Walters v. Dollar Tree Distribution, Inc. et al

Filing 27

ORDER signed by District Judge John A. Mendez on 05/06/22 DENYING 9 Motion to Remand. (Benson, A.)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 KISHA WALTERS, an individual, 12 No. 2:21-cv-02299-JAM-JDP Plaintiff, 13 v. 14 DOLLAR TREE DISTRIBUTION, INC., and DOES 1 through 10, inclusive, 15 16 ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO REMAND Defendants. 17 This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Kisha Walters’ 18 19 (“Plaintiff”) motion to remand for lack of subject matter 20 jurisdiction. 21 Dollar Tree Distribution, Inc. (“Defendant”) opposes the motion. 22 See Opp’n, ECF No. 16. 23 No. 22. 24 Plaintiff’s motion to remand.1 25 /// See Mot. to Remand (“Mot.”), ECF No. 9. Plaintiff replied. Defendant See Reply, ECF For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES 26 27 28 This motion was determined to be suitable for decision without oral argument. E.D. Cal. L.R. 230(g). The hearing was scheduled for March 15, 2022. 1 1 1 2 I. BACKGROUND Plaintiff filed her complaint in the San Joaquin County 3 Superior Court on December 15, 2020. 4 (“Compl.”), ECF No. 1. 5 Court on December 13, 2021. 6 Defendant’s Notice of Removal asserts that this Court has subject 7 matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s complaint pursuant to 8 diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). 9 Plaintiff asserts that removal was improper and seeks remand on 10 the grounds that Defendant has not met the jurisdictional amount 11 in controversy requirement. 12 Ex. A to Notice of Removal Defendant then removed the action to this Notice of Removal at 1, ECF No. 1. Id. at 3. Mot. at 2. Plaintiff was formerly employed by Defendant as an 13 operations manager in Defendant’s Stockton distribution center in 14 the State of California. 15 causes of action under the California Fair Employment & Housing 16 Act (“FEHA”): (1) Discrimination under Section 12940(a); 17 (2) Harassment under Section 12940(j); (3) Retaliation under 18 Sections 12940(h) and (m)(2); and (4) Failure to Prevent 19 Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation under Section 20 12940(k). 21 special, and general damages,” “punitive and/or exemplary 22 damages,” and “statutory attorneys’ fees and costs.” 23 24 See Compl. Compl. ¶ 9. Plaintiff alleges four Plaintiff seeks relief for “compensatory, II. Id. OPINION Federal district courts have subject matter jurisdiction 25 over civil actions between parties with diverse citizenship 26 where “the amount in controversy exceeds the sum of or value of 27 $75,000, exclusive of interests and costs.” 28 § 1332(a). 28 U.S.C. Such an action may be removed to federal court under 2 1 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). 2 and the Court must reject federal jurisdiction if there is any 3 doubt as to whether removal was proper. 4 F.3d 1480, 1485 (9th Cir. 1996). 5 The removal statute is strictly construed, Duncan v. Stuetzle, 76 The parties do not dispute that the diversity requirement 6 is met. They only dispute whether the amount in controversy 7 exceeds $75,000. 8 she pleads entitlement to less than $75,000 in damages. 9 2. 10 Plaintiff argues that remand is proper because Mot. at Defendant opposes remand arguing that the amount in controversy is greater than $75,000. Opp’n at 11. 11 A. Legal Standard 12 When the jurisdiction of the Court is challenged, as it is 13 here, the party invoking federal jurisdiction has the burden of 14 proving by a preponderance of the evidence that removal is 15 proper. 16 F.3d 1102, 1106-07 (9th Cir. 2010). 17 evidence outside the complaint including affidavits, 18 declarations, or “summary-judgment-type evidence relevant to the 19 amount in controversy at the time of removal.” 20 Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 116 F.3d 373, 377 (9th Cir. 1997) (internal 21 citation omitted). 22 findings of jurisdictional fact to which the preponderance 23 standard applies.” 24 citation omitted). Geographic Expeditions, Inc. v. Estate of Lhotka, 599 The parties may submit Singer v. State The district court “must [then] make Dart Cherokee, 574 U.S. at 89 (internal 25 “[I]n assessing the amount in controversy, a court must 26 assume that the allegations of the complaint are true and assume 27 that a jury will return a verdict for the plaintiff on all 28 claims made in the complaint.” Campbell v. Vitran Exp., Inc., 3 1 471 Fed.Appx 646, 648 (9th Cir. 2012) (internal citation 2 omitted). 3 the maximum recovery the plaintiff could reasonably recover.” 4 Arias v. Residence Inn by Marriott, 936 F.3d 920, 927 (9th Cir. 5 2019) (citing Chavez v. JPMorgan Chase & Co., 888 F.3d 413, 417 6 (9th Cir. 2018)). “In that sense, the amount in controversy reflects 7 B. Analysis 8 Plaintiff’s complaint does not allege a specific amount of 9 damages but does allege, generally and without limitation, that 10 she seeks compensatory, special, and general damages; punitive 11 and/or exemplary damages; and statutory attorney’s fees and 12 costs. 