Ritz, et al v. Mountain Lifeflight Inc., et al

Filing 27

ORDER signed by Judge John A. Mendez on 4/16/12 REMANDING CASE to Superior Court of Sacramento. Copy of remand order sent to other court. CASE CLOSED. (Matson, R)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 KENTON BRYCE RITZ, et al., 12 Plaintiffs, 13 14 15 v. MOUNTAIN LIFEFLIGHT INC., et al., Defendants. 16 17 ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) Case No. 2:12-CV-00134-JAM-DAD ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION TO REMAND This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs Kenton Bryce 18 19 Ritz’s, through his guardian Ad Litem Brandy Miller Speiker, and 20 Joe Ritz’s and Sue Ritz’s, as co-administrators of the Estate of 21 Christopher Ritz, (collectively “Plaintiffs”) Motion to Remand 22 (Doc. # 20).1 23 (“AEC”) opposes the motion (Doc. # 22). 24 /// 25 /// 26 /// Only Defendant American Eurocopter Corporation 27 1 28 This motion was determined to be suitable for decision without oral argument. E.D. Cal. L.R. 230(g). The hearing was originally scheduled on April 11, 2012. 1 I. 1 BACKGROUND Plaintiffs’ allegations concern a helicopter crash on November 2 3 14, 2009 which resulted in Christopher Ritz’s death. The 4 helicopter was allegedly owned and operated by Defendant Mountain 5 Lifeflight (“MLF”), a California corporation. 6 causes of action based on negligence and strict liability against 7 the various defendants seeking to recover for Christopher Ritz’s 8 death. 9 County Superior Court, State of California, claiming federal Plaintiffs assert AEC removed this action (Doc. #1) from the Sacramento 10 question and federal diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiffs now seek 11 to remand the action to state court, claiming that federal question 12 jurisdiction does not exist. 13 II. 14 OPINION 15 A. Legal Standard for Motion to Remand 16 As this is a motion to remand pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), 17 the issue to be decided is the Court’s subject matter jurisdiction 18 or lack thereof. 19 final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject 20 matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.”). 21 remand an action sua sponte if it determines that it lacks subject 22 matter jurisdiction. 23 Homestead Ins. Co., 346 F.3d 1190, 1192 (9th Cir.2003) (“[W]e have 24 held that the district court must remand if it lacks 25 jurisdiction.”) (citing Sparta Surgical Corp. v. Nat'l Ass'n Sec. 26 // 27 // 28 // See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) (“If at any time before The court must See Kelton Arms Condominium Owners Ass'n v. 2 1 Dealers, Inc., 159 F.3d 1209, 1211 (9th Cir.1998)). 2 statute explains when removal is proper: 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 The removal Except as otherwise expressly provided by Act of Congress, any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending. 28 .S.C. § 1441(a). The Ninth Circuit “strictly construe[s] the removal statute against removal jurisdiction.” Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 10 566 (9th Cir.1992) (citing Boggs v. Lewis, 863 F.2d 662, 663 (9th 11 Cir.1988); Takeda v. Northwestern National Life Insurance Co., 765 12 F.2d 815, 818 (9th Cir.1985)). 13 be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the 14 first instance.” 15 592 F.2d 1062, 1064 (9th Cir.1979)). 16 against removal jurisdiction means that the defendant always has 17 the burden of establishing that removal is proper.” 18 Nishimoto v. Federman-Bachrach & Associates, 903 F.2d 709, 712 n. 3 19 (9th Cir.1990); Emrich v. Touche Ross & Co., 846 F.2d 1190, 1195 20 (9th Cir.1988)). Thus, “[f]ederal jurisdiction must Id. (citing Libhart v. Santa Monica Dairy Co., “The ‘strong presumption’ Id. (citing 21 B. Diversity Jurisdiction 22 AEC opposes remand on the ground that defendant MLF, the only 23 defendant that is a citizen of California, is a fraudulently joined 24 or “sham” defendant. 25 as Christopher Ritz’s employer, is through California’s worker 26 compensation system, making Plaintiffs’ present suit against MLF 27 invalid. 28 South Lassen EMS doing business as Plumas EMS, and that Christopher AEC contends that the only claim against MLF, Plaintiffs respond that Christopher Ritz was employed by 3 1 Ritz was not employed by MLF at the time of the crash. Therefore 2 MLF is a proper defendant and complete diversity does not exist. “In order for diversity jurisdiction to be present, there must 3 4 be complete diversity such that each of the plaintiffs [is] a 5 citizen of a different state than each of the defendants.” 6 v. Paul Revere Ins. Group, 55 F. App'x 412, 413 (9th Cir. 2002) 7 (internal quotations omitted). 8 cause of action against a resident defendant, and the failure is 9 obvious according to the well-settled rules of the state, the Fisher “If a plaintiff fails to state a 10 joinder is fraudulent and ‘the defendant's presence in the lawsuit 11 is ignored for purposes of determining diversity.’” 12 Computer Sys. v. AT&T Info. Sys., 298 F.3d 756, 761 (9th Cir. 2002) 13 (quoting Morris v. Princess Cruises, Inc., 236 F.3d 1061, 1067 (9th 14 Cir. 2001)). 15 actually or even probably prevail on the merits, but whether there 16 is any possibility that [she] may do so.” 17 Mar. Co., No. C 02-3936 MJJ, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20523, at *4 18 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 23, 2002). United “The standard is not whether [a plaintiff] will Cont'l Ins. Co. v. Foss Plaintiffs point to evidence that MLF was not Christopher 19 20 Ritz’s employer at the time of the crash. 21 lists Plumas EMS as his employer. 