Roy Rios v. New York and Company, Inc., et al

Filing 16

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS MOTION TO REMAND 11 by Judge Otis D. Wright, II (lc). Modified on 8/17/2017 .(lc).

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O 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 United States District Court Central District of California 8 9 10 11 ROY RIOS, 12 Case No. 2:17-cv-04676-ODW(AGRx) Plaintiff, 13 ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO REMAND [11] v. 14 15 NEW YORK AND COMPANY, INC.; and DOES 1–10, inclusive, 16 Defendants. 17 18 I. 19 INTRODUCTION Plaintiff Roy Rios filed this case in the Los Angeles County Superior Court on 20 21 May 24, 2017. (See Am. Not. of Removal, ECF No. 15.) On June 23, 2017, 22 Defendant New York and Company, Inc. removed the action to this Court. (Id.) 23 Plaintiff now moves to remand the case to state court on the basis that Defendant’s 24 removal was improper. (ECF No. 11.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court DENIES Plaintiff’s Motion to 25 26 Remand. (ECF No. 11.)1 27 1 28 After considering the papers filed in connection with the Motion, the Court deemed it appropriate for decision without oral argument. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b); C.D. Cal. L.R. 7-15. II. 1 BACKGROUND 2 Plaintiff is blind and uses screen-reading software to access the Internet and 3 read websites. (Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 15-1.) After attempting to visit Defendant’s 4 website and being unable to do so because of barriers to screen-reading access, 5 Plaintiff filed this case alleging a violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act (California 6 Civil Code ¶ 51 et seq.). (Compl. ¶¶ 12, 13, 16.) Defendant based its removal of the 7 case to federal court on two grounds: federal question jurisdiction and diversity 8 jurisdiction. Plaintiff argues in his motion to remand that neither basis is proper, 9 because there is no federal question at stake (as the Unruh Act is a California statute), 10 and the amount in controversy does not exceed $75,000, precluding diversity 11 jurisdiction. (See generally Mot.) 12 III. LEGAL STANDARD 13 Federal courts have subject matter jurisdiction only as authorized by the 14 Constitution and by Congress. U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 1; Kokkonen v. Guardian 15 Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). 16 jurisdiction where an action arises under federal law, or where each plaintiff’s 17 citizenship is diverse from each defendant’s citizenship and the amount in controversy 18 exceeds $75,000. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332(a). A defendant may remove a case from 19 state court to federal court only if the federal court would have had original 20 jurisdiction over the suit. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Courts should construe the removal 21 statute strictly against removal, and “[f]ederal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is 22 any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance.” Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 23 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). 24 establishing federal jurisdiction. Durham v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 445 F.3d 1247, 25 1252 (9th Cir. 2006). 26 Federal courts have original The party seeking removal bears the burden of IV. DISCUSSION 27 Plaintiff attacks both of Defendant’s bases for removal, arguing that there is not 28 a federal question at stake and that there is not an amount in controversy exceeding 2 1 $75,000. The Court agrees that there is not a federal question at stake but finds that 2 the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000, and therefore, the requirements for 3 diversity jurisdiction are met. 4 A. Federal Question Jurisdiction 5 Plaintiff argues that his partial reliance on the federal Americans with 6 Disabilities Act (“ADA”) in stating his claim under the Unruh Act does not create a 7 federal question. See 42 U.S.C. § 12188. The Court agrees. 8 California’s Unruh Act incorporates the ADA, such that the ADA may serve as 9 the “hook” for an alleged violation of state law. See, e.g., Lentini v. Cal. Ctr. for the 10 Arts, Escondido, 370 F.3d 837, 846 (9th Cir. 2004). This is what Plaintiff has done, 11 partially basing his Unruh Act claim on a violation of the ADA. (See Compl. ¶¶ 5, 21 12 (“The New York & Co. store locations in California are public accommodations 13 within the definition of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act” and 14 “Defendant is also violating the Unruh Civil Rights Act . . . in that that conduct 15 alleged herein likewise constitutes a violation of various provisions of the ADA . . . 