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Luna v. Debusk Services Group, LLP

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

September 24, 2018

MANUEL LUNA
v.
DEBUSK SERVICES GROUP, LLP, d/b/a USA DEBUSK, LLC, AND XYZ INSURANCE COMPANY

          ERIN WILDER-DOOMES, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Please take notice that the attached Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation has been filed with the Clerk of the U.S. District Court.

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), you have 14 days after being served with the attached report to file written objections to the proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations set forth therein. Failure to file written objections to the proposed findings, conclusions and recommendations within 14 days after being served will bar you, except upon grounds of plain error, from attacking on appeal the unobjected-to proposed factual findings and legal conclusions accepted by the District Court.

         ABSOLUTELY NO EXTENSION OF TIME SHALL BE GRANTED TO FILE WRITTEN OBJECTIONS TO THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT.

         MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

         Before the court is Plaintiff Manual Luna's (“Plaintiff”) Motion for Remand (the “Motion”).[1] The motion is opposed by Defendant, USA Debusk, LLC f/k/a Debusk Services Groups, LLC (“Defendant”).[2] For the reasons set forth herein, the undersigned RECOMMENDS[3] that the Motion[4] be DENIED.

         I. Facts and Procedural Background

         On or about April 9, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Petition for Damages (“Petition”) in the Twenty-Third Judicial District Court for the Parish of Ascension.[5] In the Petition, Plaintiff specifically alleges that he “sues the Defendant…for attorney's fees, litigation expenses, and costs pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq. (‘ADA'), ” and that the complained-of actions “arise from the Defendant's violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq.”[6] Plaintiff alleges that he was hired by Defendant on July 25, 2016 as a technician supervisor and crew leader. According to Plaintiff, the position requires walking, standing, lifting, operating heavy equipment and sitting for hours at a time as well as assisting with cleaning and other tasks.[7] On March 4, 2017, Plaintiff was injured in a “severe car accident” where he sustained injuries to several areas of his body and which required multiple medical procedures and surgeries.[8] Plaintiff avers he is a “qualified individual with a disability, ” and Defendant is a “person, ” “employer, ” and/or “covered entity” who is engaging in an “industry affecting commerce” all within the meaning of the provisions of the ADA.[9]

         Following his accident, Plaintiff alleges that he could perform the essential functions of his job with reasonable accommodations. Plaintiff claims he requested medical leave and reasonable accommodations from Defendant to assist him in the performance of his duties upon his release to work, including reassignment to a position that conformed to his light duty medical restrictions. Plaintiff asserts Defendant had allegedly provided such accommodations to other injured employees in the past.[10] However, rather than comply with Plaintiff's requests, Defendant terminated him on “March 14, 2077 (sic)” and filled his former position.[11] Plaintiff alleges that Defendant's failure to provide Plaintiff with reasonable accommodations and its decision to terminate him are violative of the ADA.[12]

         On May 8, 2018, Defendant removed this matter on the basis of federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because of Plaintiff's claims under the ADA.[13] However, on May 29, 2018, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion seeking remand, which Defendant opposes.[14]

         II. Arguments of the Parties

         In the Motion, Plaintiff alleges that, despite his claims against Defendant for wrongful termination and denial of accommodation under the ADA, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action.[15] In support of this contention, Plaintiff generally argues that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and any doubts about the propriety of removal should be resolved in favor of remand. Plaintiff also generally cites authority that holds that the presence of a federal issue in a state cause of action does not automatically confer federal question jurisdiction, and also holds that, if a plaintiff can maintain his claim on both state and federal grounds, he may ignore the federal question and assert only a state law claim to defeat removal.[16]Next, according to Plaintiff, this Court should remand this matter in deference to Plaintiff's choice of state court forum, which has concurrent jurisdiction over his ADA claims.[17] Lastly, Plaintiff claims that he only identified federal statutes and regulations for the purpose of establishing standards of conduct applicable to Defendant. His reference to the ADA in his Petition, which “create[s] standards of conduct for state common law claims” does not confer federal question jurisdiction when the state court maintains concurrent jurisdiction.[18]

         In its Memorandum in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (“Opposition”), Defendants refute that Plaintiff merely “referenced” the ADA. Rather, Plaintiff's Petition clearly shows that Plaintiff exclusively seeks recovery pursuant to the ADA.[19] Specifically, Plaintiff claims he is bringing suit under the ADA, Defendant is an entity under the ADA, Plaintiff is covered by the ADA, his accident-related injury is a “disability” under the ADA, and Defendant's actions constitute a breach of the ADA.[20] Further, Plaintiff seeks damages only available under the ADA, including punitive damages and attorney's fees, [21] and has not asserted state law rights to relief in his Petition. Defendant contends that its position is bolstered by the fact that Plaintiff also filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, wherein Plaintiff similarly alleged an ADA violation.[22] Defendant argues that the state court's concurrent jurisdiction does not deprive this Court of jurisdiction, which this Court clearly has pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because the Plaintiff's claim for relief, in his own words, is expressly brought pursuant to the ADA.[23] Thus, Defendant properly removed this matter to this Court.

