-GSA Chambers v. Penske Truck Leasing Co., L.P., No. 1:2011cv00381 - Document 18 (E.D. Cal. 2011)

Court Description: FINDINGS and RECOMMENDATIONS Regarding Plaintiff's 10 MOTION for REMAND to State Court signed by Magistrate Judge Gary S. Austin on 4/15/2011. Referred to Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill. Objections to F&R due by 5/2/2011. (Bradley, A)
Download PDF
-GSA Chambers v. Penske Truck Leasing Co., L.P. Doc. 18 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 ROBIN CHAMBERS, 11 12 13 14 15 16 ) ) Plaintiff, ) ) v. ) ) PENSKE TRUCK LEASING ) CORPORATION, a corporation; and DOES 1 ) through 60 inclusive, ) ) Defendants. ) _____________________________________ ) 1:11-cv-00381 LJO GSA FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR REMAND TO STATE COURT (Documents 11 & 12) 17 18 19 RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND According to Plaintiff Robin Chambers, she was employed by Defendant Penske Truck 20 Leasing Corporation from September 3, 2008, until her discharge on November 12, 2010. (Doc. 21 1, Ex. A, ¶¶ 8 & 14.) Plaintiff was hired as a Manager Trainee/Rental Representative, and prior 22 to her termination had received at least two salary increases during the course of her 23 employment, based upon excellent job performance. (Doc. 1, Ex. A, ¶ 8.) On November 7, 24 2010, Plaintiff contacted Defendant’s branch rental manager, her direct supervisor, and advised 25 him that she was suffering from severe swelling and pain in her feet and ankles. The branch 26 manager permitted Plaintiff to take the following Monday off so that she could obtain medical 27 28 1 Dockets.Justia.com 1 treatment. (Doc. 1, Ex. A, ¶ 9.) After seeking medical treatment from her primary care provider 2 and a specialist, Plaintiff returned to work on November 11, 2010. (Doc. 1, Ex. A, ¶¶ 10-13.) 3 The orthopedist with whom Plaintiff consulted referred her to physical therapy and provided a 4 note for her employer wherein it was stated that “when she did return to work [] she needed to be 5 allowed to come in late or leave early to attend physical therapy.” (Doc. 1, Ex. A, ¶ 11.) 6 On November 12, 2010, Plaintiff arrived early and worked a regular shift. Later that day, 7 Plaintiff was advised by the branch manager that she was terminated for “being late to work” and 8 because, despite a legitimate medical need, Plaintiff’s absence from the workplace constituted a 9 violation of a final written warning. (Doc. 1, Ex. A, ¶ 14.) 10 Thereafter, in December 2010, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant with the 11 Department of Fair Employment and Housing. (Doc. 1, Ex. A, ¶ 15.) On or about January 20, 12 2011, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant in the Stanislaus County Superior Court. 13 Plaintiff alleged disability discrimination, failure to accommodate a disability, failure to engage 14 in the interactive process, denial of medical leave, and retaliation and failure to prevent 15 discrimination and retaliation pursuant to California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. (See 16 Doc. 1 at 2 & Ex. A.) 17 18 19 On March 3, 2011, Defendant filed its answer to the complaint (see Doc. 1, Ex. B), and on March 4, 2011, Defendant filed a Notice of Removal in this Court (Doc. 1). On March 9, 2011, Plaintiff filed the instant motion. (Docs. 10-12.) On April 1, 2011, 20 Defendant filed an opposition to the instant motion (Doc. 14) and on April 6, 2011, Plaintiff filed 21 her reply (Doc. 15). 22 On April 11, 2011, this Court determined the matter was suitable for decision without 23 oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 230(g).1 The hearing scheduled for April 15, 2011, was 24 vacated and the matter was deemed submitted for written findings. (Doc. 17.) 25 26 1 27 The Court carefully reviewed and considered all of the pleadings, including arguments, points and authorities, declarations, and exhibits. Any omission of a reference to an argument or pleading is not to be construed that this Court did not consider the argument or pleading. 