Raul Villarreal v. Central Freight Lines, Inc.

Filing 15

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND 11 by Judge Otis D. Wright, II. For the reasons discussed above, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to Remand. The Clerk of the Court shall close this case and REMAND it back to the County of Los Angeles Superior Court. Case remanded to State Court, case no. NS032922. MD JS-6. Case Terminated. (lom)

Download PDF
1 O JS-6 2 3 4 5 6 7 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 8 CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 9 10 11 RAUL VILLARREAL, 12 Case No.: 2:17-CV-05496-ODW-AGR Plaintiff, 13 v. 14 ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO REMAND [11] CENTRAL FREIGHT LINES, INC.; and 15 DOES 1-10, 16 Defendants. 17 I. 18 19 20 21 22 23 Before the Court is Plaintiff Raul Villarreal’s Motion to Remand. (Mot., ECF No. 11.) Defendant Central Freight Lines, Inc. has failed to meet its burden to show that the amount in controversy exceeds the $75,000 threshold for diversity jurisdiction. Therefore, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff’s Motion and REMANDS this case to the appropriate state court.1 II. 24 25 26 27 28 INTRODUCTION FACTUAL BACKGROUND Villarreal worked as a truck driver for Central Freight from August 8, 2014 to April 30, 2015. (Not. of Claims ¶ 10, ECF No. 1-7.) On July 8, 2015, Villarreal filed a complaint with the Labor Commissioner alleging that (1) Central Freight violated 1 After carefully considering the papers filed in support of the Motion, the Court deems the matter appropriate for decision without oral argument. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b); C.D. Cal. L.R. 7-15. 1 1 California Labor Code section 221 by making unlawful deductions from his wages 2 and (2) he is entitled to waiting time penalties under California Labor Code section 3 203. (Labor Comm’r Compl. 1, ECF No. 1-3.)2 4 On October 12, 2016, the Labor Commissioner awarded Villarreal $54,058.99 5 in improperly deducted wages, $12,119.40 in waiting time penalties, and $7,864.48 in 6 accrued interest—equaling a total of $74,042.87. (Order, Decision or Award of the 7 Labor Comm’r, ECF No. 1-4.) On October 27, 2016, Central Freight filed a Notice of 8 Appeal of the Labor Commissioner’s Decision in the California Superior Court, 9 County of Los Angeles. (Not. of Appeal, ECF No. 1-5.) On November 18, 2016, 10 Villarreal filed a Notice of Claims, adding four additional causes of action to those 11 previously alleged before the Labor Commissioner: (1) failure to provide a legally 12 compliant paycheck stub under California Labor Code section 226; (2) failure to pay 13 rest period premiums under California Labor Code section 227; (3) failure to pay rest 14 periods under California Labor Code section 226.2; and (4) failure to pay minimum 15 wages under California Labor Code section 1194. (Not. of Claims ¶¶ 22–62, ECF No. 16 1-7.) 17 On November 23, 2016, Central Freight removed the case to federal court. 18 (First Not. of Removal, ECF No. 1-8.) Villarreal moved to remand, and on February 19 13, 2017, the Court remanded the case back to Superior Court due to Central Freight’s 20 failure to prove an amount in controversy exceeding $75,000, finding that the amount 21 in controversy at the time of removal was only $74,563.49. (Mot. to Remand, ECF 22 No. 1-9; Order (“Previous Remand Order”),3 ECF No. 1-10.) 23 Central Freight claims that during Villarreal’s deposition on July 6, 2017, 24 Villarreal testified that he worked at least 116 unpaid hours. (Opp’n 3, ECF No. 12.) 25 26 27 28 2 Villarreal also asked for liquidated damages in his administrative complaint but withdrew that claim before the Labor Commissioner heard his case. (Labor Comm’r Compl. 1; Order, Decision or Award of the Labor Comm’r 1, ECF No. 1-4.) 3 Villarreal v. Cent. Freight Lines, Inc., No. 216CV08747ODWAGR, 2017 WL 656726 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 13, 2017) (order granting motion to remand). 2 1 Central Freight removed this action a second time on July 25, 2017, citing the new 2 evidence from Villarreal’s deposition as support for its contention that the amount in 3 controversy exceeds $75,000. (Second Not. of Removal, ECF No. 1.) Villarreal 4 moved to remand on September 7, 2017. (Mot., ECF No. 11.) Central Freight 5 opposed Villarreal’s Motion to Remand on September 25, 2017. (Opp’n, ECF No. 6 12.) Villarreal then submitted his Reply on October 2, 2017. (Reply, ECF No. 13.) 7 In the Previous Remand Order, the Court held that Central Freight had not 8 calculated a value for Villarreal’s cause of action for failure to pay minimum wages 9 and as a result, the Court did “not credit any additional monies [for that claim] . . . 10 towards the amount in controversy.” (Previous Remand Order 6.) Central Freight 11 now asserts that because Villarreal alleges he was not paid wages for at least 116 12 hours, and the minimum wage at the time was $9 per hour, Villarreal’s minimum 13 wages claim adds $1,044 to the amount in controversy.4 (Opp’n 4.) Further, Central 14 Freight claims that Villarreal has incurred an additional $2,000 in attorneys’ fees since 15 the first removal, for a total of at least $3,700. (Id.) All of Central Freight’s other 16 estimated amounts for Villarreal’s causes of action are the same as the calculations 17 discussed in the Previous Remand Order. 