Bloomquist v. Covance, Inc. et al

Filing 15

ORDER granting Plaintiff's 7 Motion to Remand to State Court. Court finds that the local-controversy exception to the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) applies to this case. Court remands this action to the San Diego Superior Court. Signed by Judge Cynthia Bashant on 5/3/2017 (Certified copy sent to State Court via US Mail Service) (jah)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 11 SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 12 DANIEL L. BLOOMQUIST, an individual on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, 13 14 Case No. 16-cv-2559-BAS (BLM) ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO REMAND Plaintiff, 15 [ECF No. 7] v. 16 COVANCE, INC., et al., 17 Defendants. 18 19 20 On August 3, 2016, Plaintiff Daniel L. Bloomquist commenced this wage-and- 21 hour class action in San Diego Superior Court against Defendants Covance, Inc. 22 (“Covance”), I-Shan Chiang, and Amy Stastny. Covance subsequently removed this 23 action to federal court. Bloomquist now moves to remand this action to state court. 24 (ECF No. 7.) Covance opposes. 25 The Court finds this motion suitable for determination on the papers submitted 26 and without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b); Civ. L.R. 7.1(d)(1). For the 27 following reasons, the Court GRANTS Bloomquist’s motion to remand. 28 // –1– 16cv2559 1 I. BACKGROUND 2 Bloomquist is a citizen of California, and worked for Covance continuously 3 from February 2009 until December 2015. (Compl. ¶ 5.) Covance is a Delaware 4 corporation whose principle place of business is in Princeton, New Jersey, with a 5 regional office in San Diego, California. (Id. ¶ 6.) Chiang and Stastny are citizens of 6 the state of California, and are employed by Covance as the Senior Director of 7 Strategy and Planning, and the Director of Global Clinical Trial Operations, 8 respectively (collectively, “in-state defendants”). (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) Bloomquist brings this 9 class action on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated as current and 10 former employees of Covance holding the title of Clinical Research Associate and/or 11 Senior Clinical Research Associate at any time commencing on the date four years 12 prior to the filing of the complaint and through the date of trial. (Id. ¶ 12.) 13 Covance offers clinical development services in fifty-five different countries, 14 providing services through all stages of pharmaceutical drug development. (Compl. 15 ¶ 21.) Covance is typically hired by pharmaceutical drug companies to assist in 16 administering clinical trials for newly developed and unapproved drug compounds. 17 (Id.) Clinical Research Associates and Senior Clinical Research Associates monitor 18 clinical trials by conducting routine visits to trial sites and reporting the results of 19 those visits to their superiors at Covance. (Id. ¶ 24-25.) Bloomquist alleges that 20 Clinical Research Associates and Senior Clinical Research Associates were 21 improperly classified by Covance as exempt employees ineligible for certain 22 protections of the California Labor Code and Wage Order of the Industrial Welfare 23 Commissions. (Id. ¶ 26.) As a result of this improper classification, Bloomquist 24 alleges that he, and others, were denied overtime pay, meal periods, and rest periods 25 prescribed by law. (Id. ¶ 28-29, 33.) 26 // 27 // 28 // –2– 16cv2559 1 On August 3, 2016, Bloomquist commenced this action against Covance, 2 Chiang, and Stastny in the San Diego Superior Court, asserting causes of action 3 against all defendants for: (1) failure to pay overtime compensation; (2) failure to 4 provide meal periods and rest periods; (3) failure to properly itemize wage 5 statements; (4) failure to pay all wages due owed upon termination; and (5) unlawful 6 and unfair business practices in violation of California’s Business and Professions 7 Code § 17200, et seq.1 (Compl. ¶¶ 34-81.) 8 In the notice of removal, Covance asserts the basis for removal is diversity 9 jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d), the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”). 