         III. Law and Analysis

         A. Legal Standards

         “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree.”[24] Federal courts have original jurisdiction in all civil matters arising under federal law. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331. A defendant may remove “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction.”[25] The removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441, is strictly construed and any doubt as to the propriety of removal should be resolved in favor of remand.[26]The removing party has the burden of proving federal question jurisdiction.[27] A federal question exists “if there appears on the face of the complaint some substantial, disputed question of federal law.”[28]

         Whether a case is removable upon the basis of federal question jurisdiction is to be determined by the allegations of the plaintiff's “well-pleaded complaint” as of the time of removal.[29] Because the plaintiff is the master of his complaint, even where both federal and state remedies are available on a given set of facts, there will be no basis for removal on federal question jurisdiction if the plaintiff elects in the state court petition to proceed exclusively under state law.[30]That federal law may provide a defense to a state law claim is insufficient to establish federal question jurisdiction.[31] Remand is proper if at any time the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.[32]

         The Notice of Removal asserts that the Court has federal question jurisdiction over this action because Plaintiff's “claim is being brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12181 (‘ADA'), ” and “it is a civil action for damages under the ADA.”[33] The Court will, therefore, consider whether the allegations in the original Petition support federal question jurisdiction in this action.

         B. Federal Question Jurisdiction Exists

         In the Motion, Plaintiff alleges that he only referenced the ADA because it provides the standards supporting his “state common law” claims.[34] After review of the pleadings, however, it is clear that Plaintiff's Petition asserts rights to relief under, and damages pursuant to, the ADA. In the very first paragraph, Plaintiff asserts his cause of action thusly: “Plaintiff…hereby sues the Defendant….for attorney's fees, litigation expenses, and costs pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq. (‘ADA').”[35] Plaintiff provides more specifics regarding his cause of action in his allegation that: “The defendant's refusal to make reasonable accommodation for the plaintiff's known disability constitutes discrimination against the plaintiff due to his disability in violation of ADA § 102(b)(5)(A), 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A). Defendant fired Manuel Luna rather than accommodate him…in violation of …Title I of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112(a), 12112(b)(5)(A), and (b)(5)(B).”[36] Plaintiff accuses Defendant of “acting with malice or reckless indifference toward plaintiff's federally protected rights as a qualified individual with a disability….”[37] See also Plaintiff's allegations defining himself and Defendant by reference to the ADA: (1) “Plaintiff… qualifies as an individual with disabilities as defined by the ADA, ” (2) “Plaintiff is a ‘qualified individual with a disability' within the meaning of ADA § 101(8), 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8), ” and (3) Defendant is a “person, ” “employer, ” and/or “covered entity” who is engaging in “an industry affecting commerce” all within the meaning of cited provisions of the ADA.[38] Finally, see Plaintiff's demand for punitive damages.[39]

         Plaintiff's argument that he merely referenced the ADA in support of state law claims must be rejected because Plaintiff does not assert any state law causes of action in his Petition. Rather, Plaintiff unequivocally asserts a cause of action under the ADA and seeks relief thereunder.[40]Therefore, Plaintiff has raised his claims under a federal law, which gives rise to federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Defendant properly removed Plaintiff's claims, which were pending in the Twenty-Third Judicial District Court, to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441.[41]

         Plaintiff also urges the Court to remand this matter out of deference to Plaintiff's choice of state court forum, which has concurrent jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims. However, concurrent jurisdiction by the state court is not a bar to removal. “Unless…there is an express declaration by Congress to the contrary, all types of civil actions, in which there is concurrent original jurisdiction in both federal and state courts, are removable.”[42] See Mire v. DISA Global Solutions, Inc., wherein this Court held, on analogous facts:

Plaintiffs unequivocally allege that he is seeking recovery for “violation” of “the ADA.” (Petition ¶ 14(b)). Furthermore, Plaintiffs do not limit the remedies sought to those available solely under state law. (Petition ¶ “Prayer for Relief”). Given the broad allegation in the Petition that the ...

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