisdiction, courts apply the ‘well-pleaded complaint' rule under which ‘federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.'” Id. (quoting Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 391-92 (1987)). “A defense is not a part of a plaintiff's properly pleaded statement of his or her claim.” Id. (quoting Rivet v. Regions Bank, 522 U.S. 470, 475 (1998)). A corollary to the well-pleaded complaint rule, however, is the “complete pre-emption doctrine.” See Caterpillar Inc., 482 U.S. at 393. Under the complete preemption doctrine, where “the pre-emptive force of a statute is so ‘extraordinary' that it ‘converts an ordinary state common-law complaint into one stating a federal claim for purposes of the well-pleaded complaint rule.'” Id. (quoting Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 481 U.S. 58, 65 (1987)). “Once an area of state law has been completely pre-empted, any claim purportedly based on that pre-empted state law is considered, from its inception, a federal claim, and therefore arises under federal law.” Id. (citing Franchise Tax Bd., 463 U.S. at 24).

         Defendant claims that removal is proper because “plaintiff's claims indisputably arise under the Montreal Convention, [3] which provides the exclusive remedy for her claims.” Not. of Removal ¶ 25. Although it is true that the district court in Fadhliah v. Societe Air France, 987 F.Supp.2d 1057 (C.D. Cal. 2013), [4] concluded that the Montreal Convention completely preempted the plaintiff's state law claims, thereby “transmut[ing] Plaintiffs' facially state-law claims into federal ones, ” id. at 1061-64, “the majority approach . . . holds that the Montreal Convention does not provide a basis for removal under the doctrine of complete preemption.” Rocha v. Am. Jets, Inc., No. 14-60842-CIV, 2014 WL 12626317, at *3 (S.D. Fla. Nov. 17, 2014) (collecting cases). Indeed, several district courts within the Ninth Circuit have remanded cases such as Plaintiff's, concluding that the state law causes of action are not completely preempted by the Montreal Convention, but rather that the Montreal Convention operates as an affirmative defense. See, e.g., Jensen v. Virgin Atl., No. 12-CV-06227 YGR, 2013 WL 1207962, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 25, 2013) (“follow[ing] the decisions of the district courts in California that hold the exclusivity provisions of the Montreal Convention operate as an affirmative defense but do not completely preempt state law causes of action” and remanding action where the “[d]efendant has cited no controlling authority that requires this Court hold that the Montreal Convention completely preempts Plaintiff's state law causes of action”); Greig v. U.S. Airways Inc., 28 F.Supp.3d 973, 977 (D. Ariz. 2014) (“find[ing] persuasive the numerous district court opinions from within the Ninth Circuit that have concluded that the Montreal Convention does not completely preempt state law claims but . . . may be an affirmative defense); Nankin v. Cont'l Airlines, Inc., No. CV 09-07851 MMM RZX, 2010 WL 342632, at *6 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 29, 2010) (“conclud[ing] that the Montreal Convention does not completely preempt state law causes of action” and “provides no basis for asserting that federal subject matter jurisdiction exists”); Serrano v. Am. Airlines, Inc., No. CV08-2256 AHM (FFMX), 2008 WL 2117239, at *7 (C.D. Cal. May 15, 2008) (“[T]he Montreal Convention does not completely preempt claims such as Plaintiffs' from being litigated in state court.”).

         In the absence of binding authority from the Ninth Circuit, the Court follows the “majority approach” and concludes that the Montreal Convention does not completely preempt Plaintiff's state law claims, but rather serves as an affirmative defense. See, e.g., Rocha, 2014 WL 12626317, at *3 (collecting cases following this “majority approach”); Greig, 28 F.Supp.3d at 977 (noting “numerous district court opinions from within the Ninth Circuit” concluding that the Montreal Convention may serve as ...


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