Hodges v. In Shape Health Clubs, LLC

Filing 19

ORDER signed by District Judge John A. Mendez on 10/2/2017 ORDERING 8 the Court GRANTS Plaintiff leave to amend her complaint to include state law FEHA claims; Plaintiff is to file an amended complaint within 10 days of this order's filing; D efendant may file a responsive pleading or the parties may file a stipulation within 20 days of the amended complaint's filing consistent with the Court's recommendation; the Court takes Plaintiff's motion to remand under SUBMISSION.(Reader, L)

Download PDF
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 TIFFANY ANNE HODGES, 12 2:17-cv-01274-JAM-DB Plaintiff, 13 14 No. v. ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF LEAVE TO AMEND COMPLAINT IN SHAPE HEALTH CLUBS, LLC, a limited liability company, 15 Defendant. 16 This matter comes before the Court upon Tiffany Anne 17 18 Hodges’s (“Plaintiff” or “Hodges”) Motion to Remand and for Leave 19 to Amend. 20 (“Defendant” or “In Shape”) opposes Hodges’s motions. Opp’n, ECF 21 No. 13. 22 the Court GRANTS Hodges Leave to Amend and takes her Motion for 23 Remand under submission. 1 24 /// 25 /// Mot. & Mem., ECF Nos. 8–9. In Shape Health Clubs Having reviewed the parties' briefs and applicable law, 26 27 28 1 This motion was determined to be suitable for decision without oral argument. E.D. Cal. L.R. 230(g). The hearing was scheduled for September 19, 2017. 1 1 2 I. BACKGROUND On February 15, 2017, Hodges filed a complaint in San 3 Joaquin County Superior Court against her former employer, In 4 Shape, alleging race discrimination and retaliation. 5 No. 2. 6 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 7 filed a notice of removal, invoking the Court’s federal question 8 jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1337(a). 9 Removal, ECF No. 2. 10 Motion to Dismiss. 11 month, Hodges filed a joint Motion to Remand and to “Correct 12 Pleading under (FRCP 15(1)(b)(1).” Compl., ECF Hodges pleaded two causes of action, both under Title VII Id. On June 21, 2017, In Shape Notice of A week later, In Shape filed a Rule 12(b)(6) Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 7. The following Mem., ECF No. 9. 13 The Court dismissed In Shape’s Motion without prejudice for 14 failure to comply with the Court’s Meet and Confer Requirements. 15 Min. Order, ECF No. 15. 16 Hodges’s Motion. Accordingly, the Court considers only 17 18 19 20 21 II. A. OPINION Legal Standard 1. Removal As courts of limited jurisdiction, federal courts possess 22 only that jurisdiction authorized by either the Constitution or 23 federal statute. 24 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). 25 “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or 26 treaties of the United States.” 27 “arises under” federal law if a plaintiff’s “well-pleaded 28 complaint establishes either that federal law creates the cause Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 Federal courts have jurisdiction over 28 U.S.C. § 1331. 2 A case 1 of action” or that the plaintiff’s “right to relief under state 2 law requires resolution of a substantial question of federal law 3 in dispute between the parties.” 4 Laborers Vacation Tr. for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 13 (1983). 5 civil action may be removed to a federal district court only if 6 the court has original jurisdiction over the issues alleged in 7 the state court complaint. 8 9 Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. A 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). To determine whether removal is proper, a court should “strictly construe the removal statute against removal 10 jurisdiction.” 11 1992) (per curiam). 12 there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first 13 instance.” 14 See id. 15 to state court.” 16 1042 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566). 