28 2 1 2 LEGAL STANDARD Title 28 of the United States Code section 1441(a) provides that a defendant may remove 3 “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts . . . have original jurisdiction 4 . . ..” Removal is proper when a case originally filed in state court presents a federal question or 5 where there is diversity of citizenship among the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds 6 $75,000. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332(a). 7 Section 1447(c) provides that “[i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the 8 district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.” “The removal statute 9 is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction [and] [t]he defendant bears the burden of 10 establishing that removal is proper.” Provincial Gov’t of Marinduque v. Placer Dome, Inc., 582 11 F.3d 1083 (9th Cir. 2009). The Ninth Circuit has held that “[w]here doubt regarding the right to 12 removal exists, a case should be remanded to state court.” Matheson v. Progressive Specialty 13 Ins. Co., 319 F.3d 1089, 1090 (9th Cir. 2003). 14 A motion to remand is the proper procedure for challenging removal. Babasa v. 15 LensCrafters, Inc., 498 F.3d 972, 974 (9th Cir. 2007). When reviewing a motion to remand, a 16 district court must analyze jurisdiction “on the basis of the pleadings filed at the time of removal 17 without reference to subsequent amendments.” Sparta Surgical Corp. v. Nat'l Ass'n of Sec. 18 Dealers, Inc., 159 F.3d 1209, 1213 (9th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). If a defendant has 19 improperly removed a case over which the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the 20 district court shall remand the case to the state court. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c); see also Durham v. 21 Lockheed Martin Corp., 445 F.3d 1247, 1252 (9th Cir. 2006) (noting that a district court resolves 22 all ambiguity in favor of remand). However, a district court lacks discretion to remand a case to 23 the state court if the case was properly removed. Carpenters S. Cal. Admin. Corp. v. Majestic 24 Hous., 743 F.2d 1341, 1343 (9th Cir. 1984); see also Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 25 343, 356, 108 S.Ct. 614, 98 L.Ed.2d 720 (1988). 26 27 28 3 1 Where the parties in an action are citizens of different states, a district court “shall have 2 original jurisdiction . . . where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, 3 exclusive of interest and costs.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). This amount includes claims for general 4 and special damages (excluding costs and interests), attorneys fees if recoverable by statute or 5 contract, and punitive damages, if recoverable as a matter of law. Conrad Assocs. v. Hartford 6 Accident & Indem. Co., 994 F.Supp. 1196, 1198 (N.D. Cal. 1998). The amount in controversy is 7 “determined at the time the action commences, and a federal court is not divested of jurisdiction 8 . . . if the amount in controversy subsequently drops below the minimum jurisdictional level.” 9 Hill v. Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, 179 F.3d 754, 757 (9th Cir. 1999). 10 Where the complaint does not specify the amount sought as damages, the removing party 11 must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy meets the 12 jurisdictional threshold. Abrego v. The Dow Chemical Co., 443 F.3d 676, 683 (9th Cir. 2006); 13 Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398, 404 (9th Cir. 1996). 14 15 16 DISCUSSION Here, the parties do not dispute diversity of citizenship. Rather, the issue of jurisdiction turns on whether the amount in controversy meets or exceeds the $75,000 minimum requirement. 17 A. 18 Defendant presented evidence in its removal pleadings that, at the time of Plaintiff’s Lost Wages 19 termination, her hourly wage was $16.35, and that she was working an average of forty hours per 20 week, for a total annual wage of approximately $34,000.00. (Doc. 4, ¶ 3.) Defendant asserts it is 21 “reasonable to expect Plaintiff’s damages for lost wages and benefits to exceed $25,000.01 by the 22 time this case goes to trial.” (Doc. 14 at 3-4.) 