Jorge Davila v. American Airlines, Inc., et al

Filing 32

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND 18 by Judge Manuel L. Real. IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion to Remand is GRANTED. Case remanded to State Court Case Remanded to BC651097. MD JS-6. Case Terminated. (lom)

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1 JS-6 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 10 CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 11 12 JORGE DAVILA, an individual, Plaintiff, 13 14 15 16 v. AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC., a Delaware corporation; LORRIE CAPPELLI, an individual, and DOES 1-100, inclusive, 17 Defendants. 18 19 ) CASE NO. CV 17-2527-R ) ) ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF’S ) MOTION TO REMAND ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) Before the Court is Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand, which was filed on April 28, 2017. 20 (Dkt. No. 18). Having been briefed thoroughly by both parties, this Court finds the matter suitable 21 for a decision without the need for oral argument. Accordingly, the Court took the matter under 22 submission on May 31, 2017. 23 Plaintiff’s Complaint is based on his employment at American Airlines. Plaintiff alleges 24 that he began work on March 31, 2016 and was wrongfully terminated on May 23, 2016. Plaintiff 25 alleges that during the beginning of his employment, he was successfully completing various 26 training programs and exercises. Then, Plaintiff received instructions regarding operation of the 27 mechanical jet bridge. During this training, Plaintiff “raised a concern” regarding his ability to see 28 dots used to align the jet bridge and airplanes. Plaintiff has a visual disability called 1 toxoplasmosis which makes it difficult to focus on objects. He alleges that he informed American 2 Airlines of this disability. After the jet bridge operation training, on May 23, 2016 Plaintiff 3 alleges that he was contacted by Lorrie Cappelli, a customer service manager, who informed him 4 that Joanne Gonzalez, a human resource officer, wanted to discuss his ability to operate the jet 5 bridge. During his conversation with Gonzalez, Plaintiff allegedly told her that he could operate 6 the jet bridge, but not at night. Despite Plaintiff’s assurances to the contrary, Gonzalez stated on 7 multiple occasions during the conversation that Plaintiff could not operate the jet bridge. On May 8 23, 2016, Plaintiff was fired. Plaintiff alleges that between May 19 and May 23, “Defendants, by 9 and through their management agents Cappelli and Does” published the false claims that “Plaintiff 10 could not operate the jet bridge, that Plaintiff admitted that he could not operate the jet bridge, and 11 that Plaintiff had almost hit an airplane with the jet bridge.” (Compl. ¶ 114). Plaintiff claims that 12 those “statements were motivated by hatred or ill will towards Plaintiff” and they were “patently 13 false, and known to be false at the time they were made.” (Compl. ¶¶ 115, 116). 14 A defendant may remove a civil action from state court to federal court if original 15 jurisdiction would have existed in the federal court at the time the complaint was filed. 28 U.S.C. 16 § 1441(a). “The burden of establishing federal subject matter jurisdiction falls on the party 17 invoking removal.” Marin Gen. Hosp. v. Modesto & Empire Traction Co., 581 F.3d 941, 944 (9th 18 Cir. 2009) (citing Toumajian v. Frailey, 135 F.3d 648, 652 (9th Cir. 1998)). There is a “strong 19 presumption against removal jurisdiction,” and courts must reject it “if there is any doubt as to the 20 right of removal in the first instance.” Geographic Expeditions, Inc., v. Estate of Lhotka ex rel. 21 Lhotka, 599 F.3d 1102, 1107 (9th Cir. 2010). 22 An out of state Defendant may remove a case to federal court based on diversity 23 jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. 1441(b). Diversity jurisdiction exists when complete diversity exists 24 between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. Id. Complete diversity 25 requires each defendant be a citizen of a different state than each plaintiff. Morris v. Princess 26 Cruises, Inc., 236 F.3d 1061, 1068 (9th Cir. 2001). If a defendant is determined to have been 27 fraudulently joined, then a defendant can remove despite a lack of complete diversity. Id. Joinder 28 of a non-diverse defendant is deemed fraudulent “‘if the plaintiff fails to state a cause of action 2 1 against a resident defendant, and the failure is obvious according to the settled rules of the state.’” 2 Id. at 1067 (citation omitted). If fraudulently joined, said defendant’s presence is ignored for the 3 purposes of diversity. Id. The mere likelihood that a cause of action will be dismissed is 4 insufficient to establish fraudulent joinder. Rather, the court must determine that a plaintiff cannot 5 possibly state a claim against the sham defendant. Hunter v. Philip Morris USA, 582 F.3d 1039, 6 1044 (9th Cir. 2009). 7 Here, Lorrie Cappelli and Plaintiff are citizens of California, thus, unless Cappelli was 8 fraudulently joined, complete diversity does not exist. Defendants argue that Cappelli was 9 fraudulently joined because (1) the Complaint fails to state a cause of action for defamation and 10 11 (2) the common interest privilege prevents any claim for defamation against Cappelli. Plaintiff appears to have abandoned his cause of action for declaratory relief against 12 Cappelli, thus the lone cause of action against Cappelli is defamation. The elements of a 13 defamation claim are “(a) a publication that is (b) false, (c) defamatory, and (d) unprivileged, and 14 that (e) has a natural tendency to injure or that causes special damage.” Taus v. Loftus, 40 Cal. 4th 15 683, 720 (2007). “Under California law, although a Plaintiff need not plead the allegedly 16 defamatory statement verbatim, the alleged defamatory statement must be specifically identified, 17 and the plaintiff must plead the substance of the statement.” Jacobson v. Schwarzenegger, 357 F. 18 Supp. 2d 1198, 1216 (C.D. Cal. 2004). California law provides certain privileges to statements 19 which would otherwise be defamatory. The conditional common interest privilege allows 20 employers to communicate statements which would otherwise be defamatory where such 21 statements are made without malice on subjects of mutual interest. Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 47(c). 22 Plaintiff’s Complaint contains numerous conclusory pleadings that render the cause of 23 action for defamation likely to be dismissed, but Defendants fail to meet their burden to show that 24 Plaintiff could not possibly state a cause of action against Cappelli. The Complaint relies on 25 several conclusory allegations. For example, Plaintiff merely pleads that the “publications of [the] 26 statements were motivated by hatred or ill will towards Plaintiff . . . .” However, Defendants 27 present no facts or arguments that Plaintiff is incapable of amending to plead facts which would 28 show malice and thereby prevent application of the privilege. Defendants’ contention is that 3 1 “[b]ecause Davila cannot meet his burden to plead facts showing that any alleged defamatory 2 statements were made with actual malice, he cannot state a claim of defamation against Cappelli, 3 and his motion to remand should be denied.” (Opp. at p. 12). However, Defendants did not show 4 that Davila cannot meet his burden, only that he has not. The distinction is critical because 5 Defendants bear the burden to prove that Cappelli is a sham defendant. 6 Defendants failed to show that Plaintiff cannot possibly state a claim against Cappelli, 7 accordingly the Court finds that she is not a sham defendant and will not disregard her citizenship 8 for the determination of diversity jurisdiction. Thus, the claim lacks complete diversity and this 9 Court lacks jurisdiction over the matter. 10 11 IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand (Dkt. No. 18) is GRANTED. 12 13 Dated: August 8, 2017. 14 15 16 17 ___________________________________ MANUEL L. REAL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 4

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