5 (Opp’n 3–5.) Central Freight claims that 18 the amount in controversy is now $78,651.49 based on the information discovered in 19 Villarreal’s deposition and the additional attorneys’ fees incurred by Villarreal. (Id.) 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 4 Central Freight argues that $2,088 should be added to calculation of the amount in controversy because Villarreal seeks “liquidated damages in an amount equal to the minimum wage” value, so the total sum of minimum wages sought should be doubled. (Opp’n 4.) Villarreal, however, withdrew that claim before the Labor Commissioner heard his case. (Order, Decision or Award of the Labor Comm’r 1.) 5 In its Second Notice of Removal, Central Freight calculated a figure of $5,452.52 for Villarreal’s claim for failure to pay rest period premiums, using the assumption that Villarreal worked eight hours per day. (Second Not. of Removal ¶ 27.) However, in its Opposition, Central Freight changed its position and calculated an amount of $3,115.80—the same figure the Court calculated in the Previous Remand Order—by assuming Villarreal worked fourteen hours per day. (Previous Order 4–5; Opp’n 4.) 3 III. 1 LEGAL STANDARD 2 Federal courts have subject matter jurisdiction only as authorized by the 3 Constitution and by Congress. U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 1; see also Kokkonen v. 4 Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). 5 jurisdiction where an action arises under federal law, or where each plaintiff’s 6 citizenship is diverse from each defendant’s citizenship and the amount in controversy 7 exceeds $75,000. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332(a). Federal courts have 8 In evaluating a motion to remand, courts “strictly construe the removal statute 9 against removal jurisdiction.” Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). 10 In other words, there is a “strong presumption against removal” and “[f]ederal 11 jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first 12 instance.” Id. 13 The defendant has the burden of establishing that removal is proper, including 14 that the amount in controversy requirement is met. See id.; see also Piazza v. EMPI, 15 Inc., No. 1:07-CV-00954-OWWGSA, 2008 WL 590494, at *14 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 29, 16 2008); Moye v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 215CV00161RFBVCF, 2016 WL 17 1298715, at *4 (D. Nev. Mar. 31, 2016). The defendant’s burden of proof as to the 18 amount in controversy is generally satisfied “if the plaintiff claims a sum greater than 19 the jurisdictional requirement” in the complaint. Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566. However, if 20 it is unclear on the face of the complaint whether the amount in controversy 21 requirement is met, then “the defendant bears the burden of actually proving the facts 22 to support jurisdiction” “by a preponderance of evidence.” Id. at 566–67 (citing 23 Garza v. Bettcher Indus., Inc., 752 F. Supp. 753, 763 (E.D. Mich. 1990)); Guglielmino 24 v. McKee Foods Corp., 506 F.3d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 2007). 25 /// 26 /// 27 /// 28 /// 4 IV. 1 DISCUSSION 2 A. Aggregation of Claims 3 To support this second attempt at removal, Central Freight aggregates the 4 estimated value for each of Villarreal’s causes of action. (Opp’n 3–5.) Villarreal 5 argues, however, that the Court should not aggregate claims arising from alternative 6 bases of recovery to determine the amount in controversy. (Mot. 3.) 7 “The amount in controversy requirement is satisfied if either party can gain or 8 lose the jurisdictional amount . . . .” In re Ford Motor Co./Citibank (S. Dakota), N.A., 9 264 F.3d 952, 958 (9th Cir. 2001). In other words, only the maximum value of 10 recovery—determined from the face of plaintiff’s complaint—should be credited 11 towards the amount in controversy. (See generally id.) If a plaintiff’s “claims are 12 alternative bases of recovery for the same harm under state law . . . a court should not 13 aggregate the claims to arrive at the amount in controversy.” Suber v. Chrysler Corp., 14 104 F.3d 578, 588 (3d Cir. 1997); see also Coles v. Oard, No. CIV. 05-219-HA, 2005 15 WL 2030830, at *6 (D. Or. Aug. 23, 2005) (holding that a plaintiff cannot “aggregate 16 claims that are redundant—that is, where there can only be one recovery.”). 