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Nytes v. Trustify, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 20, 2018

JAIRUS D. NYTES, [1] Plaintiff,


          REGGIE B. WALTON United States District Judge

         The plaintiff initiated this civil action in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (“Superior Court”) against the defendants, Trustify, Inc. (“Trustify”) and TriNet HR Corporation (“TriNet”), asserting claims of disability discrimination and retaliation under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”), D.C. Code §§ 2-1402.11(a)(1), 2-1402.61(a) (2012). See generally Civil Complaint for Equitable and Monetary Relief and Demand for Jury Trial (“Compl.”); see also Amended Complaint. On April 27, 2017, defendant TriNet removed the case to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) (2012), see Notice of Removal ¶ 13, which the plaintiff did not oppose. On December 4, 2017, the Court ordered the parties to provide further briefing on the allegations and arguments set forth in defendant TriNet's Notice of Removal to address the Court's concerns regarding whether it has subject-matter jurisdiction over this case. See Order at 6 (Dec. 4, 2017), ECF No. 15 (the “December 4, 2017 Order”). Currently before the Court are the parties' filings in response to its December 4, 2017 Order, see generally Response to Order (“Pl.'s Resp.”); see also Defendants' Reply in Support of TriNet HR Corporation's Notice of Removal (“Defs.' Reply”), as well as Defendant TriNet HR Corporation's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (“TriNet's Mot.”). Upon consideration of the parties' submissions, [2] the Court concludes that it must sua sponte remand this case to the Superior Court because it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         From June 1, 2015, until his termination on December 8, 2015, the plaintiff worked as an Account Manager for defendant Trustify, see Second Amended Complaint (“2d Am. Compl.”) ¶¶ 8, 10, 13, which is a for-profit corporation “engaged in the business of providing and arranging for private investigative services, ” Trustify's Answer ¶¶ 2, 10. “[D]uring the period of [the p]laintiff's employment, ” Trustify “entered into a contractual relationship with [d]efendant TriNet, which is a [professional employer organization, to provide] administrative services to [Trustify's] employees[, ] including [the p]laintiff.” Id. ¶ 11. Pursuant to this contractual relationship, defendant TriNet “provided [the plaintiff] with an employee handbook” (the “TriNet Employee Handbook”), 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 14, which described the relationship between defendant TriNet and partner companies like defendant Trustify as follows:

Customer companies [who partner with TriNet] and [their] employees are affiliated with TriNet through a co-employer relationship. In partnering with TriNet, customer companies elect to share several important employer responsibilities with TriNet[, ] . . . [including that] TriNet has responsibility for paying wages, sponsoring and administering benefits, processing and maintaining certain employee records, and performing other related HR functions.

2d Am. Compl., Exhibit (“Ex.”) 1 (TriNet Employee Handbook) at 6-7.

         A. The Plaintiff's Claims

         The plaintiff, who “suffers from . . . Bipolar Disorder II, ” 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 21, alleges that during his employment with Trustify, he “disclosed his disability to his managers at Trustify, ” id. ¶ 23, and “on more than one occasion, requested reasonable accommodation for his disability, ” id. ¶ 24, specifically requests for a particular “work schedule, ” id. ¶ 37.[3] In making these requests, the plaintiff alleges that he “follow[ed] the policy set by [defendant] TriNet, ” id. ¶ 24, which states that

[a]ny applicant or employee who requires an accommodation during the application process or in order to perform the essential functions of the job should contact a company manager, a company officer or a TriNet HR Representative to request such an accommodation. If you have any reason to believe that you (or someone else) haven't been treated in accordance with this policy, you should immediately inform your manager, any other company manager or officer, TriNet HR Representative or the TriNet Solution Center. All managers should immediately report any such matters to a TriNet HR Representative.

Id., Ex. 1 (TriNet Employee Handbook) at 19. The plaintiff further alleges that in response to his requests, defendant “Trustify refused to engage in the required interactive process with [him] and refused [him] an accommodation for his disability, ” id. ¶ 26, and defendant TriNet also “did not engage in the required interactive process with [him], ” id. ¶ 27. Thereafter, “in late November 2015 [and] into early December 2015, ” the plaintiff “experienced a period of decompensation . . . because of his disability, and . . . requested further accommodation.” Id.

         ¶ 28. Then, “[defendant] Trustify decided to terminate [the plaintiff], ” id.; see also id. ¶ 8, which defendant TriNet “approved, ” id. ¶ 29. Finally, the plaintiff alleges that “Trustify [and defendant TriNet] . . . opposed [the plaintiff] obtaining unemployment benefits.” Id. ¶ 38; see also id. ¶ 40.

