Thomas v. Wells Fargo & Company et al
ORDER of Remand. The Defendants failed to meet their heavy burden to show fraudulent joinder. Since the parties aren't completely diverse, the Court lacks jurisdiction. The case is remanded to the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego, Central Division. Signed by Judge Larry Alan Burns on 8/3/2017. (Certified Copy sent to State Court)(lrf)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
CASE NO. 17cv900-LAB (BLM)
ORDER OF REMAND
WELLS FARGO & COMPANY, WELLS
FARGO BANK, NATION,
When a defendant removes a case from state court, and “it appears that the district
court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447. Wells
Fargo & Company (California citizen) and Wells Fargo Bank N.A. (South Dakota citizen)
removed this case after Robert Thomas (California citizen) sued for employment retaliation
under California law. Defendants argue diversity jurisdiction exists because Thomas
fraudulently sued Wells Fargo & Company. The Court disagrees.
Under the fraudulent joinder doctrine, courts ignore a defendant’s citizenship only
when the defendant meets its “heavy burden” to show it’s “obvious” the plaintiff has failed
“to state a cause of action against a resident defendant” “according to the settled rules of
the state.” Weeping Hollow Ave. Tr. v. Spencer, 831 F.3d 1110, 1113 (9th Cir. 2016)
(remanding because Wells Fargo N.A. failed to show fraudulent joinder). Defendants argue
that Thomas doesn’t have any claims against Wells Fargo & Company because he wasn’t
their employee. But Thomas says whether Wells Fargo & Company counts as his employer
is a key factual issue that’s not appropriate to resolve at this stage. And he points out that
several of his causes of action contemplate the possibility of employees suing multiple
employers. Thomas may not be right that Wells Fargo & Company can count as his
employer; but it’s not “obvious” that he’s wrong. Id. 1
Other important standards support this conclusion. First, Thomas is “the master of
the complaint”—if he wants to avoid federal court by suing certain defendants for certain
causes of action, he’s on firm ground. See, e.g., Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386,
392 (1987). Second, there’s a strong presumption against removal jurisdiction, and any
doubts are resolved in favor of remand. Hunter v. Philip Morris USA, 582 F.3d 1039, 1042
(9th Cir. 2009) (remanding because defendants failed to overcome presumption against
removal based on fraudulent joinder). And third, since the only underlying claims turn on
California law, “decisions of state law should be avoided both as a matter of comity and to
promote justice between the parties, by procuring for them a surer-footed reading of
applicable law.” United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726 (1966).
The Defendants failed to meet their heavy burden to show fraudulent joinder. Since
the parties aren’t completely diverse, the Court lacks jurisdiction. The case is remanded to
the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego, Central Division. 2
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: August 3, 2017
HONORABLE LARRY ALAN BURNS
United States District Judge
Defendants maintain that two cases counsel in favor of denying remand: Vasquez v. Wells
Fargo Bank, Nat'l Ass'n, 77 F. Supp. 3d 911 (N.D. Cal. 2015) and Campidoglio LLC v. Wells
Fargo & Co., 2012 WL 5844693 (W.D. Wash. 2012). Neither case is on point. Vasquez
turned on 28 U.S.C. §1447(e) and Campidoglio was at the summary judgment stage. Those
standards aren’t in play here. Instead, the test is whether defendants met their heavy burden
of showing it’s obvious under California law that Thomas can’t state a claim.
The Court declines to award Thomas fees since Wells Fargo had a reasonable basis for
its argument and there’s nothing unusual about this case. Martin v. Franklin Capital Corp.,
546 U.S. 132, 136, (2005) (“absent unusual circumstances, attorney's fees should not be
awarded when the removing party has an objectively reasonable basis for removal”).
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