22 D.) 23 Plumas EMS, not MLF. 24 the W-2 is not necessarily dispositive of the employment issue, and 25 that Plaintiffs should have presented evidence to satisfy a common 26 law employment analysis. 27 28 Christopher Ritz’s W-2 (Sterns’ Decl., Doc. #20-1, Ex. Further, the state worker compensation proceedings involved (Sterns’ Decl., Ex. B.) AEC responds that To support its argument, AEC relies on news articles, an obituary, and the answer filed by MLF in an attempt to show that 4 1 Christopher Ritz was actually employed by MLF, not Plumas EMS. 2 Plaintiffs correctly argue that these items are not evidence and/or 3 they are inadmissible hearsay. 4 citation to legal authority, that since Lassen EMS and MLF share an 5 address, they should be considered the same entity. 6 speculates, without evidentiary support, that Christopher Ritz 7 could have been employed by MLF and Plumas EMS at the same time. 8 Left with only AEC’s unsupported arguments and speculation, which 9 are contradicted by Plaintiffs’ documentary evidence, the Court AEC additionally argues, without AEC further 10 finds that AEC has not met its burden of showing that MLF was 11 fraudulently joined. 12 precludes a finding of subject matter jurisdiction based on 13 diversity of state citizenship. 14 C. Federal Preemption 15 AEC argues also that removal jurisdiction exists because 16 Plaintiffs’ negligence and strict liability claims are preempted by 17 Federal Aviation Regulations (“FARs”). 18 their claims are not preempted and are therefore not the proper 19 basis for removal. Accordingly, MLF’s California citizenship 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Plaintiffs respond that 20 “[A] case may not be removed to federal court on the basis of 21 a federal defense, including the defense of [federal] pre-emption. 22 . . .” 23 exception to this rule is that if an area of state law is 24 completely preempted by federal law, then the cause of action is 25 considered as arising under federal law for removal purposes. 26 Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 393 (1987). An Id. In the area of aviation safety, Congress expressly preserved 27 state law tort causes of action. Martin ex rel. Heckman v. Midwest 28 Exp. Holdings, Inc., 555 F.3d 806, 808 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing 49 5 1 U.S.C. § 40120(c) (“[a] remedy under this part is in addition to 2 any other remedies provided by law.”)). 3 interprets this provision to mean that state law causes of action 4 are only preempted when the FARs in a certain area constitute 5 pervasive regulation. 6 of preemption means that the state law standard of care is 7 preempted in those areas that are subject to pervasive federal 8 regulation. 9 issues ‘pervasive regulations’ in an area . . . the [FARs] Id. at 811. The Ninth Circuit In the tort context, this type See id. (“when the [Federal Aviation Administration)] 10 preempt[] all state law claims in that area. In areas without 11 pervasive regulations or other grounds for preemption, the state 12 standard of care remains applicable.”) 13 In this case, despite AEC’s argument to the contrary, it is 14 clear that AEC offers preemption as a federal defense to state law 15 claims. 16 entire field of aircraft regulation. 17 preempted the entire field, federal preemption is limited to a 18 federal defense and cannot be the basis for removal. 19 Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 63–64 (1987) (complete 20 preemption, which is grounds for removal, exists only in areas that 21 are so completely preempted that any claim brought is necessarily 22 federal in character). 23 claims brought in the area of aircraft safety are not necessarily 24 federal in nature. 25 FARs, if sufficiently pervasive, only preempt the state law 26 standard of care for Plaintiffs’ claims, but not the state law 27 claims themselves. 28 Martin specifically held that Congress did not preempt the Id. Where Congress has not See Metro. According to Martin, however, state law Martin, 555 F.3d at 811. Under Martin, the Id. It is clear under Martin that the Ninth Circuit does not 6 1 recognize field preemption, which would create federal subject 2 matter jurisdiction, for all aviation related state law tort 3 claims. 4 federal defense based on preemption to Plaintiffs’ state law 5 claims. 6 jurisdiction for removal purposes cannot be based on preemption in 7 this instance. 8 9 In the absence of complete preemption, AEC merely offers a See Taylor, 481 U.S. at 63. D. Thus, federal question Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 393. Procedural Propriety of Removal Plaintiffs also argue that the removal procedure was defective 10 because not all Defendants consent to removal. Defendants respond 11 that the defect has since been cured by MLF’s consent to removal. 12 Removing Defendants may cure defects in a notice of removal prior 13 to the entry of judgment, rendering “remand on procedural grounds 14 an empty formality.” 15 Cir. 1998) (superseded on other grounds). 16 declines to remand this case on procedural grounds. Parrino v. FHP, Inc., 146 F.3d 699, 703 (9th Accordingly, the Court 17 18 III. ORDER 19 For the reasons discussed above, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs’ 20 Motion to Remand on the ground that the Court lacks subject matter 21 jurisdiction. 22 Court of Sacramento, California. 23 close this case. 24 25 This action is hereby remanded back to the Superior The Court orders the clerk to IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: April 16, 2012 ____________________________ JOHN A. MENDEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 26 27 28 7

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