10 (Removal Notice ¶ 8, ECF No. 1.) Bloomquist now moves to remand based on a 11 CAFA exception known as the “local controversy exception,” which requires federal 12 courts to decline jurisdiction if certain conditions are met in cases that are truly local 13 in nature. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4). Covance opposes. 14 15 II. LEGAL STANDARD 16 “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life 17 Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). “They possess only that power authorized 18 by Constitution or a statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree.” Id. 19 (internal citations omitted). “It is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited 20 jurisdiction and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting 21 jurisdiction.” Id. (internal citations omitted); see also Abrego Abrego v. The Dow 22 Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 684 (9th Cir. 2006). 23 Consistent with the limited jurisdiction of federal courts, the removal statute is 24 strictly construed against removal jurisdiction. Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 25 (9th Cir. 1992); see also Sygenta Crop Prot. v. Henson, 537 U.S. 28, 32 (2002); 26 O’Halloran v. Univ. of Wash., 856 F.2d 1375, 1380 (9th Cir. 1988). “The strong 27 28 1 Bloomquist’s complaint provides headers indicating six causes of action when only five are listed. Omission of the fourth cause of action is an apparent typographical error. –3– 16cv2559 1 presumption against removal jurisdiction means that the defendant always has the 2 burden of establishing that removal is proper.” Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566; see also 3 Nishimoto v. Federman-Bachrach & Assoc., 903 F.2d 709, 712 n.3 (9th Cir. 1990); 4 O’Halloran, 856 F.2d at 1380. “Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any 5 doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance.” Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566. 6 CAFA confers federal jurisdiction over class actions involving: (1) minimal 7 diversity; (2) at least 100 putative class members; and (3) at least $5 million in 8 controversy, inclusive of attorneys’ fees but exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. 9 §§ 1223(d)(2), (5). CAFA maintains the historical rule that places the burden on the 10 removing party to establish a prima facie case of removal jurisdiction. Serrano v. 180 11 Connect, Inc., 478 F.3d 1018, 1020 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Abrego, 443 F.3d at 684- 12 85). However, when a plaintiff moving to remand seeks to rely on a statutory 13 exception to CAFA, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to prove by a preponderance of 14 the evidence that the exception, such as the local-controversy exception, applies to 15 the facts of a given case. Mondragon v. Capital One Auto Finance, 736 F.3d 880, 16 883 (9th Cir. 2013); Coleman v. Estes Express Lines, Inc., 631 F.3d 1010, 1013 (9th 17 Cir. 2011); Serrano, 478 F.3d at 1019, 1022. But the burden of proof placed upon a 18 plaintiff should not be exceptionally difficult to bear, and district courts are permitted 19 to make reasonable inferences from facts in evidence in applying CAFA’s local- 20 controversy exception. Mondragon, 736 F.3d at 886. 21 22 III. DISCUSSION 23 CAFA’s local-controversy exception is intended to identify a controversy that 24 “uniquely affects a particular locality and to ensure that it is decided by a state rather 25 than a federal court.” Bridewell-Sledge v. Blue Cross of Cal., 789 F.3d 923, 928 (9th 26 Cir. 2015) (quoting Evans, 449 F.3d at 1163-64)). CAFA’s language favors federal 27 jurisdiction over class actions, and its legislative history suggests that Congress 28 intended the local-controversy exception to be a narrow one. Benko v. Quality Loan –4– 16cv2559 1 Serv. Corp., 789 F.3d 1111, 1116 (9th Cir. 2015) (citing Evans v. Walter Indus. Inc., 2 449 F.3d 1159, 1163 (11th Cir. 2006)). 