Darrell Bloomer v. Serco Management Services
MINUTES (IN CHAMBERS) by Judge Jesus G. Bernal (1) GRANTING Plaintiffs Motion to Remand 12 ; and(2) GRANTING Defendants Request for Judicial Notice (Dkt. No. 13-4.): (see document image for specifics). Since Defendants failed to comply with the p rocedural requirements of Section 1446(b), this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs claims. The Court, therefore, REMANDS the matter to the San Bernardino County Superior Court. IT IS SO ORDERED. MD JS-6. Case Terminated. (ad)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
EDCV 16-2651 JGB (RAOx)
Date February 23, 2017
Title Darrell Bloomer v. Serco Management Services, Inc. et al.
Present: The Honorable
JESUS G. BERNAL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Attorney(s) Present for Plaintiff(s):
Attorney(s) Present for Defendant(s):
Order: (1) GRANTING Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand (Dkt. No. 12); and
(2) GRANTING Defendants’ Request for Judicial Notice (Dkt. No. 134.)
Before the Court are Plaintiff Darrell Bloomer’s (“Plaintiff”) Motion to Remand the Action
to San Bernardino County Superior Court, (“Motion,” Dkt. No. 12), and Defendants’ Request
for Judicial Notice. (Dkt. No. 13-4.) These matters are appropriate for resolution without a
hearing. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78; L.R. 7-15. After considering all papers timely filed in support of,
and in opposition to the matters, the Court: (1) GRANTS Defendants’ Request for Judicial
Notice; and (2) GRANTS Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand. The February 27, 2017 hearing on the
matters is VACATED.
A. Procedural History
On May 24, 2016, Plaintiff initiated this action against Serco Management Services, Inc.,
Serco, Inc. (collectively “Serco”) and Does 1 through 20 (collectively, “Defendants”) in the
Superior Court for the County of San Bernardino. (“Complaint,” Dkt. No. 1-2.)
Defendants filed a Notice of Removal on December 28, 2016 based on diversity jurisdiction.
(Dkt. No. 1, Notice of Removal at 2.) In support of their Notice of Removal, Defendants attached
Plaintiff’s state court complaint, a Declaration of Demery Ryan, (“Removal Decl.,” Dkt. No. 11), and a Declaration of Richard Gilligan. (Dkt. No. 1-15.) This is the second time Defendants
have removed this action. (See Removal Decl.) On July 28, 2016, Defendants filed their Answer
in Superior Court. (Id. at ¶ 11.) On July 29, 2016, Serco removed this action to federal court. (Id.
Page 1 of 7
Initials of Deputy Clerk MG
at ¶ 12; See Notice of Related Case, “Related Case” or “RC,” Case. No. 5:16-cv-1655, Dkt. No.
5.) On August 18, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion to remand, which this Court granted on
September 15, 2016. (“Remand Order,” RC Dkt. No. 19.)
Plaintiff filed the present Motion to Remand on January 24, 2017. (Motion.) In support of the
Motion, Plaintiff filed a Declaration of Michael J. Freiman, (Dkt. No. 12-1), attaching as Exhibit
A an email sent on September 27, 2016 by Plaintiff’s counsel to Serco’s counsel relaying a
settlement demand. (“Settlement Demand,” Dkt. No. 12-2.) Defendants opposed Plaintiff’s
Motion on February 6, 2017. (“Opposition,” Dkt. No. 14.) In support, Defendants attached a
Request for Judicial Notice, (“RJN,” Dkt. No. 13-4),1 as well as the following documents:
Declaration of Demery Ryan (Ryan Decl., Dkt. No. 13-1), including the following state
court filings for Case No. CIVDS 1608511:
o Serco’s Requests for Admissions as Exhibit A (Dkt. No. 13-2),
o Serco’s Form Interrogatories as Exhibit B (Id.),
o Plaintiff’s responses to Serco’s Requests for Admissions served on November 30,
2016 as Exhibit C (“RFA Responses,” Id. at Ex. C),
o Plaintiff’s responses to Serco’s Form Interrogatories as Exhibit D (“Interr.
Resp.,” Id. at Ex. D),
o Plaintiff’s deposition testimony taken on December 7, 2016 as Exhibit E
(“Deposition,” Dkt. No. 13-3),
o Plaintiff’s counsel’s meet and confer letter as Exhibit F (Id. at Ex. F),
o Defendants’ meet and confer letter on Plaintiff’s discovery responses as Exhibit G
(Id. at Ex. G), and
o Plaintiff’s counsel’s Declaration regarding Lawrence and Michael Freiman’s
respective billing rates as Exhibit H (Id. at Ex. H.)