23 Solely for the purpose of determining whether the monetary jurisdictional limit has been 24 met, the Court calculates that based upon the aforementioned Plaintiff’s lost wages from the date 25 of her termination to the time of removal, that they are at least $10,470.00. Additionally, 26 although this Court declines to project future wage loss until a trial date is set, it is reasonable to 27 28 4 1 anticipate compensatory damages may exceed $10,470. See Simmons v. PCR Technology, 209 2 F.Supp.2d 1029, 1032 (N.D. Cal. 2002). 3 B. 4 Plaintiff’s complaint seeks relief in the form of damages for emotional distress as a result Emotional Distress 5 of Defendant’s conduct. Plaintiff references “great mental, physical, and nervous discomfort, 6 annoyance, distress, anguish, worry [and] anxiety.” (Doc. 1, Ex. A & ¶ 47.) 7 A court may consider that emotional distress damages “are potentially substantial.” 8 Richmond v. Allstate Ins. Co., 897 F.Supp. 447, 450 (S.D. Cal. 1995). Such damages are also 9 properly considered when calculating the amount in controversy if emotional distress damages 10 were not clearly pled. Id., at 450. 11 To the degree Defendant has cited to authority wherein a jury awarded emotional distress 12 damages nearly equal to the damages awarded for the plaintiff’s lost wages, it is not unreasonable 13 to consider that Plaintiff here may likewise be entitled to damages for emotional distress in an 14 amount at least equal to her lost wages. See Simmons v. PCR Technology, 209 F.Supp.2d at 15 1034. 16 C. 17 Plaintiff’s complaint seeks punitive damages for Defendant’s despicable, oppressive, 18 fraudulent, malicious, deliberate, egregious and inexcusable conduct related to her allegedly 19 improper termination. (Doc. 1, Ex. A.) 20 Punitive Damages A court can consider punitive damages in calculating the amount in controversy. See Bell 21 v. Preferred Life Assur. Soc. Of Montgomery Ala., 320 U.S. 238, 240, 64 S.Ct. 5, 88 L.Ed. 15 22 (1943); Simmons v. PCR Technology, 209 F.Supp.2d at 1033 (court may consider punitive 23 damages recoverable under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act when determining 24 the amount in controversy). Where the amount of punitive damages sought is unclear, a 25 defendant may introduce evidence of jury verdicts in cases involving analogous facts. Simmons 26 v. PCR Technology, 209 F.Supp.2d at 1033. 27 28 5 1 Here, Defendant referenced five jury verdicts in its Notice of Removal (see Doc. 1 at 8) 2 and in its Opposition to Plaintiff’s instant motion, Defendant offered an additional four jury 3 verdicts (see Doc. 14 at 8-10). All cases involve sums greater than $75,000. Plaintiff argues, 4 however, that the cases cited by Defendant do not involve analogous facts and are therefore not 5 persuasive. (Doc. 15 at 5-7.) 6 The Court has reviewed the jury verdicts and concludes they are sufficiently analogous. 7 While those facts are not completely similar to the facts in the instant case, they all involve 8 wrongful termination matters following health-related or injury-related absences, requests for 9 reduced hours, or similar accommodation requests by plaintiffs. See Simmons v. PCR 10 Technology, 209 F.Supp.2d at 1033 (“[t]he fact that the cited cases involve distinguishable facts 11 is not dispositive”). These cases therefore do establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that 12 punitive damage awards in employment matters may be substantial. 13 D. 14 Plaintiff’s complaint seeks “statutory attorneys’ fees and costs, including those available” Attorneys’ Fees 15 pursuant to California Government Code section 12965(b)2 and California Code of Civil 16 Procedure section 1021.5. (Doc. 1, Ex. A.) 17 Defendant contends that attorneys fees, including future fees, are recoverable under the 18 California Fair Employment and Housing Act, and thus, such fees can be considered for purposes 19 of the amount in controversy necessary to establish this Court’s jurisdiction. (See Doc. 1 at 8 & 20 Doc. 14 at 12-13.) In her motion, Plaintiff argues future attorneys’ fees are not to be considered. 