         B. The Plaintiff's Citizenship

         The undisputed facts relevant to the Court's determination of the plaintiff's citizenship for diversity purposes are the following. “From June 1992 through August 2011, ” the plaintiff “reside[d] [ ] in California, ” during which time he “maintained a California driver's license, paid state taxes in California, and voted in [California] state elections in 2011.” Pl.'s Resp., Ex. A (Affidavit of Jairus Nytes (“Nytes Aff.”)) ¶ 1. In August 2010, the plaintiff enrolled as a student at Georgetown University (“Georgetown”) here in the District of Columbia, see id., Ex. A (Nytes Aff.) ¶ 2, and “[b]etween August 2010 and May 2016, [he] lived in various locations in [the District of Columbia] and Virginia, ” id., Ex. A (Nytes Aff.) ¶ 3. In May 2015, the plaintiff “took a medical leave of absence from Georgetown.” Id., Ex. A (Nytes Aff.) ¶ 5. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff “began [his] employment with Trustify . . . in the District of Columbia, ” id., Ex. A (Nytes Aff.) ¶ 6, which ended upon his termination on December 8, 2015, see id., Ex. A (Nytes Aff.) ¶ 7. “In late May 2016, [the plaintiff] returned to California, ” id., Ex. A (Nytes Aff.) ¶ 8, where he resided “through May 2017, ” id., Ex. A (Nytes Aff.) ¶ 10. During that time, the plaintiff “took a position as a retail sales associate at a Best Buy in Victorville, California, ” id., Ex. A (Nytes Aff.) ¶ 12; “obtained a California driver's license, ” id., Ex. A (Nytes Aff.) ¶ 11; and “registered to vote as a California resident, ” id., Ex. A (Nytes Aff.) ¶ 13.

         On December 7, 2016, the plaintiff filed his initial Complaint in this case in Superior Court, see Compl. at 1, and on April 27, 2017, defendant TriNet removed the case to this Court, see Notice of Removal ¶ 13. On May 9, 2017, the plaintiff filed his Second Amended Complaint, see generally 2d Am. Compl., and defendant TriNet filed its motion to dismiss that complaint shortly thereafter, see TriNet's Mot.

         II. ANALYSIS

         As the Court explained in its December 4, 2017 Order,

[a] defendant may remove a civil case from a state court to the federal district court embracing the place where such action is pending when the district court has original jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). However, “[b]ecause federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, the removal statute is to be strictly construed, ” Kopff v. World Research Grp., LLC, 298 F.Supp.2d 50, 54 (D.D.C. 2003) (first citing Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 100-07 (1941); then citing Diaz v. Sheppard, 85 F.3d 1502, 1505 (11th Cir. 1996); and then citing Williams v. Howard Univ., 984 F.Supp. 27, 29 (D.D.C. 1997)), and “[a] defendant seeking to remove an action from state court bears the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction, ” Kormendi/Gardner Partners v. Surplus Acquisition Venture, LLC, 606 F.Supp.2d 114, 120 (D.D.C. 2009) (citing McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp. of Ind., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936)). As the District of Columbia Circuit has explained, “[w]hen it appears that a district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a case that has been removed from a state court, the district court must remand the case.” Republic of Venezuela v. Philip Morris Inc., 287 F.3d 192, 196 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (emphasis added) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c)); see also Int'l Union of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers v. Ins. Co. of the West, 366 F.Supp.2d 33, 36 (D.D.C. 2005) (Walton, J.) (“[T]he court must resolve any ambiguities concerning the propriety of removal in favor of remand.” (quoting Johnson-Brown v. 2200 M St., LLC, 257 F.Supp.2d 175, 177 (D.D.C. 2003))). “Because a . . . district court, acting sua sponte, may raise the court's lack of subject matter jurisdiction, a court may also issue a remand order on its own initiative.” Simon v. Mitchell, 199 F.Supp.3d 244, 246 (D.D.C. 2016) (citing Ellenburg v. Motors Chassis, Inc., 519 F.3d 192, 196-97 (4th Cir. 2008)).
Defendant TriNet asserts that the Court has diversity jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), Notice of Removal ¶ 13 . . . . Section 1332 provides that a federal district court has original jurisdiction in a civil case when the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and the case involves a dispute between “citizens of different States.” § 1332(a). In order for diversity jurisdiction to exist, “there must be ‘complete diversity' between the parties, meaning that . . . ‘each defendant is a citizen of a different State from each plaintiff.'” Lifeline, Inc. v. Bakari, 107 F.Supp.3d 38, 40 (D.D.C. 2015) (quoting Owen Equip. & Erection Co. v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365, 373 (1978)). . . .
“[R]emovability is determined from the record before the court at the time the notice of removal . . . is filed in federal court, ” and, “in addition, [a] large minority of courts require complete diversity not only when removal is sought, but also when the original action is filed in the state court.” Smith v. Hendricks, 140 F.Supp.3d 66, 71 (D.D.C. 2015) (second and fourth alterations in original) (quoting Henok v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 106 F.Supp.3d 1, 5 (D.D.C. 2015)).

December 4, 2017 Order at 2-3.

         The plaintiff does not dispute that the amount in controversy requirement is satisfied in this case, see Pl.'s Resp. at 3, and the Court concludes that this requirement is satisfied based on the plaintiff's request for relief in his initial and first amended complaints, which sought damages in an amount “to be determined at trial, but in no event in excess of $74, 999, ” plus “[r]easonable attorney's fees, ” see Notice of Removal ¶¶ 12-13 (quoting Am. Compl. at 7); see also Compl. at 7. As the Court explained in its December 4, 2017 Order, “attorney's fees ‘may be counted toward establishing a jurisdictional amount when they are provided by . . . a statute in controversy, '” December 4, 2017 Order at 5 (quoting Parker-Williams v. Charles Tini & Assocs., 53 F.Supp.3d 149, 153 (D.D.C. 2014)), “and the DCHRA provides for an award of attorney's fees to a prevailing plaintiff, ” id. (citing D.C. Code § 2-1403.13(a)(1)(E)).[4] However, the plaintiff does dispute that complete diversity of citizenship exists between the parties. For the reasons explained below, the Court agrees with the plaintiff.

         A. Complete Diversity of ...

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