Pena v. Downey Sav. and Loan, Ass'n, No. CV 96-2051 WJR (AJWx).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
Writing for the CourtREA
Citation929 F. Supp. 1308
PartiesAlicia R. PENA, Plaintiff, v. DOWNEY SAVINGS AND LOAN, ASSOCIATION, Chris Alvarez, Carmen Aguilar, and Does 1 through 100, inclusive, Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. CV 96-2051 WJR (AJWx).
Decision Date25 June 1996

929 F. Supp. 1308

Alicia R. PENA, Plaintiff,
v.
DOWNEY SAVINGS AND LOAN, ASSOCIATION, Chris Alvarez, Carmen Aguilar, and Does 1 through 100, inclusive, Defendants.

No. CV 96-2051 WJR (AJWx).

United States District Court, C.D. California.

June 25, 1996.


929 F. Supp. 1309
COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED
929 F. Supp. 1310
Terry R. Menefee, Gillon Lepore Menefee & Baird, Lancaster, CA, for plaintiff Alicia R. Pena

Anthony J. Oncidi, Mylene J. Brooks, Troop Meisinger Stueber & Pasich, L.L.P., Los Angeles, CA, for defendants Downey Savings and Loan Association, F.A. and Carmen Aguilar.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

REA, District Judge.

I.

INTRODUCTION

Defendants have brought a motion to dismiss plaintiff's claims under Federal Rule of

929 F. Supp. 1311
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The matter came on regularly for a hearing before the Court on April 22, 1996. Having considered the motion, the papers filed in support thereof and in opposition thereto, the oral argument of counsel, and the file in the case, the Court now issues the following decision

II.

BACKGROUND

Neither side has submitted a statement of facts in its brief, and the complaint is woefully short of many relevant details. As far as the Court can ascertain, the instant dispute arises out of the circumstances of plaintiff Alicia Pena's ("Pena") employment and termination at defendant Downey Savings and Loan Association's ("Downey") West Lancaster facility in Lancaster, California. Pena was hired by Downey as a customer service representative on May 20, 1993. After approximately two years of employment, Pena was terminated, purportedly for a violation of Downey's policies preventing employees from accepting personal loans from customers. Pena contends that, during discussions with her former branch manager, Chris Alvarez, she adequately refuted the allegations made against her but was fired nonetheless.

Pena claims that her employment relationship with Downey included an implied-in-fact contract to the effect that Pena could continue her employment indefinitely as long as she performed her duties competently, and that Downey would be required to follow certain pre-termination procedures in the event of problems with her job performance. Complaint, ¶ 9. Pena claims that this implied-in-fact contract was evidenced in oral representations, written documents, and performance reviews made by Downey's agents, directors, supervisors, and employees.

Pena asserts that the defendants failed to fulfill their responsibilities by: 1) denying Pena the opportunity to correct perceived deficiencies in her work performance; 2) subjecting Pena to arbitrary, unfair, and dishonest performance evaluations; 3) denying Pena a meaningful opportunity to respond to complaints about her job performance; 4) wrongfully disregarding Pena's concerns about possible discriminatory treatment; 5) failing to prevent the execution of a "pervasive program of harassment" and a hostile work environment meant to result in Pena's termination; 6) denying Pena equal opportunity for advancement and promotion; and 7) wrongfully terminating Pena on May 18, 1995, despite her satisfactory job performance. Id. ¶ 13. Pena, a Mexican-born immigrant to this country, also specifically alleges that certain individual defendants made demeaning references to her national origin, age, and accent, thereby exposing her to embarrassment and humiliation.

On January 18, 1996, Pena filed the instant action in state court. She brought claims for: 1) breach of implied employment contract; 2) age discrimination in violation of California Government Code § 12941, et seq.; 3) national origin discrimination in violation of California Government Code § 12940 et seq.; 4) wrongful termination in violation of public policy and California Government Code § 12940 et seq.; and 5) defamation. On March 22, 1996, Downey removed the action to federal court on federal question grounds, i.e., that Pena's state claim for breach of implied contract is preempted by federal law. One week later, Downey filed the instant Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, which Pena has opposed.

III.

DISCUSSION

A. Removal Jurisdiction

As one ground for her opposition to the motion to dismiss, Pena argues that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action and should therefore exercise its power to remand. Even if Pena had not raised the jurisdictional question, the Court would be required to examine it sua sponte. FW/PBS, Inc. v. City of Dallas, 493 U.S. 215, 229, 110 S.Ct. 596, 607, 107 L.Ed.2d 603 (1990) (stating that "federal courts are under an obligation to examine their own jurisdiction"); Washington Local Lodge No. 104 v. International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, 621 F.2d 1032, 1033 (9th Cir.1980) (stating that "when jurisdiction may not exist ... the court must raise the issue even if the

929 F. Supp. 1312
parties are willing to stipulate to federal jurisdiction"); see also Harris v. Provident Life and Accident Insurance Co., 26 F.3d 930, 933 (9th Cir.1994). If at any time prior to judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case must be remanded. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c)

Federal courts have original jurisdiction over all civil actions that involve "federal questions," i.e., that "arise under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Removal jurisdiction exists only if the suit could have originally been brought in federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 2429, 96 L.Ed.2d 318 (1987). A district court must strictly construe the removal statute against removal jurisdiction, and reject federal jurisdiction if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance. Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir.1992).

