Marine v. Interstate Distrib. Co., Slip Copy, 2009 WL 1066303 (N.D. Cal., Apr. 20, 2009) (NO. C 08-5414 SI)

Sorry, Interstate Distributor Company’s (IDC) California truck drivers, you were forced to wait and not afforded your mandatory rest periods or regular meals. The Northern District Court of California ruled that defendant’s only chance to remove based on CAFA was during its first attempt to remove this case through diversity jurisdiction.

After initial removal, the case was remanded back to state court for lack of diversity jurisdiction. However, the defendant was hungry and tried to go in for seconds, a second chance at removal, that is. The Northern District was not swayed by the defendant’s argument that CAFA jurisdiction was not apparent from the face of the complaint during the first removal.

The plaintiffs in this case are also hungry, but they had to wait. Marine filed a class action against IDC. IDC failed to abide by California law and provide regular meals and rest periods for its’ truck drivers. Marine’s class was defined as “all persons employed by defendant in the position of Company Driver in the state of California during the period…”

With the initial class definition, IDC had the case removed through diversity jurisdiction. CAFA was not mentioned in this removal by IDC. IDC claimed to be a citizen of Washington, and the petition stated all truck drivers in California. Thus, complete diversity seemed to exist.

Marine sought remand. “Upon learning that Marine’s individual claims did not exceed $75,000 in damages,” IDC stipulated to remand the case to state court for failing to meet diversity jurisdiction requirements.

The case was remanded to Alameda Country Superior Court where this action was filed. At this point, another plaintiff’s case seeking the same damages from IDC was brought before the Northern District; however, his class expanded to include all IDC employees who drove “through” California. The second complaint was voluntarily dismissed, and the new class definition was adopted by Marine and the Northern District. The Marine class action was the sole complaint.

After the remand and voluntary dismissal of the other complaint, IDC attempted to remove the case again. This time IDC pointed to CAFA as the grounds to remove the class action. A defendant has 30 days to remove a case from which it may be first ascertained that the case has become eligible. Since the original filing of the complaint, plaintiff sought damages for missed meal periods, missed rest periods, failure to provide itemized wage statements, and payment of wages upon termination. Even if the plaintiff’s class included only California IDC employees, the amount in controversy far exceeded the amount in controversy limit of $5,000,0000. Defendant should have raised the issue during the initial removal.

Plaintiff will not have to wait to eat much longer, barring any other challenges by IDC. The Northern District refused to give IDC “another bite at the apple.” The Northern District stated that the time to raise CAFA jurisdiction had come and gone; moreover, IDC had waived its right to remove the case under CAFA. Thus, the class action will remain in California state court.

Maybe plaintiffs can grab a Snickers bar and wait while the lawyers litigate this case and try to get plaintiffs paid.

By: Dustin Poche’