Defendants request judicial notice Plaintiff’s Reply in support of his motion to remand
in the related case filed on September 6, 2016, Case No. 5:16-cv-01655-JGB-RAO (“RC Reply,”
Dkt. No. 13-4, Ex. 1), and a declaration submitted by Plaintiff’s counsel to this Court in
Cappuccio v. Pepperdine University, Case No. 2:13-cv-03125-DSW-AJW (2014). The Court
finds both are proper subjects for judicial notice. These documents are in the public record and
their existence is “capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose
accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” Fed. R. Evid. 201(b). Indeed, courts routinely take
judicial notice of these types of documents. See, e.g., Reyn’s Pasta Bella, LLC v. Visa USA, Inc.,
442 F.3d 741, 746 n.6 (9th Cir. 2006) (taking judicial notice of briefs, transcripts, and various
other court filings from related case); Liebelt v. Quality Loan Serv. Corp., No. 09-CV-05867LHK, 2011 WL 741056, at *6 n.2 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 24, 2011) (taking judicial notice of Trustee’s
Deed Upon Sale); Reynolds v. Applegate, No. C 10-04427 CRB, 2011 WL 560757, at *1 n.2
(N.D. Cal. Feb. 14, 2011) (taking judicial notice of various documents related to foreclosure,
including Notice of Default). Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ Request for
Page 2 of 7
Initials of Deputy Clerk MG
On February 13, 2017, Plaintiff filed a reply memorandum in support of his Motion. (Dkt. No.
B. Plaintiffs’ Claims
Plaintiff, an employee of Serco, claims he filed complaints with both Serco and the Federal
Aviation Administration (“FAA”) regarding Serco’s violation of various workplace safety laws,
FAA regulations, and other aviation and airport regulations. (Complaint ¶¶ 7, 8.) Plaintiff claims
that Serco retaliated against him for making these complaints by demoting him and transferring
him to a different position. (Id. ¶ 10.) As a result, he has suffered and continues to suffer
economic damages, including a loss in his earnings, and noneconomic damages, including
emotional distress damages. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 12.)
Plaintiff brings his wrongful retaliation claims under California Labor Code sections 1102.5
and 6310. Section 1102.5 is a whistleblower protection statute that protects employees from
retaliation by their employer for disclosing to a government or law enforcement agency that the
employer violated a local, state, or federal rule or regulation. See Cal. Lab. Code § 1102.5.
Relatedly, section 6310—which is part of the California Occupational Safety and Health Act—
prohibits employers from retaliating against employees because the employee complained to a
government agency about a matter of occupational health or safety. See Cal. Lab. Code § 6310.
Plaintiff moves to remand on the grounds that the Notice of Removal was filed more than 30
days after Defendants’ receipt of an “other paper” from which it could be ascertained that the
amount in controversy exceeded $75,000. (Mot. at 2-3.) The “other paper” to which Plaintiff
refers is a settlement demand for $99,000 sent by Plaintiff’s counsel to Defendants’ counsel in an
email dated September 27, 2016. (Settlement Demand.) Defendants, on the other hand, argue
that it was not until Plaintiff made certain admissions in his discovery responses and deposition
testimony in December 2016 that Defendants were put on notice that the case was removable.
(Opp. at 10.) Defendants, therefore, argue that their Notice of Removal, filed on December 28,
2016, was timely. (Id.)
A. Legal Standard
Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, possessing only that power authorized by
Constitution and statute. Gunn v. Minton, 133 S. Ct. 1059, 1064 (2013). As such, federal courts
only have original jurisdiction over civil actions in which a federal question exists or in which
there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and the amount in controversy
Page 3 of 7
Initials of Deputy Clerk MG
exceeds $75,000. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332.2 “Complete diversity” means that “each
defendant must be a citizen of a different state from each plaintiff.” In re Digimarc Corp.
Derivative Litigation, 549 F.3d 1223, 1234 (9th Cir. 2008).
As noted above, Defendants removed on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. (Not. of
Removal.) To remove a state action to federal court, the defendant must file a notice of removal
with both the state court where the case was filed and the federal court to which it will be
transferred. 28 U.S.C. § 1441. The notice of removal must be filed within 30 days of the first
removable document, and the case must be removed to the federal district court that
encompasses the state court where the action was initiated. Id.
If the case stated by the initial pleading is not removable, a notice of removal may be filed
within 30 days after the case becomes removable. 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3). This 30–day limit
begins to run when the defendant receives “an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper
from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable.” 28
U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3). The party seeking removal has the burden of establishing federal
jurisdiction. Emrich v Touche Ross & Co., 846 F.2d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 1988). “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). Moreover, the Ninth Circuit “strictly construe[s] the removal statute against
removal jurisdiction,” and “[f]ederal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the
right of removal in the first instance.” Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992); see
also Jackson v. Specialized Loan Servicing, LLC, No. CV 14-05981 MMM PLAX, 2014 WL
5514142, at *6 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 31, 2014) (quoting Gaus). Indeed, doubts as to removability must
be resolved in favor of remanding the case to state court. Jackson, 2014 WL 5514142, at *6.