17 Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. Id. “Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if The removing party must show removal is proper. “[T]he court resolves all ambiguity in favor of remand 2. Hunter v. Philip Morris USA, 582 F.3d 1039, Amendment 18 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 provides: 19 (1) Amending as a Matter of Course. A party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within: (A) 21 days after serving it, or (B) if the pleading is one to which a responsive pleading is required, 21 days after service of a responsive pleading or 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is earlier. (2) Other Amendments. In all other cases, a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party’s written consent or the court’s leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires. 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1)–(2). Whether to grant or deny leave to amend lies within the 3 1 district court’s discretion, although leave to amend “shall be 2 freely given when justice so requires.” 3 U.S. 178, 182 (1962) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)); see also 4 Sonoma Cty. Ass’n of Retired Emps. v. Sonoma Cty., 708 F.3d 5 1109, 1117 (9th Cir. 2013) (“In general, a court should 6 liberally allow a party to amend its pleading.”). 7 Foman v. Davis, 371 “Courts may decline to grant leave to amend only if there 8 is strong evidence of ‘undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive 9 on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies 10 by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the 11 opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] 12 futility of amendment, etc.’ ” 13 (quoting Foman, 371 U.S. at 182). 14 15 3. Sonoma Cty., 708 F.3d at 1117 Remand When assessing federal jurisdiction, a court must analyze 16 the pleadings filed at the time of removal, and not any 17 subsequent amendments. 18 of Secs. Dealers, Inc., 159 F.3d 1209, 1213 (9th Cir. 1998), 19 abrogated on other grounds by Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & 20 Smith Inc. v. Manning, 136 S. Ct. 1562 (2016). Sparta Surgical Corp. v. National Ass’n 21 When a plaintiff amends a complaint to eliminate the 22 federal question upon which proper removal was based, the 23 district court has several options. 24 discretion to retain jurisdiction over state law claims. 25 v. Varian Assocs., Inc., 114 F.3d 999, 1000 (9th Cir. 1997). 26 The conditions listed in 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c) and “economy, 27 convenience, fairness, and comity” interests guide the inquiry 28 into whether to decline or retain jurisdiction. 4 The court may exercise its Acri Id. at 1001. 1 “[I]n the usual case in which all federal-law claims are 2 eliminated before trial, the balance of factors . . . will point 3 toward declining to exercise jurisdiction over the remaining 4 state-law claims.” 5 Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 350 n.7 (1988)). 6 When relinquishing jurisdiction, the district court must then 7 choose whether to dismiss the remaining claims without prejudice 8 or to remand the case to state court. 9 U.S. at 351–52. Id. at 1001 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting See Carnegie-Mellon, 484 10 When considering remand, the court may also consider 11 whether a party engaged in manipulative tactics to secure her 12 desired forum. 13 claims after removal is not evidence, in itself, of manipulative 14 tactics. 15 Cir. 1995). 16 amending a complaint to eliminate the federal question upon 17 which removal was based,” Sparta Surgical, 159 F.3d at 1213 18 (emphasis added), the Ninth Circuit has called elimination of 19 federal claims after removal a “straight-forward tactical 20 decision.” 21 federal claims after removal “solely in order to obtain remand” 22 did not warrant Rule 11 sanctions). 23 24 B. Id. at 357. But amendment to eliminate federal Baddie v. Berkeley Farms, Inc., 64 F.3d 487, 491 (9th Although a plaintiff may not “compel remand by Baddie, 64 F.3d at 491 (finding amendment to omit Analysis 1. Defendant Properly Removed Plaintiff’s Original Complaint 25 26 Here, In Shape properly removed the case because Hodges’s 27 claims arose under federal law. It is abundantly clear Hodges’s 28 original complaint relied solely on Title VII, which appeared in 5 1 the heading for each cause of action and on nearly every page. 2 See generally Compl. 