21 (Doc. 11 at 4 & Doc. 15 at 4-5.) 22 “[W]here an underlying statute authorizes an award of attorneys’ fees, either with 23 mandatory or discretionary language, such fees are to be included in the amount in controversy.” 24 25 26 2 This section provides, in pertinent part: “In actions brought under this section, the court, in its discretion, may award to the prevailing party reasonable attorney's fees and costs . . ..” 27 28 6 1 Galt G/S v. JSS Scandinavia, 142 F.3d 1150, 1156 (9th Cir. 1998). Because attorneys’ fees are 2 recoverable pursuant to the California Government Code, this Court will consider fees arising 3 from time spent on Plaintiff’s claims. 4 As pointed out by Defendant, attorneys fees accrued to date are, at a minimum, the 5 $2,275 sought by Plaintiff for preparation of the instant motion. (Doc. 14 at 12-13; see also Doc. 6 12.) As to future attorneys fees: 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Plaintiff insists that attorneys’ fees are limited to those accrued at time of removal, maintaining that additional fees are too speculative. Plaintiff is mistaken. The Ninth Circuit clearly considers attorneys’ fees when assessing amount in controversy. Such fees necessarily accrue until the action is resolved. Thus, the Ninth Circuit must have anticipated that district courts would project fees beyond removal. The court determines the amount in controversy based on the damages that can reasonably be anticipated at the time of removal. Similarly, the measure of fees should be that amount that can reasonably be anticipated at the time of removal, not merely those already incurred. Simmons v. PCR Technology, 209 F.Supp.2d at 1034-35, internal citation & footnote omitted. Defendant has provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate that this Court can reasonably 14 anticipate thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees. As the Simmons court noted, “in its twenty 15 years’ of experience, attorneys’ fees in individual discrimination cases often exceed the 16 damages.” Simmons v. PCR Technology, 209 F.Supp.2d at 1035. That court also recognized that 17 while very few cases ultimately proceed to trial, a plaintiff’s “claims are unlikely to be 18 immediately resolved. While attorneys’ fees alone would not necessarily exceed $75,000, when 19 viewed in combination . . . the jurisdictional minimum is clearly satisfied.” Id., at 1035. 20 E. 21 In her reply to Defendant’s Opposition, Plaintiff seeks an award of sanctions “because Sanctions 22 Defendant acted without a reasonable basis for removal.” (Doc. 15 at 7.) However, based upon 23 the foregoing discussion, Plaintiff’s request is mooted by the denial of her motion. 24 Conclusion 25 In sum, this Court finds Defendant’s removal was proper. Following Plaintiff’s challenge 26 by way of a motion to remand, this Court further finds that Defendant has met its burden of 27 28 7 1 proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy meets or exceeds the 2 jurisdictional threshold. 3 RECOMMENDATIONS 4 5 For the reasons stated above, this Court recommends that Plaintiff’s Motion for Remand to State Court be DENIED in its entirety. 6 These findings and recommendations are submitted to the district judge assigned to this 7 action, pursuant to Title 28 of the United States Code section 636(b)(1)(B) and this Court’s Local 8 Rule 304. Within fifteen (15) days of service of this recommendation, any party may file written 9 objections to these findings and recommendations with the Court and serve a copy on all parties. 10 Such a document should be captioned “Objections to Magistrate Judge’s Findings and 11 Recommendations.” The district judge will review the magistrate judge’s findings and 12 recommendations pursuant to Title 28 of the United States Code section 636(b)(1)(C). The 13 parties are advised that failure to file objections within the specified time may waive the right to 14 appeal the district judge’s order. Martinez v. Ylst, 951 F.2d 1153 (9th Cir. 1991). 15 16 IT IS SO ORDERED. 17 Dated: 6i0kij April 15, 2011 /s/ Gary S. Austin UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 8