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Toro v. CSX Intermodal Terminals, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 9, 2016

JOSE TORO, Plaintiff,
v.
CSX INTERMODAL TERMINALS, INC., CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., and CSX CORPORATION, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO REMAND (DOCKET NO. 13)

          TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN DISTRICT JUDGE

         Between 2006 and 2010, Jose Toro (Plaintiff) worked as a truck driver for CSX Intermodal Terminals, Inc. (CSXI), CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSXT), and CSX Corporation (CSX) (collectively Defendants). Toro was classified as an independent contractor. He brought this action in state court to recover wages and business expenses that he alleges he would have received if he had been classified as an employee. After a protracted procedural history, Defendants removed the case to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Toro moves to remand the action. For the reasons set forth below, Toro’s motion (Docket No. 13) is granted.

         Background

         On or about July 31, 2006, Toro entered into a contractual relationship with Defendants to be a truck driver. He worked exclusively for Defendants between July 31, 2006 and August 21, 2010. He alleges that, during this time, Defendants exerted employer-like control over him and other similarly situated drivers, including planning the drivers’ schedules, assuming complete responsibility for and possession of the drivers’ equipment, controlling how the drivers were paid, and mandating policies that the drivers were required to follow.

         In May of 2012, Toro brought suit against CSXI in state district court, asserting that CSXI had misclassified him and other similarly situated drivers as independent contractors, in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, §§ 148, 148B, 150. Toro claimed that CSXI’s actions caused him and the other drivers to lose substantial income and incur unlawful and unnecessary legal, personal, and business expenses. In his cover sheet filed pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 218, § 19A(a), Toro estimated that his damages were $10, 000.

         CSXI removed the case to this Court on September 12, 2012, on the bases of diversity jurisdiction and federal preemption under ERISA. On February 14, 2013, this Court remanded the action to the district court, finding that CSXI had not proffered any evidence that Toro’s recovery would significantly exceed $30, 000-$10, 000 in calculated damages plus the statutory multiplier and attorney’s fees. Additionally, this Court determined that Toro’s complaint did not implicate ERISA because he did not allege that he was seeking to recover benefits under any ERISA plan.

         On February 22, 2013, CSXI filed a motion to dismiss in the state district court, arguing that a truck driver was likely to earn more than $25, 000 in a sixteen-month period, bringing the case above the jurisdictional limit for that court. The district court denied the motion on May 1, 2013. On May 14, 2013, CSXI filed a motion for reconsideration, or in the alternative, for report to the Appellate Division and a stay of the proceedings. The court denied this motion as well.

         On September 6, 2013, CSXI filed a Petition for Relief with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC). A single justice of the SJC dismissed Toro’s complaint without prejudice to be re-filed in Superior Court. The single justice held that, pursuant to Somers v. Converged Access, Inc., 911 N.E.2d 739, 743 (Mass. 2009), Toro’s claimed lost wages should be taken into account in determining the amount in controversy. Toro v. CSX Intermodal Terminals, Inc., No. SJ-2013-0352 at *4 (Mass. May 16, 2014). The justice explained:

Although Toro may have received, on an individual job basis or even over some period of time, more than he would have in terms of ‘wages’ if classified as an employee, Somers is clear that what an employer pays to a misclassified independent contractor cannot be used to offset damages to which that individual, properly classified as an employee, would otherwise be entitled.

Id. at *5. Thus, the “hypothetical wages Toro would have received for the period of time in question here appropriately should be taken into account in determining his likely damages if he were to prevail.” Id. at *4. Toro claimed that his $10, 000 in estimated damages represented unpaid benefits; and thus, the single justice concluded that any unpaid wages would be in addition to that amount, which meant that his damages were likely to exceed $25, 000 in total. Id. at *5-*6.

         Toro re-filed his complaint in Superior Court on May 29, 2014. In his cover sheet, he listed his estimated damages as $50, 000. On July 9, 2015, Toro filed an amended complaint, in which he added CSX and CSXT as defendants. Defendants answered the amended complaint on behalf of CSXI while filing a motion to dismiss on behalf of CSX and CSXT. On December 30, 2015, the court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss. Defendants filed a petition for interlocutory relief with the Massachusetts Appeals Court, seeking to prevent Toro from joining CSX and CSXT. The Appeals Court denied the petition.

         In January of 2016, Defendants requested that Toro make an initial settlement demand, including attorney’s fees that had accrued thus far in the litigation. Toro acquiesced on February 3, 2016, demanding $325, 000: $75, 000 for lost wages, expenses, and loss of benefits, and $250, 000 in attorney’s fees. On March 2, 2016, Defendants removed the case to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction.

         Standard of Review

         A case is properly removed to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) only if the action could originally have been brought in federal court. See Syngenta Crop Prot., Inc. v. Henson, 537 U.S. 28, 33 (2002). Generally, “defendants may remove to the appropriate federal district court ‘any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction.’” City of Chicago v. Int’l Coalition of Surgeons, 522 U.S. 156, 163 (1997) (quoting § 1441(a)). In a case based on diversity jurisdiction, the parties must be diverse in citizenship and the amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). The amount in controversy includes ...


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