(a) The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the
matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is
between-(1) citizens of different States;
(2) citizens of a State and citizens or subjects of a foreign state, except that the district
courts shall not have original jurisdiction under this subsection of an action between
citizens of a State and citizens or subjects of a foreign state who are lawfully admitted for
permanent residence in the United States and are domiciled in the same State;
(3) citizens of different States and in which citizens or subjects of a foreign state are
additional parties; and
(4) a foreign state, defined in section 1603(a) of this title, as plaintiff and citizens of a
State or of different States.
28 U.S.C. § 1332.
Page 4 of 7
Initials of Deputy Clerk MG
The Parties do not dispute the existence of complete diversity. At issue here is whether
Defendants’ Notice of Removal was timely, which requires the Court to determine when the case
was first removable.
Again, Plaintiff maintains that the Court should remand the case because Defendants filed
their Notice of Removal more than 30 days after they received the Settlement Demand—i.e.,
“other paper”—from which it could be ascertained the amount in controversy exceeded
$75,000. (Mot. at 3.) Here, Plaintiff’s counsel’s September 27, 2016 email to Defendants’
counsel, in which he offered to dismiss all claims in exchange for $99,000, was sufficient to
provide notice that this case was removable and therefore, sufficient to start the 30-day window
under Section 1446(b). See Ackerberg v. Citicorp USA, Inc., 887 F. Supp. 2d 934, 938-39 (N.D.
Cal. 2012) (holding that date defendants received settlement letter first indicating the amount in
controversy started the 30-day period for removal under Section 1446(b)(3)).
A document reflecting a settlement demand in excess of the jurisdictional minimum
constitutes “other paper” sufficient to provide notice that a case is removable. Babasa v.
Lenscrafters, Inc., 498 F.3d 972, 974-75 (9th Cir. 2002); Cohn v. Petsmart, Inc., 281 F.3d 837,
940 (9th Cir. 2002) (“A settlement letter is relevant evidence of the amount in controversy if it
appears to reflect a reasonable estimate of the plaintiff’s claim”). Once the Settlement Demand
is received by Defendants, they must remove the action within 30 days. 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b).
A plaintiff’s damage estimate will not establish the amount in controversy, however, if it
appears to be only a “bold optimistic prediction.” Surber v. Reliance Nat’l Indem. Co., 110 F.
Supp. 2d 1227, 1232 (N.D. Cal. 2000). On that basis, Defendants argue that they “had no reason
to think that the settlement demand in September 2016 was anything more than a ‘bold
optimistic prediction.’” (Opp. at 10.) Defendants assert that the Settlement Demand for $99,000
could not be seen as a reasonable estimate of Plaintiff’s claims because it lacked any explanation
of how the figure was calculated. (Opp. at 7.) Defendants’ arguments are unpersuasive.
The email communicating the Settlement Demand from Plaintiff’s counsel reads: “Mr.
Bloomer demands $99,000 in exchange for a full dismissal of all claims against all parties. This is
an early demand intended to resolve the case prior to the parties incurring additional fees and
costs. In that regard, our demand will go up once any further work is completed. . .” (Settlement
Demand.) The Court concludes that the Settlement Demand contained a reasonable estimate of
Plaintiff’s claims for Defendants to have sufficient notice that the case was removable as of
September 27, 2016. The email strongly suggests that the $99,000 figure contemplated the value
of Plaintiff’s claims as well as the attorneys’ fees incurred as of September 27, 2016. (Id.)
The $99,000 estimate does not strike the Court as unreasonable. In their Opposition,
Defendants insist that the attorneys’ fees, based on Plaintiff’s counsel’s work to date, are likely
to fall between $30,000 and $33,750. (Opp. at 18.) In his prayer for relief, Plaintiff includes
statutory penalties, compensatory damages, punitive damages, earned wages, loss of income,
Page 5 of 7
Initials of Deputy Clerk MG
damages for emotional distress, and attorneys’ fees. (Complaint at 5.) The Court, in its Remand
Order, found that Plaintiff’s claim for violations of section 1102.5 placed at least $20,000 in
statutory damages in controversy. (Remand Order at 3.)3 Taking the minimum of $20,000 in
statutory penalties together with the possibility of punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, and
reasonably expected compensatory damages for lost income and emotional distress, the Court
does not view the $99,000 figure as merely a “bold optimistic prediction.”