3 mentioned, despite Hodges’s counsel’s incorrect assertion that 4 California Fair Employment & Housing Act ("FEHA") was referenced 5 along with Title VII. 6 Court analyzes federal jurisdiction based on the pleadings filed 7 at time of removal, Sparta Surgical, 159 F.3d at 1213, Hodges’s 8 references to Title VII conferred original jurisdiction on this 9 Court and formed a proper basis for removal. 10 2. No other state or federal acts were Compare Compl. with Mot. Because the The Court Grants Plaintiff Leave to Amend the Complaint 11 12 Upon being notified by In Shape’s Motion to Dismiss that 13 her Title VII claims were time-barred, Hodges sought to 14 “correct” her complaint under “FRCP 15(1)(b)(1).” 15 Despite a diligent search, the Court is unable to find any 16 mention of a Rule 15(1)(b)(1) in state or federal law. 17 from the content of Hodges’s pleadings, it appears the intended 18 cite was to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2), from which 19 a plaintiff may seek leave of court to amend her complaint. Mem. at 1–2. Judging 20 Had Hodges sought to amend two days earlier, on July 19, 21 2017, she would have fallen within the 21-day window in which 22 she could have amended her complaint as a matter of course. 23 Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1)(B). 24 July 21, 2017 seeking to “correct the pleading by deleting the 25 references to Title VII contained in the Complaint.” 26 p. 2. 27 references to state law claims under FEHA, which the original 28 complaint never mentioned. See Instead, she filed a motion on ECF No. 9, Omitted from that request is the need to substitute 6 1 Perplexingly, Hodges’s reply brief focuses on arguing 2 against binding arbitration and alleging that In Shape somehow 3 engaged in forum shopping by properly removing Hodges’s Title 4 VII claims to federal court. 5 to bring state law claims and challenge the arbitration 6 agreement’s validity, she could have saved time and effort by 7 doing so in her original complaint in San Joaquin County 8 Superior Court. 9 law claims in her original complaint was an intentional strategy See ECF No. 17. Had Hodges wanted Instead, it appears Hodges’s omission of state 10 to avoid wrangling with the arbitration agreement. 11 Decl., Ex. A, ECF No. 13-2, p. 5 (stating plaintiff “will be 12 filing suit under Title VII (the arbitration agreement is 13 limited to claims arising under state law)”). 14 See Valenza Hodges’s counsel never explains how pleading federal claims 15 was a mistake, rather than a deliberate attempt to avoid 16 arbitration. 17 a “mistake in a pleading”). 18 as to how the original complaint complied with Rule 11, which 19 requires individuals to perform a reasonable inquiry into 20 whether a party’s “claims, defenses, and other legal contentions 21 are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for 22 extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for 23 establishing new law.” 24 counsel engaged in such an inquiry, he would have quickly 25 realized the Title VII claims were time-barred when Hodges filed 26 her February 2017 complaint. 27 28 Mem. at 2 (alleging “references to TITLE VII” were Similarly lacking is any argument Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b)(2). Had Hodges’s While Hodges’s counsel’s conduct and strategic choices are a source of great concern to this Court, the difficult question 7 1 that this Court faces is whether it should punish plaintiff for 2 her counsel’s carelessness. 3 should not be denied a chance to pursue her claims based on her 4 counsel’s errors. 2 5 The answer surely is no. This case is still at an early stage. Hodges Although Hodges filed 6 suit in February 2017, nearly eleven months after receiving her 7 Notice of Right to Sue, she did not serve In Shape until late May 8 2017. 9 Timely removal occurred in June, followed by In Shape’s Motion to See Compl.; Judicial Req. Notice, Ex. A, ECF No. 7-2. 10 Dismiss a week later. 11 her complaint within a month of removal, prior to the start of 12 discovery. 13 (9th Cir. 1990) (“A second factor in determining whether the 14 district court properly denied the motion for leave to amend is 15 whether appellants unduly delayed in filing their motion.” 16 (emphasis added)); AmerisourceBergen Corp. v. Dialysist W., Inc., 17 465 F.3d 946, 953 (9th Cir. 2006) (denying leave to amend twelve 18 months into litigation); Kaplan v. Rose, 49 F.3d 1363, 1370 (9th 19 Cir. 1994) (denying leave to amend two months before trial after 20 completion of “voluminous and protracted discovery”). 