16 .”)). Plaintiff does not allege an ADA violation as an independent cause of action or 17 seek relief under the ADA. Further, Plaintiff lists other “hooks” for his Unruh Act 18 claim independent of the ADA. (See id. ¶¶ 18–20.) 19 Plaintiff cites to Wander v. Kaus, 304 F.3d 856 (9th Cir. 2002), which is 20 instructive as to one portion of Plaintiff’s claim. Plaintiff argues that because the 21 Wander court ruled that a state-law damages suit premised on a violation of the ADA 22 does not give rise to a federal cause of action for damages, his case likewise does not 23 give rise to a federal cause of action. See id. at 859. While this reasoning applies to 24 Plaintiff’s prayer for damages, Plaintiff also seeks injunctive relief, which is outside 25 the scope of the holding in Wander. The court in Pickern v. Best Western Timber 26 Cove Lodge Mariana Resort addressed a similar issue, finding that: 27 28 State law provides for injunctive relief as well as damages, see Cal. Civ. Code 52.1(b), and it is possible for a state law claim for 3 injunctive relief to be premised solely on a violation of the ADA. Such a claim would be no different from a federal ADA claim. Federal question jurisdiction must exist in these circumstances. 1 2 3 4 194 F. Supp. 2d 1128, 1132 n.5 (E.D. Cal. 2002). Unlike the situation referenced in 5 Pickern, however, Plaintiff’s Unruh Act claim for injunctive relief is not based solely 6 on a violation of the ADA; he also alleges that Defendant’s conduct violates the 7 Unruh Act based on that act’s own provisions. (See, e.g., Compl. ¶ 20.) Therefore, 8 the Court finds that Plaintiff’s Unruh Act claim does not necessarily require resolving 9 Defendant’s liability under the ADA and does not create a federal question. See 10 Wander, 304 F.3d at 859; Pickern, 194 F. Supp. 2d at 1132. 11 B. 12 Diversity Jurisdiction—Amount in Controversy The parties do not contest that complete diversity exists in this action. 13 (Compare Mot., with Opp’n.) However, Plaintiff argues that the amount in 14 controversy is below $75,000, while Defendants claim that it is actually much higher. 15 The Court agrees that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. 16 In general, “the sum demanded in good faith in the initial pleading shall be 17 deemed to be the amount in controversy.” 28 U.S.C. § 1442(c)(2). When a plaintiff 18 seeks injunctive as well as monetary relief, the value of the injunction for purposes of 19 the amount in controversy can be assessed from “either viewpoint”—the plaintiff’s 20 benefit or the defendant’s cost. Ridder Bros. Inc. v. Blethen, 142 F.2d 395, 399 (9th 21 Cir. 1944). 22 Plaintiff argues that he is the “master of his own complaint” and has specifically 23 limited the recovery he can receive to below $75,000. (Reply 6, ECF No. 13; Mot. 3.) 24 Nonetheless, the Court determines that the amount in controversy is actually higher. 25 The wording of Plaintiff’s complaint plainly allows his combined monetary and 26 injunctive recovery to be valued above $75,000. He states, “Plaintiff is entitled to 27 injunctive relief . . . However, Plaintiff expressly limits the injunctive relief he seeks 28 to $50,000 or less,” and, “Plaintiff is also entitled to statutory minimum damages . . . 4 1 [and] reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs; however, Plaintiff expressly limits the 2 amount of money that Plaintiff presently seeks to recover in this action to less than 3 $75,000.” 4 Complaint, “that the maximum amount of any total recovery shall not exceed 5 $74,999.” (Id. ¶ 24.) That conclusory limitation appears slapdash and contradicts 6 Plaintiff’s other statements in his prayer for relief. He asks for injunctive relief up to 7 $50,000 and monetary relief up to $75,000, and then he states that the total recovery 8 shall not exceed $74,999. The Court will not allow Plaintiff to request injunctive and 9 monetary recovery far exceeding the jurisdictional minimum in once sentence and 10 artificially limit the total recovery in the next. As such, the Court determines that the 11 actual amount in controversy is at least $125,000. Therefore, diversity jurisdiction 12 exists in this action, and it may remain in federal court. (Compl. ¶¶ 22–24 (emphasis added)). V. 13 14 15 Plaintiff then states in his CONCLUSION For the foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand. (ECF No. 11.) 16 17 IT IS SO ORDERED. 18 19 August 17, 2017 20 21 22 ____________________________________ OTIS D. WRIGHT, II UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 23 24 25 26 27 28 5

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