3 Under CAFA’s local-controversy exception, a district court must decline to 4 exercise jurisdiction if the following conditions are satisfied: (1) greater than two- 5 thirds of the proposed class members are citizens of the State in which the action was 6 originally filed; (2) at least one defendant is a defendant from whom significant relief 7 is sought by the proposed class members, whose alleged conduct forms a significant 8 basis for the claims asserted by the proposed class members, and who is a citizen of 9 the State in which the action was originally filed; (3) the principal injuries resulting 10 from the alleged conduct or any related conduct of each defendant were incurred in 11 the State in which the action was originally filed; and (4) no similar class action has 12 been filed against any of the defendants in the preceding three years. 28 U.S.C. § 13 1332(d)(4)(A)(i)-(ii). The first, third, and fourth conditions are not disputed by 14 Covance. All that remains is for Bloomquist to establish the significant-defendant 15 requirement to the local-controversy exception. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4)(A)(i)(I)- 16 (II). 17 The local-controversy exception requires that at least one defendant be a 18 citizen of the state where the action was originally filed. 28 U.S.C. § 19 1332(d)(4)(A)(II)(cc). The local defendant must be a defendant “from whom 20 significant relief is sought by members of the plaintiff class” and “whose alleged 21 conduct forms a significant basis for the claims asserted by the proposed plaintiff 22 class.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4)(A)(II)(aa)-(bb). In deciding whether “significant relief 23 is sought” from a defendant who is a citizen of the state in which the suit is filed and 24 whether the defendant’s “alleged conduct forms a significant basis for the claims 25 asserted by the plaintiff class,” the district court may look only to the complaint. 26 Coleman, 631 F.3d at 1015. 27 // 28 // –5– 16cv2559 1 A. Significant Basis for Bloomquist’s Claims 2 In determining whether in-state defendants’ alleged conduct forms a 3 “significant basis” for Bloomquist’s claims, this Court may only look to the 4 allegations in the complaint and may not consider extrinsic evidence for purposes of 5 the local-controversy exception. Coleman, 631 F.3d at 1015. Whether the 6 “significant basis” condition is met requires a “substantive analysis comparing the 7 local defendant’s alleged conduct to the alleged conduct of all the other, non-local 8 defendants.” Benko, 789 F.3d at 1118 (quoting Kaufman v. Allstate New Jersey Ins. 9 Co., 561 F.3d 144, 156 (3d Cir. 2009)). 10 In the complaint, Bloomquist alleges that the in-state defendants engaged in 11 the exact same wage-and-hour violations as Covance, and seeks damages equally 12 from all defendants under California Labor Code § 558.1. Section 558.1(a) provides 13 a right of action against any employer, or “other person acting on behalf of an 14 employer, who violates, or causes to be violated, any provision regulating minimum 15 wages or hours and days of work in any order of the Industrial Welfare Commission, 16 or violates, or causes to be violated, Sections 203, 226, 226.7, 1193.6, 1194, or 2802.” 17 Cal. Lab. Code § 558.1. “Other person” is further defined in § 558.1(b) as “an owner, 18 director, officer, or managing agent of the employer.” Id. (emphasis added). Chiang 19 is a “Senior Director [of] Strategy & Planning,” while Stastny is the “Director of 20 Global Clinical Trial Operations.” (Compl. ¶¶ 7-8.) Both in-state defendants are 21 alleged to have overseen the work of plaintiff and potential class members, and are 22 being sued in their capacity as directors of Covance. (Id.) These allegations 23 sufficiently satisfy the “significant basis” requirement. See 28 U.S.C. § 24 1332(d)(4)(A)(II)(bb). 25 Defendants rely on Christmas v. Union Pacific to argue that a listing of in-state 26 agents or employees is insufficient to establish the local-controversy exception 27 because in-state agents or employees are not the “real target of the action in order to 28 qualify as local defendants under the exception.” (Defs.’ Opp’n 10, ECF No. 12) –6– 16cv2559 1 (quoting Christmas v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., No. CV15-02612-AB-(PLAX), 2015 WL 2 5233983, at *5 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 8, 2015).) However, Christmas is distinguishable 3 from the instant case. In Christmas, the in-state defendants were not considered the 4 real targets of the action because they were only alleged to have “implement[ed] 5 Union Pacific’s policy at the location where [defendant] works.” See Christmas, 2015 6 WL 5233983, at *6. The in-state defendants, as local employees of Union Pacific, 7 were not alleged to have been responsible for the policy itself that led to a violation 8 of California Labor Code, and thus the plaintiff’s argument was “missing the critical 9 nexus between California Defendants' actions and the effects on class members at 10 large.” Id. at *6. 