13 plaintiff may recover any economic damages that are generally 14 available in non-contractual actions, including lost benefits 15 and wages. 16 4th 1026, 1042 (2003). 17 seek lost wages in her complaint, lost wages are subsumed in her 18 plea for “compensatory, special, and general damages” absent an 19 assertion to the contrary. 20 Opp’n at 5; see also Compl. In a FEHA action, a State Dep’t of Health Servs. v. Super. Ct., 31 Cal. Although Plaintiff does not specifically See Compl. Jurisdictional facts are assessed on the basis of a 21 plaintiff's complaint at the time of removal. 28 U.S.C. § 1441. 22 Further, the weight of authority in this Circuit limits the 23 amount of lost wages considered in the amount in controversy to 24 those accrued at the time of removal. 25 Stores, Inc., No. SA CV 18-0518-DOC, 2018 WL 3104630, at *4 26 (C.D. Cal. Jun. 21, 2018). 27 wages from the time of Plaintiff’s termination through the time 28 of removal. See Daley v. Walmart The Court therefore calculates lost 4 1 Plaintiff alleges she was wrongfully terminated on December 2 11, 2019. 3 December 13, 2021. 4 elapsed between Plaintiff’s wrongful termination and Defendant’s 5 Notice of Removal, the Court will calculate her lost wages as 6 twice her annual salary. 7 Compl. ¶ 31. Defendant removed this action on See Notice of Removal. Since two years have Defendant asserts that Plaintiff made $81,120 annually at 8 the time of her termination. 9 ECF No. 1-2. Decl. of Cynthia Cunningham ¶ 5, Plaintiff does not dispute this estimate in her 10 moving papers. 11 estimate of Plaintiff’s annual salary, Plaintiff’s lost wages 12 for two years is $162,240 (2 x $81,120), exceeding the required 13 jurisdictional amount. 14 See Mot.; see Reply. Accepting Defendant’s Plaintiff objects to the inclusion of lost wages in 15 Defendant’s amount in controversy calculation for two reasons. 16 Mot. at 3. 17 presented “no evidence . . . that Plaintiff is seeking to 18 recover ‘lost wages,’” and therefore Defendant’s calculations 19 are “purely conclusory and speculative.” 20 Plaintiff contends that, even if lost wages were included, the 21 amount would be mitigated to the extent that Plaintiff has 22 secured subsequent employment. 23 unavailing. First, Plaintiff contends that Defendant has Id. at 4. Mot. at 3-4. Second, Both arguments are 24 First, the Court disagrees with the argument that the 25 Defendant may not include lost wages in its calculations merely 26 because Plaintiff refuses to affirm or deny her claim to said 27 wages. 28 recovery the plaintiff could reasonably recover.” “[T]he amount in controversy reflects the maximum 5 Arias, 936 1 F.3d at 927 (emphasis added). 2 recovery for “compensatory, special, and general damages.” 3 Compl. 4 wages, Defendant is justified in including lost wages in its 5 amount-in-controversy calculations, because it is an available 6 remedy for FEHA violations. 7 Plaintiff has broadly pled See Absent an admission that Plaintiff will not seek lost Second, as Defendant points out, the amount in controversy 8 requirement looks to the value of Plaintiff’s claims if she were 9 to succeed. Opp’n at 7. Any mitigation would go to the 10 question of what Defendant actually owes rather than what is 11 presently at controversy. 12 consider mitigation when assessing the amount in controversy, 13 because “mitigation of damages is an affirmative defense, and a 14 ‘potential defense does not reduce the amount in controversy for 15 purposes of establishing federal jurisdiction.’” 16 Compass Grp. USA, Inc., 2019 WL 3493991, at *4 (C.D. Cal. 17 Jul. 31, 2019) (quoting Perez v. Alta-Dena Certified Dairy, LLC, 18 647 F. App’x 682, 684 (9th Cir. 2016)). 19 It is inappropriate for the Court to Jackson v. Accordingly, in the absence of conflicting evidence, 20 Defendant has proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the 21 jurisdictional amount in controversy has been met based on 22 Plaintiff’s lost wages ($162, 240). 23 the parties’ remaining arguments about Plaintiff’s other 24 recoverable damages for emotional distress, future attorneys’ 25 fees, or punitive damages. 26 27 28 III. The Court need not reach ORDER For the reasons above, the Court finds that Defendant has established by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in 6 1 controversy exceeds $75,000 exclusive of interest and costs. 2 the parties do not dispute diversity of citizenship, the Court 3 has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). 4 Accordingly, the Court DENIES Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand. 5 6 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: May 6, 2022 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 7 As

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