Still, Defendants persist that prior to Plaintiff’s deposition testimony they could not be
charged with constructive notice that Plaintiff’s damages met the jurisdictional minimum
because Plaintiff specifically disavowed an amount in controversy exceeding $75,000 three weeks
before the Settlement Demand email. In Cohn v. Petsmart, Inc., 281 F.3d 837, 940 (9th Cir.
2002), the Ninth Circuit held that a settlement letter on its own could establish the amount in
controversy only where the plaintiff “did not seek to disavow the letter or offer contrary
evidence.” Id. at 840. Defendants assert, therefore, that the date of the Settlement Demand did
not commence the 30-day period for removal.
The specific disavowal to which Defendants refer is contained in the Reply to Plaintiff’s
motion to remand filed in the Related Case. But the RC Reply contains neither a specific
disavowal of the $99,000 valuation nor an estimation of the value of Plaintiff’s claims. (RC Reply
at 2-3.) As such, nothing in the RC Reply could constitute an offer of “contrary evidence” to
undermine the notice the Settlement Demand otherwise provided. Plaintiff merely argued that at
that time Defendants could not show by a preponderance of evidence that the amount in
controversy exceeded $75,000. (Id.) Plaintiff’s refusal to stipulate to a damages amount of less
than $75,000 in a filing in support of his initial motion to remand does not expressly disavow the
possibility of a higher damages at a later date. (Id.) In short, the Court is not persuaded that
Plaintiff’s prior representations are sufficient to foreclose the possibility that the $99,000 figure
could be viewed as a reasonable estimate of Plaintiff’s claims. Of course, even if the Plaintiff’s
Reply explicitly disavowed a damages estimate exceeding $75,000, three weeks later—when the
Settlement Demand was served— the opportunity to remove this case was still ripe for the
Defendants maintain they did not have notice of the value of Plaintiff’s claims until: (a) they
received Plaintiff’s RFA Responses on November 30, 2016, and (b) Plaintiff admitted that he
earned $7,280 each year during his deposition testimony in December 2016. (Opp. at 11.) The
Court finds that Defendants had sufficient notice of the value of Plaintiff’s claims prior to their
receipt of Plaintiff’s RFA Responses and Deposition Testimony. For one thing, Plaintiff’s RFA
Responses simply repeat the position that Plaintiff took in his September 6, 2016 Reply—i.e., a
sustained refusal to stipulate to a damages amount of less than $75,000 (RFA Response)—and
Plaintiff’s initial complaint explicitly includes loss of income as a measure of damages for his
retaliation claim. (Complaint at 6.)
The Court declined, however, to conclude that the attorneys’ fees, emotional distress
damages, and punitive damages could be expected to exceed $55,000 on the evidence presented.
(Remand Order at 3.)
Page 6 of 7
Initials of Deputy Clerk MG
The impropriety of removal here is corroborated by the fact that Defendants could not likely
make the requisite showing for purposes of removal by relying solely on Plaintiff’s RFA
Responses and Deposition Testimony. The $116,480 figure cited in Defendants’ Opposition
does not reflect Plaintiff’s own estimation of the value of his claims but is figure postulated by
Defendants. Indeed, Defendants arrived at the $116,480.00 figure by multiplying $7,280.00 by
the total years Plaintiff expected to work. (Deposition at 8) (responding “I was thinking till I was
70” to the question “How many more years do you plan to work at Serco?”). On that basis, the
Court finds that Defendants’ prediction of damages for future earnings is highly speculative.
Since “[t]he ultimate inquiry is what amount is put in controversy by the plaintiff’s complaint,
not what a defendant will actually owe,” Jackson, 2014 WL 5514142, at *8, the Court is not
convinced that absent the Settlement Demand, Plaintiff’s subsequent admissions would be
sufficient to establish the jurisdictional threshold by a preponderance of evidence. Because
“doubts as to removability must be resolved in favor of remanding the case,” Id. at * 6, the Court
concludes that remand is proper.
In brief, the Settlement Demand’s estimate of $99,000 in damages, even if imprecise, was
sufficiently supported by allegations of the injuries contained in the complaint to put Defendants
on notice by September 27, 2016 that the case was removable. Because Defendants filed their
notice of removal on December 28, 2016, well over thirty days after Defendants were placed on
notice that the jurisdictional minimum had been met, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff’s Motion to
Since Defendants failed to comply with the procedural requirements of Section 1446(b), this
Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims. The Court, therefore, REMANDS
the matter to the San Bernardino County Superior Court.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Page 7 of 7
Initials of Deputy Clerk MG
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?