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Johnson v. Tractor Supply Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

May 7, 2019

TAMMY JOHNSON and VANESSA DETTWILER, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
TRACTOR SUPPLY COMPANY, a Delaware Corporation, Defendant.


          Robert J. Bryan, United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Remand (Dkt. 26) and Defendant Tractor Supply Company's (referred to elsewhere in the record as “TSC”) Motion to Dismiss Time-barred Claims Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Pr. 12(b)(6) (“Motion to Dismiss Time-barred Claims”) (Dkt. 16). The Court has considered the motions and the remaining file. Because Defendant has not shown that the amount in controversy is over $5, 000, 000, the Court should remand this case to King County Superior Court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On December 12, 2017, Plaintiffs commenced a prior action with this Court, Johnson & Dettwiler v. Tractor Supply Co., No. 17-6039 (“Johnson I”).[1] Dkt. 1, at 2. “After an unsuccessful mediation, Plaintiffs sought leave to dismiss that action voluntarily without prejudice for the declared purpose of re-filing their state laws claims in Washington state court. [] Leave was granted and the action was dismissed without prejudice on December 26, 2018.” Dkt. 1, at 2.

         On January 18, 2019, Plaintiffs commenced the instant action in King County Superior Court, Johnson, et al. v. Tractor Supply Co., No. 19-2-01975-1 KNT. Dkt. 1, at 2. On February 25, 2019, Defendant removed the case from King County Superior Court. Dkt. 1.

         Plaintiffs brought this case as a class action for “[a]ll individuals who have worked in one of Defendant's stores in Washington in a position Defendant classified as non-exempt, at any time between December 12, 2014, and the date of final disposition of this action.” Dkt. 1-2, at 3.

         Plaintiffs allege that Defendant is “engaging in a systematic scheme of wage and hour violations.” Dkt. 1-2, at 1. Plaintiffs assert three claims against Defendant: Violations of (1) RCW 49.12.020 and WAC 296-126-092 (failure to provide proper rest and meal periods); (2) RCW 49.46.130 (failure to pay proper overtime wages); and (3) RCW 49.52.050 (willful refusal to pay wages). Dkt. 1, at 2-3. These claims are similar to the state law claims in Johnson I, except that, in Johnson I, Plaintiffs also claimed that Defendant miscalculated Plaintiffs' pay under 29 U.S.C. § 207. Dkt. 1, at 3.

         In its Notice of Removal, Defendant asserts that “Plaintiffs' claims as alleged in the Complaint are removable under [the Class Action Fairness Act, codified as] 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d).” Dkt. 1, at 5. Defendant argues that removal is appropriate under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”), in part, because “the combined claims of all Class Members exceed $5 million, exclusive of interest and costs.” Dkt. 1, at 6.

         Plaintiffs' complaint does not allege a specific amount in controversy. See Dkt. 1-2, at 9; see also Dkt. 1, at 6. Nevertheless, Defendant asserts that, “[b]ased on Plaintiffs' allegations in the Complaint and other evidence collected by Defendant, the aggregate value of the claims of all proposed plaintiff classes exceeds the $5 million threshold needed to establish federal jurisdiction under [the CAFA].”

         In its calculation of the amount in controversy, Defendant apparently assumes a 100% violation rate, applies treble damages, and adds an estimate of Plaintiffs' request for attorney's fees as 25% of the unpaid wages and penalties sought. Dkt. 1, at 11-15. In its Notice of Removal, Defendant's calculation of the amount in controversy appears as follows:

• $1, 228, 875.73 for failure to provide meal periods; trebled to $3, 686, 627;
• $627, 498.26 for failure to provide rest periods; trebled to $1, 882, 494.78; and
$1, 392, 280.49 for attorney's fees.
Total: $6, 961, 402.27 ($5, 569, 121.97 (unpaid wages and penalties) $1, 392.280.49 (fees))

Dkt. 1, at 11-15.

         On March 27, 2019, Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion for Remand. Dkt. 26. Plaintiffs argue:

TSC's amount in controversy calculation depends on three fundamental errors:
(1) TSC used a 100% violation rate for meal and rest breaks. TSC's own timekeeping data show the meal break violation rate for Class members during the Class period was only about 30%. []
(2) TSC assumed Plaintiffs and the Class could obtain treble wage damages if they prevailed even though Washington law legally entitles them to recover at most only double their lost wages; and
(3) TSC added a 25% attorneys' fee on top of the Class's potential recovery despite the well-established law that common fund percentage fees come out of the total recovery.
The true amount in controversy here is far less than $5 ...

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