Graves v. IBT Local 572, Case No. CV 11-5173 PSG (FMOx)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
Writing for the CourtPhilip S. Gutierrez
Docket NumberCase No. CV 11-5173 PSG (FMOx)
PartiesMichael Ben Graves v. IBT Local 572, et al.
Decision Date17 August 2011

Michael Ben Graves
v.
IBT Local 572, et al.

Case No. CV 11-5173 PSG (FMOx)

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

Date August 17, 2011


CIVIL MINUTES - GENERAL

Present: The Honorable Philip S. Gutierrez, United States District Judge

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                ¦Wendy K. Hernandez ¦Not Present ¦n/a ¦
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                ¦Deputy Clerk ¦Court Reporter ¦Tape No. ¦
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                ¦Attorneys Present for Plaintiff(s):¦Attorneys Present for Defendant(s):¦
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Proceedings: (In Chambers) Order DENYING Plaintiff's motions for remand; GRANTING Defendants' motions to dismiss

Before the Court are remand motions filed by Plaintiff Michael Ben Graves ("Plaintiff"), as well as motions to dismiss filed separately by Defendants IBT Local 572, Rick Middleton, Traci Smith, and Lourdes Garcia ("Union Defendants") and Defendant Atlantic Express, Inc. ("Atlantic Express"). The Court finds these matters appropriate for resolution without oral argument. See Fed R. Civ. P. 78; Local R. 7-15. After considering the moving and opposing papers, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's motions and GRANTS Defendants' motions.

I. Background

On May 16, 2011, pro se plaintiff Michael Ben Graves ("Plaintiff") initiated this action against Defendants International Brotherhood of Teamsters ("IBT") Local 572 ("Union"), Atlantic Express, Inc. ("Atlantic Express"), and their agents Rick Middleton, Traci Smith, and Lourdes Garcia (collectively, "Defendants") asserting state-law claims for breach of contract and conversion. Plaintiff was formerly employed as a bus driver by Atlantic Express, Compl., Ex. 3- 1. At all relevant times, Plaintiff was a member of the Union and his position was covered by a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between the Union and Atlantic Express. See Michael Ben Graves v. Atlantic Express, et al., CV 07-6002, Dkt. # 101 (Mar. 20, 2008). Plaintiff alleges that on March 8, 2007, Plaintiff and the Union settled a grievance with Atlantic Express whereby

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the Union agreed to withdraw grievances filed by Plaintiff in exchange for payment of $10,000.00 by Atlantic to Plaintiff ("Settlement Agreement"). Compl., Ex. 5.1

Plaintiff alleges that the Settlement Agreement was breached on May 24, 2007, by Defendants' purported failure to pay him $10,000.00. Compl. at 1. Although Plaintiff appends to the Complaint a copy of a check issued by Atlantic Express to Plaintiff in April 2007, Compl., Ex. 4, he nonetheless asserts that he never received the money.2 Id. Rather, according to the Complaint, on April 13, 2011 and May 9, 2011, Plaintiff demanded payment of this sum, but Defendants allegedly refused to pay him. Id. at 2.

On June 21, 2011, Defendants removed this case to federal court. See Dkt. # 1 (June 21, 2011). The Union Defendants and Atlantic Express both subsequently moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state claims. See Dkt. #10 (June 24, 2011); Dkt. # 14 (June 26, 2011). Plaintiff, in response, submitted a number of filings objecting to Defendants' removal. 3

II. Plaintiff's Motions to Remand to State Court

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The Court will first address the filings submitted by Plaintiff in an effort to remand this matter to state court.4

A. Legal Standard

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am, 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S. Ct. 1673, 128 L. Ed. 2d 391 (1994). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441, a defendant may remove a civil action from state court to federal district court only if the federal court has subject matter jurisdiction over the case. See Abrego Abrego v. Dow Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 679-80 (9th Cir. 2006). If at any time before final judgment it appears a removing court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded to state court. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). There is a strong presumption against removal jurisdiction, and the party seeking removal always has the burden of establishing that removal is proper. See Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992); Mattel, Inc. v. Bryant, 441 F. Supp.2d 1081, 1089 (C.D. Cal. 2005). Federal subject matter jurisdiction is satisfied through removal if the case could have originally been filed in federal court, that is, if a federal question exists or there is both diversity of citizenship and a sufficient amount in controversy. City of Chicago v. Int'l College of Surgeons, 522 U.S. 156, 118 S. Ct. 523, 139 L. Ed. 2d 525 (1997).

"The presence or absence of federal-question jurisdiction that will support removal is governed by the 'well-pleaded complaint rule,' under which federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the properly pleaded complaint." Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 96 L. Ed. 2d 318 (1987). As the Supreme Court has explained:

[o]rdinarily, a case may not be removed on the basis of a federal defense, including the defense of preemption, even if the defense is anticipated in the complaint, and even if both parties concede that the federal defense is the only question truly at issue. However, under the "complete pre-emption doctrine," which is a corollary to the well-pleaded complaint

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rule, once an area of state law has been completely preempted, any claim purportedly based on that preempted state law is considered, from its inception, a federal claim, and therefore arises under federal law.

Id. at 393; see also Rains v. Criterion Sys., Inc., 80 F.3d 339, 344 (9th Cir. 1996).

Under the complete preemption doctrine, the force of certain federal statutes is considered to be so "extraordinary" that it "converts an ordinary state common law complaint into one stating a federal claim for purposes of the well-pleaded complaint rule." Avalos v. Foster Poultry Farms, Inc., Case No. CV 11-00611 LJO, ---F. Supp. 2d --- 2011 WL 2621422, at *2 (E.D. Cal. 2011) (quoting Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 65, 107 S.Ct. 1542, 95 L.Ed.2d 55 (1987)); cf. Webb v. Directors Guild of America, Inc., No. CV 05-08257 MMM, 2007 WL 5022165, at *3 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 12, 2007) (noting that the complete preemption doctrine is "narrowly construed"). The Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA") is among the few statutes identified by the Supreme Court as having complete preemptive force. Id.; see also Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 23, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 2854, 77 L.Ed.2d 420 (1983) ("The preemptive force of § 301 is so powerful as to displace entirely any state cause of action 'for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization.' Any such suit is purely a creature of federal law, notwithstanding the fact that state law would provide a cause of action in the absence of § 301").

B. Discussion

In Plaintiff's first set of remand-related filings, he argues that federal jurisdiction is improper because there is no diversity of citizenship and the amount in controversy does not exceed $75,000.00. Se...

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