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Williams v. Microsoft Corporation

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, at Seattle

April 7, 2015



JAMES L. ROBART, District Judge.


Before the court is Plaintiff Nancy Williams's motion to remand this action to state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Mot. (Dkt. # 8).) The court has reviewed the motion together with all documents filed in support and in opposition, as well as the balance of the record. Being fully advised, [1] the court GRANTS the motion.


Plaintiff Nancy Williams is a resident of Washington State. (Answer (Dkt. #6) ¶ 1.1.) Defendant Microsoft Corporation ("Microsoft") is a corporation organized under the laws of Washington State with its headquarters in Redmond, Washington. ( See id. ¶ 1.3.) Ms. Williams filed suit against Microsoft, her former employer, in August 2014 in King County Superior Court in the State of Washington. ( See Mot. at 1; Not. of Rem. (Dkt. # 1) at 1.) She alleges claims of discrimination under the Washington Law Against Discrimination, RCW ch. 49.60, and the Washington Wage Claim Statute, RCW ch. 49.48 and RCW ch. 49.52, as well as state common law claims of negligent hiring, negligent supervision, and wrongful constructive discharge in violation of public policy. ( See generally Ver. of State Ct. Rec. (Dkt. # 2) Ex. 1 at 2-22 ("Am. Compl.").) Ms. Williams insists that she has not asserted any claims under federal law. (Mot. at 2.) In September 2014, the state court judge ordered Ms. Williams to file a more particular statement of her claim for public policy wrongful discharge under Washington Civil Rule 12(e). ( See Ver. of State Ct. Rec. Ex. 4 at 39.) Ms. Williams filed such a statement on December 29, 2014. (Praecipe to Not. of Rem. (Dkt. # 4) Ex. B ("More Particular Statement").)

In her more particular statement, Ms. Williams articulated that she bases her claim of wrongful constructive discharge in violation of public policy in part on allegations that she suffered mistreatment for questioning what she saw as Microsoft's disregard for, and violation of, federal immigration laws. ( Id. ¶ 9.4.) In particular, Ms. Williams asserts that federal immigration "statutes and regulations obligate the employer to accurately and truthfully make representations in connection with the visa process." ( Id. ) She describes her claim as follows:

[Ms. Williams's] supervisors and managers took actions that are contrary to the provisions of the federal immigration laws and regulations and which violate the public policies therein embodied. [Her] actions in questioning them and asserting the obligation to comply with the laws, reporting the wrongful actions and refusing to violate the law, regulations or public policy, resulted in retaliation against her including an unfair negative performance review, hostile work environment, removal from the hiring process, verbal threats and threats of physical assault and ultimately constructive discharge.

( Id. ) Additional bases for the claim include allegations that Microsoft's conduct violated the public policies set forth in the Washington Business Corporations Act, RCW 23B.03.020 ( id. ¶¶ 9.5-9.6), Washington common law ( id. ¶ 9.7), and the Microsoft Code of Business Conduct ( id. ¶¶ 9.2-9.3).

After receiving a copy of the more particular statement, Microsoft removed the case to this court, arguing that Ms. Williams's invocation of federal immigration laws in her claim for the state-law tort of wrongful constructive discharge in violation of public policy raises a substantial question of federal law. ( See Not. of Rem.) Microsoft contends that this court, rather than the King County Superior Court, is the correct forum to hear and adjudicate Ms. Williams's claims. Ms. Williams disagrees and has moved for remand. ( See Mot.)


Absent diversity of citizenship, federal question jurisdiction is generally required to establish this court's subject matter jurisdiction. See Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). This court has original federal question jurisdiction over "civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Most often, "a case arises under federal law when federal law creates the cause of action asserted." Gunn v. Minton, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1065 (2013). Even when the complaint fails to allege a federal cause of action directly, however, sometimes "federal-question jurisdiction will lie over state-law claims that implicate significant federal issues." Grable & Sons Metal Prods. Co. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 312 (2005).

The Supreme Court has explained that in such instances "federal jurisdiction over a state-law claim will lie if a federal issue is: (1) necessarily raised, (2) actually disputed, (3) substantial, and (4) capable of resolution in federal court without disrupting the federal-state balance approved by Congress." Gunn, 133 S.Ct. at 1065. A case fits within this "special and small category, " id. at 1064 (quoting Empire Healthchoice Assurance, Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 699 (2006)), only if "all four of these elements are met, " id. at 1065.

"Only state-court actions that originally could have been filed in federal court may be removed to federal court by the defendant." Williams, 482 U.S. at 392 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1441). Courts in the Ninth Circuit "strictly construe the removal statute against removal jurisdiction." Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992) (citing Boggs v. Lewis, 863 F.2d 662, 663 (9th Cir. 1988)). Accordingly, courts must "presume[] that a cause lies outside the limited jurisdiction of the federal courts and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction." Abrego Abrego v. The Dow Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 684 (9th Cir. 2006) (internal punctuation omitted) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). In other words, "[f]ederal jurisdiction must be rejected 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) (citing Libhart v. Santa Monica Dairy Co., 592 F.2d 1062, 1064 (9th Cir. 1979)); see also 28 U.S.C. 1447(c) ("If... it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded."). Because Microsoft has not succeeded in demonstrating that the references to federal immigration law in Ms. Williams's wrongful constructive discharge claim satisfy all four requirements outlined by the Supreme Court in Gunn, 133 S.Ct. 1059, this court concludes that it lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate this case.[2]

To begin, Microsoft has failed to persuade the court that interpretation of federal immigration law is "necessarily raised" in Ms. Williams's state-law claim for wrongful constructive discharge. Gunn 133 S.Ct. at 1065. As the Ninth Circuit has explained, "[w]hen a [state-law] claim can be supported by alternative and independent theories- one of which is a state law theory and one of which is a federal law theory-federal question jurisdiction does not attach because federal law is not a necessary element of the claim." Rains v. Criterion Sys., Inc., 80 F.3d 339, 346 (9th Cir. 1996); Glanton v. Harrah's Entmn't, Inc., 297 F.Appx. 685, 687 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Rains, 80 F.3d at 345) (holding that an action for wrongful discharge in violation of ...

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