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Kurra v. Synergy Computer Solutions, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 19, 2016

RISHI VAS KURRA, Plaintiff,
v.
SYNERGY COMPUTER SOLUTIONS, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ALLISON D. BURROUGHS U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         The dispute in this case centers on an employee's non-competition agreement. Plaintiff Rishi Vas Kurra (“Kurra”) brings a Complaint for declaratory judgment against his former employer, Defendant Synergy Computer Solutions, Inc. (“Synergy”) seeking a declaration (1) that the non-competition clause in Kurra's employment agreement is unenforceable; and (2) that Kurra is not contractually obligated to reimburse Synergy for approximately $9, 550 in visa application fees and travel expenses that Synergy paid on Kurra's behalf.

         On October 30, 2015, Kurra filed his original Complaint (“Compl.”) in the Massachusetts Superior Court for Middlesex County. See [ECF No. 1-2]. On November 25, 2015, Synergy removed the action to federal district court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. See Notice of Removal [ECF No. 1].

         Shortly after removing the action, Synergy filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(3), alleging improper venue. [ECF No. 4]. Synergy contends that this dispute is governed by a forum-selection clause in Kurra's employment agreement, which requires that all disputes be resolved by a court in Michigan. In the alternative, Synergy moves to transfer this action to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

         On December 22, 2015, Kurra filed a Motion to Remand the action to state court. [ECF No. 8]. Kurra argues that there is no basis for diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, because the statute's $75, 000 amount-in-controversy requirement is not satisfied. Id.

         The Court held a hearing on the parties' respective motions on January 13, 2016. For the reasons set forth in this Memorandum and Order, Kurra's Motion to Remand is DENIED, and Synergy's Motion to Dismiss is DENIED, but its alternative Motion to Transfer is ALLOWED.

         I. FACTS ALLEGED IN THE COMPLAINT

         Kurra's Complaint alleges as follows:

         Kurra, a computer programmer, is a currently a resident of Dracut, Massachusetts. Synergy is a Michigan corporation with a principal place of business in Bingham Farms, Michigan. Compl. ¶¶ 1-2.

         According to Kurra, on or about January 23, 2014, he entered into a Visa Application Agreement with Synergy's affiliated entity in Hydurabad, India, pursuant to which Synergy agreed to employ Kurra in the United States for 18 months, and to apply for an H1-B visa on his behalf. Id. ¶ 5.[1]

         Kurra claims that during the negotiation of this agreement, Synergy represented to him that it had several clients in need of his services, and that Kurra would be “staffed” on a project for one such client. Id. ¶ 10.

         Subsequently, Synergy applied for and received an H1-B visa on Kurra's behalf, which allowed him to work in the United States from October 2014 through September 30, 2015. Id. ¶ 7. In the visa application, Synergy represented that Kurra would be performing duties as a computer programmer analyst on projects for Synergy's client, Johnson Controls, Inc. (“JCI”). Synergy further represented that JCI had a “master service agreement” with Synergy for technical support on various projects. Id. ¶ 11.

         After Synergy obtained the visa, it rearranged for Kurra's relocation to Michigan. Kurra arrived in the United States on or about February 16, 2015. Id. ¶ 8. When he arrived, however, a representative from Synergy's human resources department informed him that she had no knowledge of any contract with JCI, and that Synergy currently had no projects for Kurra to work on. Id. ¶ 12. Synergy instructed Kurra to search job postings in order to find a position where Synergy could staff him. From Kurra's arrival until March 15, 2015, Synergy paid him a stipend in lieu of a salary. Id. ¶ 8. Kurra was officially placed on Synergy's payroll on March 16, 2015. Id.

