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Rodriguez v. Burlington County Corrections Department

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 25, 2015

ADRIAN RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
BURLINGTON COUNTY CORRECTIONS DEPARTMENT and CORIZON HEALTH OF NEW JERSEY, LLC Defendants.

MARK D. LADERMAN, ESQUIRE, LAW OFFICES OF KAMENSKY COHEN & RIECHELSON, TRENTON, NEW JERSEY, On behalf of plaintiff.

STEVEN J. LUCKNER, ESQUIRE, ROBIN KOSHY, ESQUIRE, OGELTREE, DEAKINS, NASH, SMOAK & STEWART, P.C., MORRISTOWN, NEW JERSEY, On behalf of defendant CORIZON HEALTH OF NEW JERSEY, LLC.

OPINION

NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is the Plaintiff's motion to remand this matter to the New Jersey Superior Court. For the reasons expressed below, the Plaintiff's motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

On March 14, 2014, Plaintiff, a citizen of New Jersey, filed suit against her former employer Corizon Health of New Jersey, LLC (Corizon), and Burlington County Corrections Department (BCCD) in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division - Burlington County.

Plaintiff alleges that Corizon has violated N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq., the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), by discriminating against her on the basis of sex and reprisal. Plaintiff also alleges that BCCD aided and abetted this unlawful employment discrimination, violating N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(e). Plaintiff asserts that she was sexually assaulted by a corrections officer employed by BCCD, Officer Markey Hayes, in the course of her employment with Corizon. She contends that, as a direct result of her sex, and in light of her complaint to BCCD of the officer's conduct, she was subjected to a hostile work environment and forced to resign. Although Plaintiff seeks numerous categories of damages, including compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney's fees, she did not specifically aver an amount in controversy in her complaint.

Defendants received notice of Plaintiff's State Court Action on June 2, 2014. Corizon's sole member is Corizon Health, Inc., a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in the State of Tennessee. BCCD is a department within a public entity organized in the State of New Jersey, and it is considered a citizen of the State of New Jersey. On June 30, 2014 Corizon removed this suit to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, asserting diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Corizon contends that (1) Plaintiff has stated a claim for at least $75, 000, and (2) there exists diversity of citizenship among the parties because non-diverse Defendant BCCD has been fraudulently joined, eliminating any diversity issues. Plaintiff has argued that remand is appropriate because (1) Corizon has failed to prove that the suit meets the requisite amount in controversy, (2) there does not exist diversity of citizenship due to a colorable claim against BCCD, and (3) not all Defendants have consented to removal. Plaintiff also seeks attorney's fees in connection with a remand order, amounting to $1, 625.00.

DISCUSSION

A. Amount in Controversy Requirement

A district court has original jurisdiction over all civil actions where the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interests and costs, and is between citizens of different states. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1)(Diversity Jurisdiction). A defendant may remove a civil action brought in a State court to the district court for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending if the district court has jurisdiction over the suit, pursuant to diversity jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). A suit may not be removed if any party properly joined and served is a citizen of the State in which such action is brought. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2).

Once a suit has been removed to a district court, a plaintiff may file a motion to remand the action back to State court. In considering a plaintiff's motion to remand, a court first looks to the plaintiff's complaint to determine the amount in controversy. When a plaintiff "has not specifically averred" in her complaint that the amount in controversy is less than the jurisdictional minimum, a case must be remanded "if it appears to a legal certainty that the plaintiff cannot recover the jurisdictional amount." Frederico v. Home Depot, 507 F.3d 188, 197 (3d Cir. 2007). This is known as the Samuel-Basset standard, which requires that, in order to achieve remand, the party challenging subject matter jurisdiction prove "to a legal certainty" that the amount in controversy "could not exceed the statutory threshold." Id. at 195-96.

The Samuel-Bassett standard governs NJLAD cases that have been removed to federal court when the court's subject matter jurisdiction is challenged. See Uddin v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., No. 13-6504 (JLL), 2014 WL 316988, at *4 (D.N.J. Jan. 27, 2014). In Uddin, plaintiffs filed suit in the Superior Court of New Jersey against their former employer, Sears, Roebuck & Co., for violations of the NJLAD, asserting that their terminations had been motivated by their religious affiliations. Id. at *1. Defendant Sears removed the case to the District of New Jersey, asserting subject matter jurisdiction. Id. Plaintiffs moved for remand, arguing that Sears had not demonstrated that the amount in controversy had been satisfied, but the court denied their motion. Id. at *1-*2, *6.

In applying the Samuel-Bassett standard described by the Third Circuit in Frederico, the Uddin court set out a process for considering a plaintiff's motion to remand when the motion is based on an alleged inadequate amount in controversy: a court must (1) read the complaint filed in state court to determine if the Morgan or Samuel-Bassett standard applies;[1] (2) consider defendant's notice of removal and plaintiff's complaint to determine if any factual disputes ...


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