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Baker v. Coxcom, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

February 20, 2015

DENNIS BAKER and LYNN TALBOTT, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
COXCOM, INC., et al., Defendants

Page 1376

For Dennis Baker, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Lynn Talbott, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs: Donald N. Peterson, II, Sean M. McGivern, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Withers, Gough, Pike, Pfaff & Peterson LLC, Wichita, KS; Matthew Edward Osman, LEAD ATTORNEY, Osman & Smay, LLP, Overland Park, KS.

For Coxcom, LLC, Coxcom, Inc., Time Warner Entertainment-Advance Newhouse Partnership, doing business as Time Warner Cable, Defendants: Nathan D. Chapman, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Wargo & French, LLP, Atlanta, GA; Mark A. Kanaga, Kutak Rock LLP - Wichita, Wichita, KS.

Page 1377

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

CARLOS MURGUIA, United States District Judge.

Plaintiffs originally filed this class action in the District Court of Sedgwick County, Kansas, seeking a declaration that defendants Coxcom, Inc., Coxcom, LLC, and Time Warner Entertainment-Advance/Newhouse Partnership d/b/a/ Time Warner Cable are liable for wages plaintiffs claim their former employer, Mill-Tel, Inc. (" Mill-Tel" ) was required to pay them. (Doc. 1-1.) As alleged by plaintiffs, defendants are cable companies who contracted their cable television installation work to Mill-Tel, who in turn employed plaintiffs to perform the work. ( Id. ¶ 3.) Plaintiffs contend that Mill-Tel wrongfully withheld compensation from them. ( Id. ¶ 25.) Plaintiffs seek to hold the defendant cable companies liable under Kan. Stat. Ann. § 44-317 for those wages Mill-Tel allegedly wrongfully withheld.

After plaintiffs filed suit, defendants removed the action to this court. Defendants argue that plaintiffs' right to recovery of compensation from Mill-Tel or, derivatively, from defendants, if any, turns on substantial questions of federal law under the Fair Labor Standards Act (" FLSA" ), 29 U.S.C. § § 201-219. Specifically, defendants assert that subject matter jurisdiction exists because plaintiffs allege they are owed wages under the FLSA. (Doc. 1 at 2-3.) Plaintiffs deny federal question jurisdiction exists, asserting that their claims arise from state law and that the allegations do not present a serious federal interest. This matter is before the court on plaintiffs' Motion to Remand (Doc. 6).

I. Legal Standards

A defendant may remove to federal court " any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). " Only state-court actions that originally could have been filed in federal court may be removed to federal court by the defendant." Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 96 L.Ed.2d 318 (1987). When the assertion of removal jurisdiction is based on federal question, the court generally relies on the " well-pleaded complaint rule," that is, an action arises under federal law " only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint." Id. (citation omitted). In determining whether a federal question exists to justify removal jurisdiction, a court must look solely at the plaintiff's complaint rather than to any subsequent pleading or the notice for removal. Mountain Fuel Supply Co. v. Johnson, 586 F.2d 1375, 1380 (10th Cir. 1978).

Because this is a court of limited jurisdiction, the court must refrain from exercising jurisdiction unless it is certain that such jurisdiction has been granted by Congress. See Adams v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 225 F.3d 1179, 1182 (10th Cir. 2000) (" In light of the limited subject matter jurisdiction granted to the federal courts by Congress, we have a duty to satisfy ourselves that jurisdiction is appropriate." ). The removing defendant carries the burden of demonstrating that removal was proper and that the federal court has original jurisdiction. See McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189, 56 S.Ct. 780, 80 L.Ed. 1135 (1936). Federal removal jurisdiction is statutory in nature, and the governing statutes are to be strictly construed. Shamrock Oil & Gas v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108-09, 61 S.Ct. 868, 85 L.Ed. 1214 (1941); Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 814, 106 S.Ct. 3229, 92 L.Ed.2d 650 (1986). It is well-settled that the presumption is against removal jurisdiction. Coca-Cola Bottling of

Page 1378

Emporia, Inc. v. S. Beach Beverage Co., 198 F.Supp.2d 1280, 1285 (D. Kan. 2002). Doubtful cases must be resolved in favor of remand. Fajen v. Found. Reserve Ins. Co., 683 F.2d 331, 333 (10th Cir. 1982).

II. Analysis

According to plaintiffs, the defendant cable companies subcontracted part of their cable installation work to Mill-Tel. Plaintiffs are installation technicians who allege they performed that work as employees of Mill-Tel. Plaintiffs allege that, from 2006 to the present, Mill-Tel had a policy of unlawfully withholding compensation from its employees. Plaintiffs do not allege that defendants employed them, nor do plaintiffs' claims include any allegation that defendants violated the FLSA. Rather, plaintiffs allege that Mill-Tel unlawfully withheld compensation from them and that, pursuant to Kan. Stat. Ann. ยง 44-317, defendants are liable to plaintiffs for those wages. According to plaintiffs' state court petition, plaintiffs have a lawsuit on file in this court against Mill-Tel, ...


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