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Lingvevicius v. Universal Health Servs. Inc

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

May 1, 2018



          John C. Coughenour UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's motion to remand and for attorney fees (Dkt. No. 13). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court hereby GRANTS the remand motion and DENIES the motion for attorney fees for the reasons explained herein.


         Plaintiff Alisha Lingvevicius filed this lawsuit against her employer, Universal Health Services, Inc. in King County Superior Court. (Dkt. No. 1 at 10.) Plaintiff is a Washington citizen. (Dkt. No. 1 at 13.) Defendant is Delaware corporation, headquarted in Pennsylvania. (Dkt. No. 2 at 4.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant violated the Washington Family Leave Act, Wash. Rev. Code § 49.78.010, et seq., and the Washington Law Against Discrimination. Wash. Rev. Code § 49.60.010, et seq. Defendant removed the case to federal court. (Dkt. No. 1.) It premised removal on federal question and diversity jurisdiction. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff challenges those claims and moves to remand. (Dkt. No. 13.)


         A. Legal Standard

         A defendant is entitled to remove a lawsuit if the action could have originally been brought in federal district court. Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 312 (2005); 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The removing party bears the burden of establishing that federal subject matter jurisdiction existed at the time of removal. Prize Frize, Inc. v. Matrix, Inc., 167 F.3d 1261, 1265 (9th Cir. 1999); Valdez v. Allstate Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 1115, 1117 (9th Cir. 2004). “The removal statute is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction.” Prize Frize, 167 F.3d. at 1265. If the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction at removal, remand is mandatory. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

         B. Analysis

         1. Federal Question Jurisdiction

         Defendant asserts that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction because Plaintiff raises a federal question by referencing federal law. (Dkt. No. 17 at 4.)

         Federal question jurisdiction exists only where the well-pleaded complaint clearly shows that federal law creates the cause of action or that vindication of a right under state law “necessarily depends on a substantial question of federal law.” Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 258 (2013); Easton v. Crossland Mortg. Corp., 114 F.3d 979, 982 (9th Cir. 1997). When a plaintiff invokes federal law alongside a state-law claim, the court determines whether jurisdiction is appropriate. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 813-14 (1986). That determination rests not merely on the “literal language” of the complaint, but on a practical analysis of the plaintiff's claims and the form a “well-pleaded complaint” would take. Easton, 114 F.3d at 982. Federal question jurisdiction does not arise when a plaintiff's claims sound solely in state law. Caterpillar v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). Nor can a mechanical reference to a federal law guarantee jurisdiction. See Easton, 114 F.3d at 982.

         Plaintiff's claims do not “arise under” federal law. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Plaintiff's complaint makes four claims under Washington law, each relating solely to statutory torts. (Dkt. No. 1 at 18-22.) Her allegations neither cite to nor depend on a federal statute. (Id.) While Plaintiff's prayer for relief references unnamed “federal laws” twice, that generic recitation does not “necessarily raise[]” an issue of her rights under federal law. (Id. at 22-23); see Merrell Dow Pharms., 478 U.S. at 808. Nor does it show her rights under federal law are “actually disputed.” Merrell Dow Pharms., 478 U.S. at 808. While Plaintiff's prayer seeks punitive damages available only under federal law, her attorney has admitted this was an error relating to his use of “boilerplate” language. (Dkt. No. 13 at 3.) That admission and the complaint's reliance on state law in its substantive allegations, make it clear that reference to relief under federal law are an error. See Easton, 114 F.3d at 982 (relying on attorney's post-filing actions to clarify nature of complaint's claims). Courts do not rest jurisdictional decisions on isolated statements in a prayer for relief when those statements were clearly made in error. See id.; Butterworth v. Am. Eagle Outfitters, Inc., No. C11-01203-LJO-DLB, slip op. at 3 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 14, 2011). The Court accordingly finds that subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 is lacking.

         2. Diversity Jurisdiction

         Defendant alternatively contends that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction through diversity. (Dkt. No. 17 at 6.) The parties do not contest their citizenship is diverse; rather, they dispute whether Defendant has shown that the amount in ...

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