17 Villarreal contends that his “theories of recovery and his claims for unlawful 18 deductions are alternative in nature.” (Mot. 5.) If Villarreal succeeds on his unlawful 19 deduction claim, he will be made whole for the wages from a pay period during which 20 he received less than the minimum wage. 21 Villarreal’s claims for unlawful deductions and unpaid minimum wages are redundant 22 in that they seek to recover the same unpaid wages. Because Villarreal’s claims 23 cannot result in double recovery, the Court will not aggregate the values for these 24 causes of action. Therefore, the Court will not credit $1,044 for the minimum wages 25 claim towards the amount in controversy. (Not. of Claims ¶ 35.) Therefore, 26 B. Successive Removal 27 Villarreal claims that Central Freight’s successive removal is improper, because 28 Central Freight has not presented a new or different ground for removal. (Mot. 5.) “A 5 1 successive removal petition is permitted only upon a ‘relevant change of 2 circumstances’—that is, ‘when subsequent pleading or events reveal a new and 3 different ground for removal.’” Reyes v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., 781 F.3d 1185, 4 1188 (9th Cir. 2015) (quoting Kirkbride v. Cont’l Cas. Co., 933 F.2d 729, 732 (9th 5 Cir. 1991)). 6 successive 7 515CV026340DWPLAX, 2016 WL 2743481, at *3 n.3 (C.D. Cal. May 11, 2016); see 8 also S.W.S. Erectors, Inc. v. Infax, Inc., 72 F.3d 489, 494 (5th Cir. 1996) (defendant 9 was allowed to file successive removals due to newly acquired facts from a 10 “New evidence discovered in a deposition may be grounds for a removal.” Lockhart v. Columbia Sportswear Co., No. deposition). 11 Central Freight claims that it was during Villarreal’s deposition when he first 12 made the claim that he worked a total of 116 unpaid hours between November 2014 13 and April 2015. (See Villarreal Dep. Tr. 106–10, ECF No. 1-11; Opp’n 3.) Prior to 14 the deposition, Villarreal only alleged he performed “substantial work” during the 15 relevant pay periods. (Not. of Claims ¶ 32.) Although the deposition elicited new 16 evidence, this new evidence only speaks to the potential value of the minimum wages 17 claim and, as noted above, the minimum wages claim is an alternative theory of 18 recovery to the unlawful deductions claim. 19 information of Villarreal’s estimated 116 hours of unpaid work does not present a new 20 ground for removal. As a result, the newly discovered 21 C. Attorneys’ Fees 22 Central Freight argues that Villarreal’s attorneys’ fees should be considered in 23 determining the amount in controversy. (Opp’n 4.) Courts are to examine the amount 24 in controversy “at the time of removal.” Abrego Abrego v. The Dow Chem. Co., 443 25 F.3d 676, 690 (9th Cir. 2006); Singer v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 116 F.3d 373, 26 377 (9th Cir. 1997). Statutorily authorized attorneys’ fees may typically be credited 27 toward the amount in controversy. See Camarreri v. Phillips 66 Co., No. CV 17-0202 28 FMO (JCX), 2017 WL 436386, at *3 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 31, 2017) (citing Lowdermilk v. 6 1 U.S. Bank Nat’l Ass’n, 479 F.3d 994, 1000 (9th Cir. 2007), overruled on other 2 grounds as recognized by Rodriguez v. AT&T Mobility Servs. LLC, 728 F.3d 975, 3 976–77 (9th Cir. 2013)). 4 At the time of the first removal, Villarreal had incurred $1,700 in attorneys’ 5 fees, which the Court considered in determining the relevant jurisdictional amount. 6 (Previous Remand Order 6–7.) 7 incurred an additional $2,000 in attorneys’ fees that should be credited in the amount 8 in controversy calculation. (Opp’n 4.) The Court declines to consider the additional 9 attorneys’ fees incurred between the first and second removal. If parties were allowed 10 to file successive removals on the basis of increased attorneys’ fees alone, any party 11 could simply wait out the clock for the plaintiff to incur additional attorneys’ fees in 12 state court until the amount in controversy is met. Allowing such conduct would 13 contradict the policy to “strictly construe the removal statute against removal 14 jurisdiction.” 15 additional $2,000 of Villarreal’s attorneys’ fees towards the amount in controversy. Central Freight asserts that Villarreal has since Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566. Therefore, the Court will not credit the 16 For the foregoing reasons, Central Freight has failed to establish, by a 17 preponderance of the evidence, an amount in controversy exceeding $75,000. See 18 generally Guglielmino, 506 F.3d at 701.6 19 /// 20 /// 21 /// 22 /// 23 /// 24 /// 25 /// 26 6 27 28 Villarreal claims that Central Freight’s appeal was not a matter that could have been originally filed in federal court because “any appeal from a decision by the Labor Commissioner must be filed in state court.” (Mot. 9.) Because Central Freight has not met its burden for removal regarding the amount in controversy, the Court declines to address this argument. 7 1 /// V. 2 CONCLUSION 3 For the reasons discussed above, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff’s Motion to 4 Remand. The Clerk of the Court shall close this case and REMAND it back to the 5 County of Los Angeles Superior Court. 6 7 IT IS SO ORDERED. 8 October 10, 2017 9 10 11 ____________________________________ OTIS D. WRIGHT, II UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 8

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?