         Kurra further claims that after he arrived in Michigan, Synergy required him to execute a “Non-Competition, Invention, Reimbursement and Confidentiality Agreement” (the “NonCompetition Agreement”). Kurra's Complaint alleges that the terms of the Non-Competition Agreement had not been disclosed to him in January 2014, when he negotiated and signed the Visa Application Agreement in India. Id. ¶ 9. Kurra signed the Non-Competition Agreement on March 16, 2015.[2]

         Eventually, Kurra found a position at a staffing company called “Randstad, ” which was located in Woburn, Massachusetts. Compl. ¶ 13. Kurra began working for Randstad on or about June 22, 2015. Randstad, in turn, placed Kurra with its own client, Kronos, Inc. (“Kronos”), a company located in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Id. At all relevant times, however, Kurra remained a Synergy employee and was paid by Synergy, not by Randstad or Kronos. Id.

         In July 2015, Kurra raised certain issues with Synergy's human resources department, including a concern about whether Synergy intended to apply for an extension of his H1-B visa, which was set to expire on September 30, 2015. Id. ¶ 16. On or about July 14, 2015, Synergy's Human Resources Manager, Damaris Madigral (“Madigral”), confirmed that Synergy would apply for a visa extension on August 15, 2015. Id. Although Kurra followed up with Madigral in three separate emails dated August 24, September 11, and September 28, 2015, Madigral failed to respond. Id. ¶¶ 17-18.

         On September 30, 2015, which was the last day on which an employer could submit a renewal application for his H1-B visa, Kronos offered Kurra a full-time position as a Kronos employee, and it further agreed to file an H1-B visa extension application on his behalf. Id. ¶ 19.

         On or about October 5, 2015, Kurra informed Synergy that he was resigning effective October 11, 2015. Id. ¶ 20. Kurra claims that in response, Synergy's Business Development Manager threatened to take legal action and seek reimbursement for payments under the Visa Application Agreement. Id. ¶ 21. Synergy followed up with a letter to Kurra dated October 7, 2015, in which counsel for Synergy made a formal demand for reimbursement in the amount of $9, 550, which Synergy allegedly spent on Kurra's travel and visa expenses. Id. ¶ 22. This letter also reminded Kurra about the terms of his Non-Competition Agreement, which provided in relevant part as follows:

Employee agrees that he/she, for the twelve (12) month period following termination or resignation, will not solicit, contact or hire, either directly or indirectly, any of Synergy's clients, consultants, and/or employees for the purpose of providing computer/engineering technology services, human resource/staffing systems and/or any products and services competitive with the products and services offered by Synergy.

Id. ¶¶ 22-23; see also Guduguntla Decl., Ex. B.

         Kurra alleges, upon information and belief, that Kronos is not a client of Synergy. Compl. ¶ 24. He further alleges that he did not solicit or contact Kronos for the purposes of providing services; rather, it was Kronos that approached Kurra. Id.

         Finally, the Court notes that the Non-Competition Agreement contains a choice-of-law clause, which provides that the Agreement “shall be construed in accordance with Michigan law.” Guduguntla Decl., Ex. B. The Agreement also contains a forum-selection clause, stating that:

Employee agrees that all actions arising directly or indirectly out of this Agreement shall be litigated only in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, or the Oakland County, Michigan Circuit Court, and Employee hereby irrevocably consents to the personal jurisdiction and venue of those courts.[3]

Id.

         II. MOTION TO REMAND

         Kurra's Motion to Remand challenges this Court's federal subject matter jurisdiction. Accordingly, the Court addresses the jurisdictional issue before turning to Synergy's Motion to Dismiss or Transfer. See Herbert H. Landy Ins. Agency, Inc. v. Navigators Mgmt. Co., No. 14-12552, 2014 WL 3908179, at *3 (D. Mass. Aug. 8, 2014).

         Federal courts are courts of limited subject matter jurisdiction. In this action, Synergy asserts that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, which requires the parties to be citizens of different states, and the amount in controversy to exceed the sum or value of $75, 000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Although Kurra does not dispute that the parties are diverse, he argues that the amount in controversy does not exceed the $75, 000 threshold.

         When a case is removed to federal court on the grounds of diversity jurisdiction, the amount in controversy is governed by 28 ...


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