21 See ECF Nos. 2, 7. Hodges moved to amend See Jackson v. Bank of Hawaii, 902 F.2d 1385, 1388 In Shape has not cited any cases where conduct like Hodges’s 22 counsel’s has qualified as bad faith, resulting in denial of 23 leave to amend. While Hodges’s counsel’s “mistake” explanation 24 2 25 26 27 28 Were Hodges to be denied relief based on her counsel’s errors, she would not be entirely without a remedy. Her remedy would, instead, lie in a claim against her counsel for malpractice. Cf. Latshaw v. Trainer Wortham & Co., 452 F.3d 1097, 1101 (9th Cir. 2006) (noting, in the context of Rule 60(b)(1), that “an innocent, albeit careless or negligent, attorney mistake” is “more appropriately addressed through malpractice claims.”). 8 1 is not credible, this conduct does not rise to the level of bad 2 faith. 3 it would suffer undue prejudice from amendment. 4 708 F.3d at 1117 (noting that “[c]ourts may decline to grant 5 leave to amend only if there is strong evidence” of the Foman 6 factors); Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 7 1052 (9th Cir. 2003) (“[T]he consideration of prejudice to the 8 opposing party carries the greatest weight.”). 9 15(a) instructs courts to “liberally” grant amendment, the Court Further, In Shape has not provided strong evidence that See Sonoma Cty., Because Rule 10 finds that allowing Hodges to amend her pleading for the first 11 time is in the interest of justice. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a); 12 Eminence, 316 F.3d at 1051 (directing that leave to amend shall 13 be given “with extreme liberality.”) 14 Hodges is granted leave to amend her complaint to add state 15 law FEHA claims. 16 Proposed Am. Compl., ECF No. 9-3, includes a caption that 17 improperly identifies the San Joaquin County Superior Court, 18 instead of the present court, the Court will grant Hodges ten 19 (10) days in which to file a first amended complaint that 20 includes her state law claims. 21 3. Because her current proposed amended complaint, The Court Takes Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand Under Submission 22 23 Hodges’s counsel argues that amending the complaint to 24 substitute state law claims for federal claims revokes the basis 25 for removal. 26 above, jurisdiction is based on the pleadings at the time of 27 removal, not after post-removal amendment. 28 F.3d at 1213. ECF No 9, p. 5. This is incorrect. As referenced Sparta Surgical, 159 The Court will retain jurisdiction over Hodges’s 9 1 state law claims unless it chooses to dismiss or remand them. 2 Because Hodges has not yet filed a proper amended 3 complaint, the Court takes her Motion to Remand under 4 submission. 5 Motion to Dismiss, Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 7, will be vacated as 6 moot. 7 amended complaint within twenty (20) days after filing, or 8 alternatively, the parties may stipulate to dismissal of the two 9 federal claims with prejudice and stipulate to remand the state 10 11 Once Hodges files her amended complaint, In Shape’s In Shape may either file a responsive pleading to the law claims. If In Shape elects to file a motion to dismiss the federal 12 claims, which will likely be granted, the Court will in all 13 likelihood refuse to assume supplemental jurisdiction over the 14 remaining state law claims and remand the case to state court. 15 The parties can, of course, expedite this inevitable outcome by 16 stipulation. 17 18 19 III. ORDER For the reasons set forth above, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff 20 leave to amend her complaint to include state law FEHA claims. 21 Plaintiff is to file an amended complaint within ten (10) days of 22 this order’s filing. 23 the parties may file a stipulation within twenty (20) days of the 24 amended complaint’s filing consistent with the Court’s 25 recommendation. 26 /// 27 /// 28 Defendant may file a responsive pleading or /// 10 1 2 The Court takes Plaintiff’s motion to remand under submission. 3 IT IS SO ORDERED. 4 Dated: October 2, 2017 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 11

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?