LaShaonda Hammond v. Sutherland Global Services, Inc. et al

Filing 14


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O 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 United States District Court Central District of California 8 9 10 11 LaSHONDA HAMMOND, 12 Plaintiff, 13 14 15 Case № 2:21-cv-02999-ODW (AFMx) v. SUTHERLAND GLOBAL SERVICES, INC., and DOES 1–50, inclusive, ORDER DENYING MOTION TO REMAND [9] Defendants. 16 17 I. 18 INTRODUCTION 19 Plaintiff LaShonda Hammond moves to remand this wrongful termination case 20 to California State Court following removal by Defendant Sutherland Global Services, 21 Inc. (“Sutherland”). (Mot. to Remand (“Mot.”), ECF No. 9.) The matter is fully 22 briefed. (See Opp’n, ECF No. 11; Reply, ECF No. 12.) For the reasons discussed 23 below, the Motion is DENIED. 1 II. 24 Hammond worked for Sutherland as a Collection Specialist beginning in 25 26 27 28 BACKGROUND April 2012. 1 (Decl. of Heather D. Hearn Ex. A (“Compl.”) ¶ 5, ECF No. 1-2.) After carefully considering the papers filed in connection with the Motion, the Court deemed the matter appropriate for decision without oral argument. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78; C.D. Cal. L.R. 7-15. 1 Hammond’s health challenges led to repetitive absences from work including an 2 eleven-month worker’s compensation leave between December 2018 and November 3 2019 for carpal tunnel syndrome. 4 terminated Hammond’s employment. (Id. ¶ 10.) On February 26, 2021, Hammond 5 filed her complaint against Sutherland alleging six causes of action: (1) discrimination 6 based on physical disability in violation of California Government Code 7 section 12940(a); (2) failure to accommodate in violation of California Government 8 Code section 12940(m); (3) failure to engage in the interactive process in violation of 9 California Government Code section 12940(n); (4) failure to prevent discrimination 10 and harassment in violation of California Government Code section 12940(k); 11 (5) retaliation in violation of California Government Code section 12940(k); and 12 (6) wrongful termination in violation of public policy. (See id. ¶¶ 14–64.) 13 (Id. ¶¶ 7–8.) In January 2020, Sutherland Sutherland removed the action to this Court based on alleged diversity of 14 citizenship. 15 Sutherland alleges it is a citizen of New York and Hammond is a citizen of California. 16 (Id. ¶¶ 6–7.) Hammond moves to remand, arguing Sutherland has not established 17 complete diversity of citizenship. (See Mot. 2–3) 18 (See Notice of Removal (“NOR”), ECF No. 1.) III. As relevant here, LEGAL STANDARD 19 Federal courts have subject matter jurisdiction only as authorized by the 20 Constitution and Congress. U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 1; see also Kokkonen v. 21 Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). A suit filed in state court 22 may be removed to federal court only if the federal court would have had original 23 jurisdiction over the suit. 24 jurisdiction where an action arises under federal law or where each plaintiff’s 25 citizenship is diverse from each defendant’s citizenship and the amount in controversy 26 exceeds $75,000. Id. §§ 1331, 1332(a). 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Federal courts have original 27 The removal statute is strictly construed against removal, and “[f]ederal 28 jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first 2 1 instance.” Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). The party seeking 2 removal bears the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction. Id. IV. 3 4 DISCUSSION Hammond seeks remand to state court, arguing Sutherland has not sufficiently 5 established diversity of citizenship for federal jurisdiction. Sutherland alleges 6 Hammond is a California citizen and that it is a citizen of New York because it is 7 incorporated and has its principal place of business there. (NOR ¶¶ 6–7.) Although 8 Hammond does not contest her California citizenship, she argues that Sutherland fails 9 to establish New York as its principal place of business. (Mot. 7.) She suggests 10 Sutherland may be a citizen of California instead, which would destroy diversity. (Id.) 11 To remove a case from state court to federal court, the defendant must file a 12 notice of removal in the federal court “containing a short and plain statement of the 13 grounds for removal.” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(a). The notice of removal’s “short and 14 plain” statement need not include evidentiary submissions. See Dart Cherokee Basin 15 Operating Co., LLC v. Owens, 574 U.S. 81, 84 (2014). If a defendant’s assertion of 16 diversity is challenged, “both sides submit proof and the court decides, by a 17 preponderance of the evidence, whether [subject matter jurisdiction] has been 18 satisfied.” Id. at 88. 19 As relevant here, “a corporation shall be deemed to be a citizen of every 20 State . . . by which it has been incorporated and of the State . . . where it has its 21 principal place of business.” 3123 SMB LLC v. Horn, 880 F.3d 461, 462–63 (9th Cir. 22 2018) (alterations in original) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1)). 23 principal place of business is a single place, typically a corporation’s headquarters, 24 often referred to as “the nerve center.” See Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 80–81 25 (2010). The nerve center is “the place where the corporation’s high level officers 26 direct, control, and coordinate the corporation’s activities.” Id. 27 28 A corporation’s Here, Hammond argues that Sutherland fails to prove its principal place of business is in New York. (Mot. 7.) For support, Hammond points only to 3 1 Sutherland’s website, which lists the locations of Sutherland’s three corporate 2 offices: New York, San Francisco, and London. (Decl. of Scott Houtz ¶ 3, Ex. 1, ECF 3 No. 9.) 4 California and therefore the Court lacks jurisdiction for want of complete diversity. 5 This, of course, makes no sense. By Hammond’s logic, a corporation would be a 6 citizen of every place where it has an office. The Ninth Circuit has clearly found this 7 is not so, limiting citizenship to only the state of incorporation and the state 8 encompassing the principal place of business. 3123 SMB, 880 F.3d at 462–63. With nothing more, Hammond asserts that Sutherland is a citizen of 9 Sutherland establishes it is a citizen of New York. Sutherland alleges that it is 10 incorporated in New York and maintains its principal place of business in New York. 11 (NOR ¶¶ 6–7.) It supports these allegations with the declaration of René Lafferty, 12 Associate Vice President and Senior Principal of Human Resources Operations and 13 Shared Services for Sutherland, attesting to the same. (Decl. of René Lafferty ISO 14 NOR ¶ 8, ECF No. 1.) As the Ninth Circuit and other Central District courts have 15 found, this declaration evidence sufficiently supports Sutherland’s allegations of 16 citizenship. See Bashir v. Boeing Co., 245 F. App’x 574, 575 (9th Cir. 2007) (finding 17 a statement of diversity in the removal petition, supported by a signed declaration of 18 the corporation’s attorney, “established diversity by a preponderance of the 19 evidence”); Gonzalez v. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., No. 16-1068- 20 GW (JEMx), 2016 WL 1611576, at *4 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 21, 2016) (collecting cases) 21 (finding a paralegal’s declaration on personal knowledge sufficient to establish the 22 citizenship of the corporation). 23 Sutherland also submits a supplemental declaration of René Lafferty attesting to 24 personal knowledge of the operations conducted at Sutherland’s offices. (Suppl. Decl. 25 of René Lafferty ISO Opp’n ¶¶ 3–4, ECF No. 11-1.) Lafferty states unequivocally, 26 “[T]he principal place of business for [Sutherland] is in Pittsford, New York.” (Id. 27 ¶ 4.) Indeed, the “majority of [Sutherland’s] executive team is based out of the 28 Pittsford, New York location . . . In addition, the vice-presidents of legal, finance, 4

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