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Jackson v. First Niagara Bank, N.A.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 22, 2017

SCOTT D. JACKSON, State of Connecticut, Commissioner of Labor, Plaintiff,
v.
FIRST NIAGARA BANK, N.A., Defendant.

          ORDER ON MOTION FOR REMAND

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Scott D. Jackson, Commissioner of the State of Connecticut Department of Labor (“Plaintiff”), brought this suit under his statutory authority under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-72 to collect unpaid wages on behalf of Brian L. Pelletier, from his former employee First Niagara Bank, N.A. (“First Niagara” or “Defendant”), in the Connecticut Superior Court. ECF No. 1-1.

         First Niagara then removed the case to this Court. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff has moved to remand this case to the Connecticut Superior Court. ECF No. 19. At oral argument on this motion, the Court granted leave for the parties to provide the Court with supplemental briefing. ECF No. 29.

         For the reasons that follow, this motion is DENIED.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, the State of Connecticut Commissioner of Labor, brings this case on behalf of Mr. Pelletier, a citizen of the State of Connecticut. Removal Statement ¶ 1, ECF No. 2. Plaintiff filed this action on August 4, 2016, in the Connecticut Superior Court for the Judicial District of Hartford, see generally Compl., ECF No. 1-1, alleging that First Niagara was an employer under Conn Gen. Stat. § 31-72a(1). Id. ¶ 2. First Niagara is based in Buffalo, New York, and is a subsidiary of KeyBank, based in Cleveland, Ohio. Id. ¶ 4.

         First Niagara allegedly employed Mr. Pelletier from February 2009 through October 17, 2013. Compl. ¶ 3. On December 2, 2013, Mr. Pelletier allegedly filed a claim with Plaintiff, seeking assistance in obtaining unpaid wages from First Niagara. Id. ¶ 4. Plaintiff allegedly investigated the claim and determined that First Niagara owes Mr. Pelletier $43, 934 in unpaid wages, consisting of $6, 300 in “true up” commissions based on annual production, $12, 634 in commissions on mortgage loans for loans that closed more than thirty days after his October 17, 2013, termination, and a $25, 000 bonus based on Mr. Pelletier's 2012 performance. Id. ¶ 5. The $43, 934 in unpaid wages allegedly due to Mr. Pelletier remains due and outstanding. Compl. ¶ 8. Under Conn. Gen. Stat. §31-72, Plaintiff seeks to collect double damages, for a total of $87, 868, in addition to reasonable attorney's fees, costs and interest. Id. § 9.

         In support of its motion to remand, Plaintiff has provided a stipulation, signed by the Attorney General for the State of Connecticut, George Jepsen, Assistant Attorney General Philip M. Schulz, Plaintiff's counsel, Assistant Attorney General, Richard T. Sponzo, and Resa Spaziani, the Director of the Wage and Workplace Standards Division of the Connecticut Department of Labor. See generally Stipulation, ECF No. 19-1. The Stipulation provides that the State of Connecticut Commissioner of Labor, “will not seek more than $75, 000.00 in his claims against” First Niagara. Id. at 1. Plaintiff has also provided a stipulation signed by Mr. Pelletier, where he agreed not to seek more than $75, 000.00 from First Niagara. See Pl.'s Reply Ex. A at 12, ECF No. 23.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         District courts have “original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interests and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441, “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant . . . to the district court of the United States for the district . . . embracing the place where such action is pending.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).

         Defendant has the burden of demonstrating that removal of a case to federal court is proper. California Pub. Employees' Ret. Sys. v. WorldCom, Inc., 368 F.3d 86, 100 (2d Cir. 2004); Mehlenbacher v. Akzo Nobel Salt, Inc., 216 F.3d 291, 296 (2d Cir. 2000). The Court must “resolve any doubts against removability, ” out of “respect for the limited jurisdiction of the federal courts and the rights of states.” In re Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (“MTBE”) Prod. Liab. Litig., 488 F.3d 112, 124 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff argues that the Court should remand this case for three reasons: (1) suits involving a state as a real party in interest cannot be removed, because a state is not a citizen of any state, precluding diversity jurisdiction, Pl.'s Br. at 9-10, ECF No. 19-1; (2) the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000, id. at 2-6; and (3) the Court should abstain from deciding Plaintiff's claims because they raise novel issues of state law. Id. at 6-9; Pl.'s Supp. Br. Add. at 2-4, ECF No. 33. First Niagara ...


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