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Hinojos v. Pay and Save, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

January 10, 2019

MANUEL HINOJOS, Plaintiff,
v.
PAY AND SAVE, INC. d/b/a LOWE'S MARKET, ROGER LOWE, JR., and DAVID FUIGEROA Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR REMAND, DENYING AS MOOT PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO STAY PROCEEDINGS PENDING RULING ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR REMAND, AND DENYING AS MOOT DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS CLAIMS AGAINST THE INDIVIDUAL DEFENDANTS

          WILLIAM P. JOHNSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court upon Plaintiff's Motion for Remand. [R. Doc. 10, filed August 23, 2018] Having reviewed the parties' briefs and applicable law, the Court finds that Plaintiff's Motion is well-taken and, therefore, is GRANTED. Plaintiff's Motion to Stay Proceedings Pending Ruling on Plaintiff's Motion for Remand, [R. Doc. 11, filed August 23, 2018], and Motion to Dismiss Claims Against the Individual Defendants, [R. Doc. 9, filed August 20, 2018], are DENIED AS MOOT.

         BACKGROUND

         On June 15, 2017, Plaintiff Manuel Hinojos filed a charge of discrimination form with the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, Human Rights Bureau, also referred to as the New Mexico Human Rights Division (“NMHRD”). [R. Doc. 26.2 at 1, filed September 27, 2018]. The face of the charge of discrimination only names “Pay and Save Inc., d.b.a. Lowe's [Market]”. [Id.]. However, the charge of discrimination also included an attached affidavit, which among others, named Defendant David Figueroa. [Id. at 3]. Plaintiff later received a letter of nondetermination and filed the present complaint in state court.

         The original complaint was filed in the First Judicial District Court for the State of New Mexico on May 29, 2018 alleging that Defendant Pay and Save Inc., doing business as Lowe's Market (hereinafter “Lowe's”), Defendant Roger Lowe, Jr., and Defendant David Figueroa (collectively referred to as “Defendants”) violated the New Mexico Human Rights Act (“NMHRA”) because they discriminated against Plaintiff on the basis of his race and his serious medical condition. He also claims that Defendants retaliated against him in violation of the NMHRA, and he claims intentional infliction of emotional distress. [R. Doc. 1.1, filed July 25, 2018].

         Defendants filed a Notice of Removal with this Court on July 25, 2018 alleging that federal jurisdiction exists because this is a civil action between citizens of different states[1] and Plaintiff's allegations reflect that the amount in controversy exceeds the sum of $75, 000, and that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies against Defendants. [R. Doc. 1 at 2].

         Plaintiff's original complaint states that he was a store manager at a Lowe's locale in Santa Fe, New Mexico. [R. Doc. 1.1 at 3, ¶ 7]. Plaintiff's supervisors included the Area Manager, Defendant Figueroa, who was originally named in the state-court complaint. [Id. ¶ 9]. The complaint alleges that there was discrimination at Lowe's because the workforce and lower-level employees were predominantly Hispanic and of Mexican decent or national origin, and that the number of Hispanic and Mexican personnel in management was low and not representative of Lowe's overall workforce. [Id. at 4, ¶ 15]. Moreover, the complaint alleges that Plaintiff was denied promotion opportunities despite running a successful store, and that Defendants tolerated racially charged language at the workplace. [Id. ¶¶ 17, 19]. The complaint also alleges that Defendants had a goal called the “50-50 mix”, which refers to Defendants' alleged goal of attaining a customer base of fifty percent Hispanic and fifty percent Anglo since the current customer base is allegedly eighty percent Hispanic and twenty percent Anglo. [Id. at 5-6, ¶ 23]. Finally, the complaint alleges that Plaintiff objected to the alleged discriminatory treatment and made formal complaints to Lowe's management, and that he was retaliated against for openly criticizing this alleged discriminatory treatment. [Id. at 6, ¶ 24]. Plaintiff points to several instances of managerial conduct and decisions to discontinue bread and drink products that were allegedly preferred by Hispanic and Mexican customers. [Id. at 8-9, ¶¶ 36, 39]. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Figueroa participated in firing Plaintiff because Defendant Figueroa allegedly traveled to Texas to meet with management, and Plaintiff was fired approximately one week after this meeting. [Id. at 12, ¶ 53].

         Defendants also filed a Motion to Dismiss Claims Against the Individual Defendants, [R. Doc. 9, filed August 20, 2018], and Plaintiff filed a Motion to Stay Proceedings Pending Ruling on Plaintiff's Motion for Remand. [R. Doc. 11, filed August 23, 2018]. The Court will first determine whether jurisdiction exists in order to rule on any other pending motions. Sinochem Int'l Co. Ltd. v. Malaysia Int'l Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422, 430-31 (2007) (a court “generally may not rule on the merits of a case without first determining that it has jurisdiction over the category of claim in the suit (subject-matter jurisdiction) [. . . .]”).

         STANDARD

         I. Removal and Diversity Jurisdiction

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and there is a presumption against removal jurisdiction, which the defendant seeking removal must overcome. See Fajen v. Found. Reserve Ins. Co., 683 F.2d 331, 333 (10th Cir. 1982); see also Martin v. Franklin Capital Corp., 251 F.3d 1283, 1290 (10th Cir. 2001). Removal statutes are to be strictly construed, and all doubts are to be resolved against removal. Id. at 333.

         Defendants removed this case to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). To invoke diversity jurisdiction, “a party must show that complete diversity of citizenship exists between the adverse parties and that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.” Dutcher, 733 F.3d at 987. “Complete diversity is lacking when any of the plaintiffs has the same residency as even a single defendant.” Id.; see also Lincoln Prop. Co. v. Roche, 546 U.S. 81, 84 (2005) (“Defendants may remove an action on the basis of diversity of citizenship if there is complete diversity between all named plaintiffs and all named defendants, and no defendant is a citizen of the forum State.”). “[T]he relevant time period for determining the existence of complete diversity is the time of the filing of the complaint.” Siloam Springs Hotel, L.L.C. v. Century Sur. Co., 781 F.3d 1233, 1239 (10th Cir. 2015). A matter may be remanded to state court if the federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction (such as diversity jurisdiction). 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). “The burden of establishing subject-matter jurisdiction is on the party asserting jurisdiction.” Montoya v. Chao, 296 F.3d 952, 955 (10th Cir. 2002) (citing Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)).

         II. Fraudulent Joinder

         The joinder of a non-diverse party is “fraudulent” when it serves no purpose other than “to frustrate federal jurisdiction.” Dodd v. Fawcett Publ'ns, Inc., 329 F.2d 82, 85 (10th Cir. 1964). A defendant may remove a case to federal court based upon diversity jurisdiction in the absence of complete diversity if a plaintiff joins a non-diverse party fraudulently to defeat federal jurisdiction. See Am. Nat'l Bank & Trust Co. v. Bic Corp., 931 F.2d 1411, 1412 (10th Cir. 1991). The citizenship of ...


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