Craig Chi v. Ford Motor Company et al

Filing 30

MINUTES (IN CHAMBERS) by Judge David O. Carter: Granting 22 Plaintiff's MOTION to Remand Case to State Court. Case Remanded to Orange County Superior Court 30-2020-01134105-CU-BC-CJC. The case is remanded to Orange County Superior Court. MD JS-6. Case Terminated. (twdb)

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA JS-6 CIVIL MINUTES – GENERAL Case No. SA CV 20-01444-DOC-KES Date: September 11, 2020 Title: CRAIG CHI V. FORD MOTOR COMPANY ET AL. PRESENT: THE HONORABLE DAVID O. CARTER, JUDGE Kelly Davis Courtroom Clerk Not Present Court Reporter ATTORNEYS PRESENT FOR PLAINTIFF: None Present ATTORNEYS PRESENT FOR DEFENDANT: None Present PROCEEDINGS (IN CHAMBERS): ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO REMAND [22] Before the Court is Plaintiff Craig Chi’s (“Plaintiff”) Motion to Remand Case to Orange County Superior Court (“Motion”) (Dkt. 22). The Court finds this matter appropriate for resolution without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78; C.D. Cal. R. 7-15. Having reviewed the moving papers submitted by the parties, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff’s Motion. I. Background A. Facts The following facts are drawn from Plaintiff’s Complaint (“Compl.”) (Dkt. 1-4). This action concerns Plaintiff’s purchase of a vehicle manufactured by Defendant Ford Motor Company (“FMC”). Compl. ¶ 5, 7. Plaintiff alleges that the vehicle contained or developed defects and continued to exhibit such defects after Plaintiff returned the vehicle to the dealer for repairs. Id. ¶ 9–10. Each time the vehicle exhibited defects, Plaintiff alleges that he notified FMC and attempted to invoke the applicable warranties. Id. ¶ 11–12. However, Plaintiff alleges that FMC continuously failed to make the vehicle conform to the applicable warranties. Id. ¶ 12–13. Plaintiff brings claims under the Song- UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA CIVIL MINUTES – GENERAL Case No. SA CV 20-01444-DOC-KES Date: September 11, 2020 Page 2 Beverly Consumer Warranty Act seeking actual damages, civil penalties, costs and expenses, attorneys’ fees, and prejudgment interest. Id. at 8. In its Notice of Removal (Dkt. 1), Defendant argues that actual damages equal $61,942.56. Notice of Removal ¶ 26. B. Procedural History Plaintiff originally filed suit in the Superior Court of California, County of Orange. Dkt. 1. Plaintiff filed the instant Motion to Remand (Dkt. 22) on August 7, 2020. On August 24, 2020, Defendant FMC filed an Opposition (“Opp’n”) (Dkt. 25), and Plaintiff submitted his Reply (Dkt. 28) on August 31, 2020. II. Legal Standard “If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). Removal of a case from state court to federal court is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1441, which provides in relevant part that “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed . . . to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441. This statute “is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction,” and the party seeking removal “bears the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction.” Ethridge v. Harbor House Rest., 861 F.2d 1389, 1393 (9th Cir. 1988) (emphasis added) (citations omitted). A federal court may order remand for lack of subject matter jurisdiction or any defect in the removal procedure. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). Federal diversity jurisdiction requires that the parties be citizens of different states and that the amount in controversy exceed $75,000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). For diversity jurisdiction purposes, a corporation is “deemed to be a citizen of every State and foreign state by which it has been incorporated and of the State or foreign state where it has its principal place of business.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1). The presence of any single plaintiff from the same state as any single defendant destroys “complete diversity” and strips the federal courts of original jurisdiction over the matter. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 553 (2005). Generally, a removing defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy satisfies the jurisdictional threshold. Guglielmino v. McKee Foods Corp., 506 F.3d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 2008). If the complaint affirmatively alleges an amount in controversy greater than $75,000, the jurisdictional requirement is UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA CIVIL MINUTES – GENERAL Case No. SA CV 20-01444-DOC-KES Date: September 11, 2020 Page 3 “presumptively satisfied.” Id. A plaintiff who then tries to defeat removal must prove to a “legal certainty” that a recovery of more than $75,000 is impossible. St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288-89 (1938); Crum v. Circus Enters., 231 F.3d 1129, 1131 (9th Cir. 2000). This framework applies equally to situations where the complaint leaves the amount in controversy unclear or ambiguous. See Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 567 (9th Cir. 1992); Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398, 403-04 (9th Cir. 1996). A removing defendant “may not meet [its] burden by simply reciting some ‘magical incantation’ to the effect that ‘the matter in controversy exceeds the sum of [$75,000],’ but instead, must set forth in the removal petition the underlying facts supporting its assertion that the amount in controversy exceeds [$75,000].” Richmond v. Allstate Ins. Co., 897 F. Supp. 447, 450 (S.D. Cal. 1995) (quoting Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 567 (9th Cir. 1992)). If the plaintiff has not clearly or unambiguously alleged $75,000 in its complaint or has affirmatively alleged an amount less than $75,000 in its complaint, the burden lies with the defendant to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the jurisdictional minimum is satisfied. Geographic Expeditions, Inc. v. Estate of Lhotka ex rel. Lhotka, 599 F.3d 1102, 1106-07 (9th Cir. 2010); Guglielmino, 506 F.3d at 699. While the defendant must “set forth the underlying facts supporting its assertion that the amount in controversy exceeds the statutory minimum,” the standard is not so taxing so as to require the defendant to “research, state, and prove the plaintiff’s claims for damages.” Coleman v. Estes Express Lines, Inc., 730 F. Supp. 2d 1141, 1148 (C.D. Cal. 2010) (emphases added). In short, the defendant must show that it is “more likely than not” that the amount in controversy exceeds the statutory minimum. Id. Summary judgment-type evidence may be used to substantiate this showing. Matheson v. Progressive Specialty Ins. Co., 319 F.3d 1089, 1090-91 (9th Cir. 2003); Singer v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 116 F.3d 373, 377 (9th Cir. 1997). For example, defendants may make mathematical calculations using reasonable averages of hourly, monthly, and annual incomes of comparable employees when assessing the amount in controversy in a wrongful termination suit. Coleman, 730 F. Supp. 2d. at 1148-49. If the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, any action it takes is ultra vires and void. See Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 534 (2005); Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env’t, 523 U.S. 83, 94, 101-02 (1998). The lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time by either the parties or the court. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3). If subject UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA CIVIL MINUTES – GENERAL Case No. SA CV 20-01444-DOC-KES Date: September 11, 2020 Page 4 matter jurisdiction is found to be lacking, the court must dismiss the action, id., or remand pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). III. Discussion Defendant argues that this Court has diversity jurisdiction in this action. Plaintiff disagrees, arguing that the amount in controversy has not been met. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that Defendant improperly employs speculative civil penalties and attorneys’ fees to satisfy the amount in controvery. Mot. at 6–8. Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s actual damages, coupled with the civil penalties Plaintiff seeks, is greater than $75,000. Opp’n at 7. Further, Defendant argues that it has provided a reasonable estimate of attorneys’ fees, based on its survey of Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ past fees in factually analogous cases. Id. at 10. The Court finds that Defendant has not shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. Defendant argues that actual damages in this case amount to $61,942.56. Notice of Removal ¶ 26. The Court declines to include Defendant’s estimate of speculative civil penalties or attorneys’ fees to meet the amount in controversy requirement. See Galt G/S v. JSS Scandinavia, 142 F.3d 1150, 1156 (9th Cir. 1998) (“We hold that where an underlying statute authorizes an award of attorneys’ fees, either with mandatory or discretionary language, such fees may be included in the amount in controversy.”) (emphasis added). Thus, the Court finds that it lacks diversity jurisdiction over this matter. When remanding a case, a court may, in its discretion, “require payment of just costs and any actual expenses, including attorney fees, incurred as a result of the removal.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c); see also Jordan v. Nationstar Mortg. LLC, 781 F.3d 1178, 1184 (9th Cir. 2015). Typically, a court may only award fees and costs when “the removing party lacked an objectively reasonable basis for seeking removal.” Id. (quoting Martin v. Franklin Capital Corp., 546 U.S. 132, 141 (2005)). In making this determination, courts should look at whether the removing party’s arguments are “clearly foreclosed” by the relevant case law. Lussier v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., 518 F.3d 1062, 1066-67 (9th Cir. 2008). The Ninth Circuit has further clarified that “removal is not objectively unreasonable solely because the removing party’s arguments lack merit,” id. at 1065, though a court need not find the removing party acted in bad faith before awarding fees under § 1447(c), Moore v. Permanente Med. Grp., 981 F.2d 443, 446 (9th Cir. 1992). UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA CIVIL MINUTES – GENERAL Case No. SA CV 20-01444-DOC-KES Date: September 11, 2020 Page 5 Here, while the Court finds that removal was improper, the Court concludes that it was not so inconceivable as to meet the “objectively unreasonable” standard. As a result, the Court declines to award Plaintiff attorneys’ fees. IV. Disposition For the reasons set forth above, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand. The case is remanded to Orange County Superior Court. The Clerk shall serve this minute order on the parties. MINUTES FORM 11 CIVIL-GEN Initials of Deputy Clerk: kd

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