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Hann v. The Home Depot

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 7, 2019

DAVID HANN, Plaintiff,
v.
THE HOME DEPOT, Defendant.

          LOUIS M. BARBONE TIMOTHY CHRISTOPHER ALEXANDER JACOBS & BARBONE, ESQS., On behalf of Plaintiff.

          CLARA H. RHO, PATRICK G. BRADY, EPSTEIN BECKER & GREEN, P.C., On behalf of Defendant.

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         Pending before the Court is the motion of Plaintiff, David Hann, to remand his case to New Jersey Superior Court Law Division, Atlantic County. Plaintiff claims that Defendant, Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq., when it terminated his nine-year employment with Home Depot despite Plaintiff reporting for over a year that he had been subject to a hostile work environment.

         Home Depot removed Plaintiff's case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), averring subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1), which provides that 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 the dispute is between citizens of different states. As for the parties' citizenship, Home Depot's notice of removal averred that it is diverse from Plaintiff because Plaintiff is a citizen of New Jersey, and Home Depot is a citizen of Delaware (its state of incorporation) and Georgia (its principal place of business). See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1) (“[A] corporation shall be deemed to be a citizen of every State and foreign state by which it has been incorporated and of the State or foreign state where it has its principal place of business . . . .”). For the amount in controversy requirement, Home Depot's notice of removal averred that even though Plaintiff's complaint did not demand a specific amount of damages, the allegations in Plaintiff's complaint established that the amount in controversy exceeded $75, 000.

         Plaintiff seeks to remand his case on two bases. First, Plaintiff argues that Home Depot has not established the location of its principal place of business so that it can satisfy the diversity of citizenship requirement. Second, Plaintiff argues that Home Depot has not established the $75, 000 amount in controversy requirement. Home Depot refutes both of Plaintiff's arguments.

         1. Home Depot's citizenship

         Jurisdiction under § 1332(a)(1) requires complete diversity of the parties - no plaintiff can be a citizen of the same state as any of the defendants. McCollum v. State Farm Ins. Co., 376 Fed.Appx. 217, 219 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Grand Union Supermarkets of the Virgin Islands, Inc. v. H.E. Lockhart Management, Inc., 316 F.3d 408, 410 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing Carden v. Arkoma Assocs., 494 U.S. 185, 187 (1990)). For diversity purposes, citizenship of the parties is determined as of the time the complaint was filed. Grand Union, 316 F.3d at 410 (citations omitted).

         As noted above, a corporation is deemed a citizen “of any State by which it has been incorporated and of the State where it has its principal place of business.” McCollum, 376 Fed.Appx. at 2019 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)). Although a company may conduct business in multiple places, the “principal place of business” is its “nerve center, ” which is “the place where a corporation's officers direct, control, and coordinate the corporation's activities.” Id. (citing Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 96 (2010) (establishing the “nerve center” test as uniform approach for determining corporate citizenship)).

         “It is now settled in this Court that the party asserting federal jurisdiction in a removal case bears the burden of showing, at all stages of the litigation, that the case is properly before the federal court.” Frederico v. Home Depot, 507 F.3d 188, 193 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Samuel-Bassett v. KIA Motors America, Inc., 357 F.3d 392, 396 (3d Cir. 2004)).

         Plaintiff argues that Home Depot has not met its burden in its notice of removal because it avers, without any evidence, that its principal place of business is Georgia. Plaintiff contends that there are thousands of Home Depot stores across the country, and there are 67 in New Jersey alone. Plaintiff therefore argues that the Court must remand his case for lack of diversity of citizenship.

         In response, Home Depot has filed a declaration by Liselle Bartholomew, a Legal Specialist in Home Depot's employment law department. (Docket No. 12-1.) Bartholomew's certification relates that Home Depot's headquarters and executive offices are located at 2455 Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta, Georgia 30339. (Id.) It also relates that all major business decisions and Home Depot's annual shareholder meeting occur at the Atlanta, Georgia location. (Id.) The declaration also states that in addition to the 67 stores in New Jersey, there are 90 in Georgia, 153 in Florida, 232 in California, 76 in Illinois, 70 in Michigan, 100 in New York, 70 in Ohio, 70 in Pennsylvania, and 79 in Texas. (Id.)

         Plaintiff has not presented any evidence, other than his own supposition, to refute that Georgia is the location of Home Depot's nerve center. Moreover, Plaintiff does not actually contend that New Jersey is Home Depot's principal place of business render the parties non-diverse. Plaintiff merely points out that New Jersey has 67 of Home Depot's 2, 284 retail locations. Thus, the Court finds that Home Depot has properly established that its principal place of business is in Georgia, and accordingly that its citizenship is diverse from Plaintiff's. See, e.g., Hertz Corp, 559 U.S. at 81 (“[T]he ‘nerve center' will typically be found at a corporation's headquarters.”); McCollum, 376 Fed.Appx. at 219-20 (“State Farm averred by sworn affidavit that it is incorporated in Illinois, and has its principal place of business in Illinois. Although State Farm concedes that it does business in Delaware, there is no indication that Delaware is where State Farm conducts its corporate affairs. Brooks-McCollum has submitted no evidence to the contrary. The District Court is permitted to rely on State Farm's affidavit, and we find no clear error in the District Court's fact-finding. Because Brooks-McCollum was a citizen of Delaware at the time the complaint was filed, and State Farm was a citizen of Illinois, the District Court correctly concluded that the parties are diverse as to citizenship.” (citing Murray v. Commercial Union Ins. Co., 782 F.2d 432, 434 (3d Cir. 1986) (establishing corporate citizenship via affidavit)); Frederico v. Home Depot, 2006 WL 624901, at *1 (D.N.J. 2006), aff'd 507 F.3d 188 (3d Cir. 2007) (“Jurisdiction is premised on 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). Plaintiff is a resident of New Jersey. Defendant [Home Depot] is a Delaware corporation which maintains its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.”); Delehanty v. KLI, Inc., 2008 WL 11449308, at *2-3 (E.D.N.Y. 2008) (rejecting the plaintiff's argument that Home Depot's principal place of business was New York, finding “it is clear that Home Depot conducts its business policy and makes management decisions in Georgia. . . . Plaintiffs' sole evidence is a printout of an internet search showing that Home Depot operates approximately 140 retail stores in the State of New York. Based on this evidence, and without citing any supporting case law, Plaintiffs argue that it is preposterous for Home Depot to claim that it does not have a principal place of business in New York, ” but it was clear that Home Depot's day-to-day corporate activity and management occur in Georgia, and the fact that Home Depot operates numerous retail stores in New York does not affect that finding); Demaria v. Home Depot, U.S.A., Inc., 2007 WL 9701101, at *1 (S.D. Fla. 2007) (“I also do not agree with Plaintiffs that Home Depot's principal place of business is in Florida, instead of Georgia where Home Depot asserts it is. Home Depot is a large corporation with retail locations throughout North America. The presence of such retail locations in a certain state does not demonstrate its principal place of business is there. Home Depot's position that its principal place of business is in Georgia is not a new one. Plaintiffs provide no facts to rebut this position, nothing which indicates Florida, rather than Georgia is the principal place of business for Home Depot. Therefore, I will not grant Plaintiffs' Motion [to remand] on the basis of incomplete diversity.”).

         2. Amount ...


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