Moore v. Dnata U.S. Inflight Catering LLC, 20-cv-08028-JD

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
PartiesCHRISTIAN L. MOORE, Plaintiff, v. DNATA U.S. INFLIGHT CATERING LLC, et al., Defendants.
Docket Number20-cv-08028-JD
Decision Date19 July 2021



No. 20-cv-08028-JD

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 19, 2021



Plaintiff Moore, on behalf of himself and a putative class of current and former employees, sued defendant Dnata U.S. Inflight Catering LLC for a variety of wage and hour claims under California state law. Dkt. No. 1, Ex. A. The complaint was originally filed in the San Francisco Superior Court, and was removed by dnata[1] under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA), 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d), and alternatively on federal question subject matter jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1441(a). A federal question is said to arise from the complete preemption of the state law employment claims by Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), and the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151 et seq. Dkt. No. 1.

Moore has asked to remand the case. Dkt. No. 13. For CAFA, Moore says that dnata has not reasonably demonstrated that the amount in controversy meets the statutory threshold of $5 million. Id. at 16. For the federal question theory, he says that the complaint alleges purely state law claims that do not require an interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and so the claims are not preempted or removable. Id. at 11.

The parties' familiarity with the record is assumed. dnata has not plausibly demonstrated a reasonable possibility that the amount in controversy satisfies the CAFA threshold. With respect to the alternative theory of a federal question, removal was done improvidently and without subject matter jurisdiction, and the case is remanded to the Superior Court under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1447(c) and (d).



The Court has detailed the standards for CAFA removal in a recent case, and incorporates that discussion here. See Anderson v. Starbucks Corp., No. 3:20-cv-01178-JD, 2020 WL 7779015, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 31, 2020) (and cases cited therein). Moore does not contest the minimum diversity of citizenship required under CAFA, nor does he contend that the putative class is less than 100 individuals. The complaint alleged a class of “over seventy-five (75) Class Members, ” Dkt. No. 1, Ex. A ¶ 23, and dnata filed a declaration stating that its payroll records indicated that it employed “at least” 426 non-exempt workers who fit the putative class definition in the pertinent time period, Bhojwani Decl., Dkt. No. 14-1 ¶ 6, a headcount that Moore does not seriously question. The only disputed issue is whether dnata plausibly demonstrated that the amount in controversy exceeds the $5 million statutory threshold for CAFA jurisdiction.

It did not. To start, there is no presumption against removal when CAFA jurisdiction is at stake, as Moore seems to suggest. Dkt. No. 13 at 10; see Anderson, 2020 WL 7779015, at *2 (under CAFA, “‘no antiremoval presumption applies.'”) (quoting Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens, 574 U.S. 81, 89 (2014)). To the contrary, Congress intended CAFA to be interpreted expansively in favor of removal. Id. (citing Arias v. Residence Inn by Marriott, 936 F.2d 920, 924 (9th Cir. 2019)).

To establish the amount in controversy required for CAFA jurisdiction, a defendant need only “‘plausibly show that it is reasonably possible that the potential liability exceeds $5 million.'” Anderson, 2020 WL 7779015, at *3 (quoting Greene v. Harley-Davidson, Inc., 965 F.3d 767, 772 (9th Cir. 2020)). A defendant need not prove the jurisdictional amount with certainty, or make out the plaintiff's case for her. Id. (citing Harris v. KM Indus., Inc., 980 F.3d 694, 701 (9th Cir. 2020)). Nor does the Court need to perform a detailed mathematical analysis to determine whether a defendant's showing is adequate. Id. “Rather, ‘a defendant may rely on reasonable assumptions to prove that it has met the statutory threshold,' and on a ‘chain of reasoning that includes assumptions' based on reasonable grounds.” Id. at *3 (quoting Harris, 980 F.3d at 701, and Ibarra v. Manheim Invs., Inc., 775 F.3d 1193, 1199 (9th Cir. 2015)). Reasonable grounds may be established on the basis of the complaint and extrinsic evidence. Id. “‘[P]rospective attorney's fees must be included in the assessment of the amount in controversy.'” Id. (quoting Arias, 936 F.3d at 922).

A plaintiff need not introduce extrinsic evidence to contest the defendant's estimates. A plaintiff may rely entirely on “‘a reasoned argument as to why any assumptions on which [defendant's numbers] are based are not supported by evidence.'” Id. at *2. (quoting Harris, 980 F.3d at 700). That is what Moore has done here. He disputes dnata's reasoning, without introducing new evidence of his own.

Although the complaint alleges a variety of claims, dnata elected to estimate the CAFA jurisdictional amount based on waiting time penalties, wage statement penalties, and meal and rest break claims. See Dkt. No. 1 at 8-9; Dkt. No. 14 at 5-9. It also factors in an estimated 25% recovery for attorney's fees. Dkt. No. 1 at 10; Dkt. No. 14 at 10.

The problem that pervades dnata's estimate for the amount in controversy is that it assumes unreasonably high rates of violations. For example, dnata posits a 100% violation rate for each putative class member for the waiting time penalties. See Dkt. No. 14 at 8 (“it is reasonable for dnata to assume that each of the 426 nonexempt employees who were terminated [during the class period] are entitled to waiting time penalties.”). It also assumes a 100% violation rate for the wage statement claims. See Id. at 9. These two assumptions are essential to its jurisdictional argument, and together they account for the lion's share of dnata's estimate of the amount in controversy. See id. at 10 (waiting time and wage statement penalties total $3, 275, 722.80).

To be sure, there are circumstances in which a 100% violation rate may be a reasonable proposition for CAFA removal purposes. A defendant may adduce facts that plausibly support such a rate, and the complaint itself may allege facts that make a 100% incident rate a reasonable inference. See Anderson, 2020 WL 7779105 at *4 (complaint alleged mandatory practices applied to all employees).

None of that is present here. dnata did not provide any extrinsic evidence independently validating a 100% violation rate. Its main argument is that the complaint leaves no room for assuming less than 100%, see Dkt. No. 14 at 7-8, but that is rebutted by the plain language of the allegations. Moore consistently alleges that dnata...

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