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Damaso v. Costco Wholesale Corp.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

October 22, 2019

PAULA DAMASO, Plaintiff,
v.
COSTCO WHOLESALE CORPORATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          SHERIPOLSTER CHAPPELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Paula Damaso's Motion to Remand (Doc. 19) and Defendant Costco Wholesale Corporation's response in opposition (Doc. 25). The parties also replied and surreplied. (Docs. 30; 31). For these reasons, the Court grants the Motion (Doc. 19) and sends the case back to state court.

         BACKGROUND

         This is a case about buying underwear at Costco. (Doc. 4). More specifically, the issue is whether Costco's labeling practices violated the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (“FDUTPA”). (Doc. 4 at 5-6).

         Damaso bought two packs of boxer briefs at Costco. (Doc. 4 at 2). According to the visible label, the boxers were “96% Pima Cotton.” (Doc. 4 at 2). After leaving the store, Damaso became suspicious of the boxers. (Doc. 4 at 3). So she sent them to a lab for fiber testing. (Doc. 4 at 3). Then came a shocking revelation-the boxers did not contain 96% Pima Cotton. (Doc. 4 at 3). To be Pima, the cotton fibers must be a certain length. (Doc. 4-4 at 4). And expert reports confirmed many of the boxers' fibers were too short to meet Pima Cotton standards.[2] (Doc. 4-4 at 13-15, 28-30). In brief, the boxers contained a smaller percentage of Pima Cotton than advertised. (Doc. 4 at 3-4).

         The Complaint alleges one count of FDUTPA deceptive labeling. (Doc. 4 at 5-6). While this is a state-law claim, Costco removed from state court under federal-question jurisdiction. (Doc. 1). Now, Damaso wants to go back. (Doc. 19).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A defendant may remove a case from state court when the federal court has original jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The burden rests on the removing defendant to show federal jurisdiction. Leonard v. Enter. Rent a Car, 279 F.3d 967, 972 (11th Cir. 2002). If a federal court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, it must remand straightaway. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). Removal “raises significant federalism concerns”; thus, courts interpret removal statutes strictly and resolve all jurisdictional doubts in favor of remand. Univ. of S. Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 411 (11th Cir. 1999).

         DISCUSSION

         Federal courts have limited jurisdiction, wielding “only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.” E.g., Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Of course, Congress authorized federal-question jurisdiction, which applies to “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Cases arise under federal law in one of two ways. Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 257 (2013). A “vast majority” of federal-question cases rest on causes of action created by federal law. Merrell Dow Pharm. Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 808 (1986). The second manner is less known.

         Pure state-law claims may arise under federal law. Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 312-13 (2005). The Supreme Court called this “a ‘special and small category' of cases in which arising under jurisdiction still lies” despite the lack of a federal cause of action. Gunn, 568 U.S. at 258 (quoting Empire Healthchoice Assurance, Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 699 (2006)). This niche of jurisdiction can be confusing. Id. (surveying a canvas of case law which “looks like one that Jackson Pollock got to first”). Still, the Supreme Court provides guidance.

That is, federal jurisdiction over a state law claim will lie if a federal issue is: (1) necessarily raised, (2) actually disputed, (3) substantial, and (4) capable of resolution in federal court without disrupting the federal-state balance approved by Congress.

Id. (citing Grable, 545 U.S. at 313-14). If a case meets each factor, jurisdiction exists because of the “serious federal interest in claiming the advantages thought to be inherent in a federal forum.” Grable, 545 U.S. at 313. But the general pleading rules still apply, so the face of “a well-pleaded complaint” must call for “resolution of a substantial question of federal law.” City of Chi. v. Int'l Coll. of Surgeons, 522 U.S. 156, 163-64 (1997) (citation omitted).

         Because Costco cannot thread the needle on the four-part test stitched ...


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