11 Here, the in-state defendants are alleged in the complaint to be more than 12 simply local agents or employees of Covance. Rather, they are directors within the 13 company, and their liability is specifically provided for in California Labor Code § 14 558.1(b). Moreover, the complaint alleges the exact same violations of California 15 Labor Code against all defendants, and this Court need not look further than those 16 allegations since “nothing in CAFA . . . indicates a congressional intention to turn a 17 jurisdictional determination concerning the local defendant’s ‘alleged conduct’ into 18 a mini-trial on the merits of the plaintiff’s claims.” Allen v. Boeing Co., 821 F.3d 19 1111, 1118 (9th Cir. 2016) (quoting Coleman, 631 F.3d at 1017). 20 Therefore, Bloomquist carries his burden with respect to the “significant basis” 21 requirement of the local-controversy exception to CAFA. See 28 U.S.C. § 22 1332(d)(4)(A)(II)(bb). 23 24 B. Significant Relief Sought by Bloomquist 25 Whether Bloomquist seeks “significant relief” from the in-state defendants 26 requires a comparison of the relief sought from the in-state defendants to the relief 27 sought from the other, non-local defendant. Benko, 789 F.3d at 1119. A “defendant 28 from whom significant relief is sought” does not mean a “defendant from whom –7– 16cv2559 1 significant relief may be obtained.” Coleman, 631 F.3d at 1015 (citing Coffey v. 2 Freeport McMoran Copper & Gold, 581 F.3d 1240, 1245 (10th Cir. 2009)). 3 “[N]othing in CAFA’s language indicates Congress intended district courts to wade 4 into the factual swamp of assessing the financial viability of a defendant as part of a 5 preliminary consideration.” Id. In Coleman, the plaintiffs alleged that both the in- 6 state defendant and the out-of-state defendant violated California law and sought 7 damages equally from both. Id. at 1013, 1020. The court found those allegations 8 sufficient to satisfy the “significant relief” requirement from the in-state defendant. 9 Id. at 1020. Additionally, in Benko, the court held that claims for general damages, 10 punitive damages, and equitable relief were sufficient to show that the plaintiffs 11 claimed “significant relief” from the in-state defendant. Benko, 789 F.3d at 1119. 12 Considering the allegations in the complaint, Bloomquist sufficiently alleges 13 that members of the class have suffered harm as a result of the in-state defendants’ 14 violations of the California Labor Code and IWC Wage Order. See Coleman, 631 15 F.3d at 1015. Although Bloomquist did not quantify the alleged damages, he seeks 16 damages from all defendants equally for their alleged wrongful conduct. These 17 damages appear to be the same whether caused by the in-state defendants or Covance. 18 Furthermore, the complaint seeks injunctive relief and restitution against all 19 defendants as well. (Compl., Prayer for Relief ¶¶ 8-9.) 20 Therefore, Bloomquist also carries his burden with respect to the “significant 21 relief” requirement of the local-controversy exception to CAFA. See 28 U.S.C. § 22 1332(d)(4)(A)(II)(aa). 23 24 IV. CONCLUSION & ORDER 25 In light of the foregoing, the Court finds that the local-controversy exception 26 to CAFA applies to this case. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4); see also Benko, 789 F.3d 27 at 1116 (“If the statutory conditions for the application of [CAFA’s] local controversy 28 exception are met, a district court is required to remand the class action back to the –8– 16cv2559 1 originating state court.”). Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Bloomquist’s motion to 2 remand (ECF No. 7), and REMANDS this action to the San Diego Superior Court. 3 IT IS SO ORDERED. 4 5 DATED: May 3, 2017 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 –9– 16cv2559

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