Southern District of California Denies Remand in Wage & Hour Case Asserting CAFA Jurisdiction

by charlesjung

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In Johnson v. U.S. Vision, Inc., No. 10-CV-0690 BEN (CAB), 2010 WL 3154847 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 9, 2010) the Southern District of California faced a remand motion in a wage and hour case that had been removed pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441, 1453.

Judge Roger T. Benitez denied the motion to remand.  Defendant presented a calculation of damages, supporting its calcualtions with declaration from, among other people, the Assistant Controller, Operations, for U.S. Vision, Inc., responsible for enforcing Defendants’ payroll policies and procedures.  The declaration set forth Plaintiff’s most recent hourly rate of pay, as well as the specific number of optical managers and optechs employed during the Class Period, average hourly rates of pay for managers and optechs, number of employees who separated their employment with Defendants, and number of possible wage statements for each employee per year.

Plaintiff argued that Defendants miscalculated the amount in controversy because:

Defendants erroneously assumed “each class member was damaged to the same extent that Plaintiff Johnson was, and that every putative class member, among other things, worked off the clock and incurred a break violation every single day of the entire class period.” Mot. 6. Plaintiff emphasizes that Defendants have access to more specific figures to calculate the amount in controversy and that “each [class] member can be identified using information contained in Defendants’ payroll, scheduling and personnel records.” Compl. ¶ 39.

But the Court held that absent a “persuasive argument that Defendants are required to prove actual damages in order to remove this action, however, the Court must consider the amount put in controversy by the Complaint, not the ultimate or provable amount of damages.”  (citing Rippee v. Boston Market Corp., 408 F. Supp. 2d 982, 986 (S.D. Cal. 2005).)  The Court found that, having based their calculations on allegations provided in the Complaint, Defendants proved with a legal certainty that CAFA’s jurisdictional threshold is satisfied.

Despite Plaintiff’s attempt to provide supplemental information in the motion to remand, Defendants were entitled to, and did, use the factual allegations in the Complaint to calculate the amount in controversy. See Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 567 (9th Cir. 1992) (holding that defendant must use specific factual allegations or provisions in the complaint to support its argument of proper removal). The Court finds that Defendants provided detailed and competent evidence supporting their calculations and showing, to a legal certainty, that the jurisdictional threshold under CAFA is met. To the extent subsequent events show that jurisdiction would not be proper, the Court can address remand at that time. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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