B. "Well-Pleaded Complaint" Rule

To determine whether an action "arises under" federal law, federal courts look to the complaint as originally filed. Harris, 26 F.3d at 932. The "well-pleaded complaint" rule dictates that "arising under" jurisdiction exists only where the federal question is apparent on the face of the well-pleaded complaint. See Franchise Tax Board v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 77 L.Ed.2d 420 (1983); Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 152, 29 S.Ct. 42, 43, 53 L.Ed. 126 (1908). A case may not be removed on the basis of a federal defense even if the defense is anticipated in the complaint and both parties concede that it is the only question at issue. Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 392, 107 S.Ct. at 2429; Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 63, 107 S.Ct. 1542, 1546, 95 L.Ed.2d 55 (1987); Whitman v. Raley's Inc., 886 F.2d 1177, 1180 (9th Cir.1989). This is because federal defenses are generally not considered to exist on the face of the well-pleaded complaint and thus the case will not be deemed to "arise under" federal law. See Metropolitan Life, 481 U.S. at 63, 107 S.Ct. at 1546.

1. Preemption Defenses

Preemption of state law by a federal statute or regulation ordinarily constitutes a defense to a state law claim. See Fidelity Federal Savings & Loan Association v. de la Cuesta, 458 U.S. 141, 153-54, 170, 102 S.Ct. 3014, 3022-23, 3031, 73 L.Ed.2d 664 (1982). Under a preemption theory, the defendant may contend, for example, that the preexisting state right of action is rendered nugatory by a conflicting federal statute or regulation, pursuant to the Constitution's Supremacy Clause. See Hunter v. United Van Lines, 746 F.2d 635, 639-40 (9th Cir.1984), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 863, 106 S.Ct. 180, 88 L.Ed.2d 150 (1985); Wright, Law of Federal Courts, § 38, 230 (5th ed.1994). In such a case, the federal authority merely provides a defense to the state claim, and the well-pleaded complaint rule defeats removal. Metropolitan Life, 481 U.S. at 63, 107 S.Ct. at 1546; Franchise Tax Board, 463 U.S. at 13-14, 103 S.Ct. at 2848-49; Felton v. Unisource Corp., 940 F.2d 503, 506-07 (9th Cir. 1991); Westinghouse Electric Corporation v. Newman & Holtzinger, P.C., 992 F.2d 932, 934 (9th Cir.1993); Ramirez v. Fox Television Station, Inc., 998 F.2d 743, 747 (9th Cir.1993); Hunter, 746 F.2d at 639. The action must then be remanded to state court for consideration of the federal preemption defense. Williams v. Caterpillar Tractor Co., 786 F.2d 928, 932 (9th Cir.1986), aff'd 482 U.S. 386, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 96 L.Ed.2d 318 (1987) (citing Franchise Tax Board, 463 U.S. at 3-4, 12, 103 S.Ct. at 2843-44, 2847-48); accord Michigan Savings & Loan League v. Francis, 683 F.2d 957, 960-62 (6th Cir.1982); Madsen v. Prudential Federal Savings and Loan Association, 635 F.2d 797, 800-03 (10th Cir.1980), cert. denied, 451 U.S. 1018, 101 S.Ct. 3007, 69 L.Ed.2d 389 (1981); First National Bank of Aberdeen v. Aberdeen National Bank, 627 F.2d 843, 849-53 (8th Cir. 1980).

2. "Complete" Preemption

A variant of the well-pleaded complaint rule, however, applies in certain limited circumstances. When Congress has preempted a particular area of law so thoroughly that any civil complaint raising a select group of claims within it is necessarily

929 F. Supp. 1313
federal in character, preemption is deemed perfect, or "complete." Metropolitan Life, 481 U.S. 58, 107 S.Ct. 1542; Avco Corp. v. Aero Lodge No. 735, 390 U.S. 557, 88 S.Ct. 1235, 20 L.Ed.2d 126, reh'g denied, 391 U.S. 929, 88 S.Ct. 1801, 20 L.Ed.2d 670 (1968); Whitman, 886 F.2d at 1180-81. In such cases, the plaintiff pleading such a state claim is understood to be stating a federal claim, even if involuntarily; the putative state law claim is therefore treated as "arising under" federal law from its inception. Ramirez, 998 F.2d at 747; see Avco Corp., 390 U.S. at 560-62, 88 S.Ct. at 1237-38 (finding federal jurisdiction under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) over state court action premised upon violation of a collective bargaining agreement); Metropolitan...

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1 practice notes
  • Independence Federal Savings Bank v. Bender, No. CIV.A. 04-736(RMC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 9 de julho de 2004
    ...the same OTS view but without emphasis or insistence.14 This Court is not a substitute for OTS. See Pena v. Downey Sav. & Loan, Ass'n, 929 F.Supp. 1308, 1315 (C.D.Cal.1996). The current state of the record does not admit information on the legal thinking of that agency, although the parties......
1 cases
  • Independence Federal Savings Bank v. Bender, No. CIV.A. 04-736(RMC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 9 de julho de 2004
    ...the same OTS view but without emphasis or insistence.14 This Court is not a substitute for OTS. See Pena v. Downey Sav. & Loan, Ass'n, 929 F.Supp. 1308, 1315 (C.D.Cal.1996). The current state of the record does not admit information on the legal thinking of that agency, although the parties......

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