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Gomer v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 4, 2016

ANTHONY GOMER, Plaintiff,
v.
HOME DEPOT U.S.A., INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE L. RUSSELL, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Anthony Gomer's Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 25) and Motion to Remand (ECF No. 35). Also pending before the Court are Defendants', Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. (“Home Depot”) and Christopher Cote (collectively, “Defendants”), Motions to Dismiss (ECF Nos. 17, 38) and Home Depot's Motion to Compel Discovery Responses and for an Order Deeming Facts in Defendant's First Requests for Admission to be Admitted as True[1] (ECF No. 31). The Motions are ripe for disposition. No hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2016).

         For the reasons outlined below, the Court will deny Gomer's Motion to Remand; grant in part and deny in part Gomer's Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint; accept Gomer's proposed Second Amended Complaint, but only with respect to Counts III and IV; grant in part and deny in part as moot Home Depot's Motion to Dismiss; and grant Cote's Motion to Dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Gomer, a middle-aged African-American male, is a former Home Depot employee. (First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 13, 21, 34, ECF No. 11-1). He began as a part-time associate, but later obtained a full-time position. (Id. ¶ 13). Home Depot promoted Gomer to the role of supervisor, and in this role, Gomer earned $14 per hour and supervised two departments between 2012 and 2014. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 34, 53). Defendants Bradley Ferraro[2] and Cote were Gomer's supervisors.

         The most senior supervisors at the Home Depot store where Gomer worked maintained a practice of granting lower-level supervisors the privilege of carrying keys to open and close the store. (Id. ¶ 47).[3]The senior supervisors extended this privilege based on seniority of the lower-level supervisors. (Id.). On several occasions during his employment, Gomer attained the seniority necessary to earn the privilege of carrying keys. (Id. ¶ 48). Nonetheless, Gomer's supervisors withheld the privilege from Gomer, while extending it to white supervisors, even those who had less seniority than Gomer. (Id.). On multiple occasions, Gomer demanded that his supervisors permit him to carry keys, but they refused, explaining that Gomer would have to successfully complete probation before they would extend that privilege. (Id. ¶ 49). Gomer was the only supervisor who was required to serve probation. (Id.).

         Gomer alleges that after he “protest[ed]” his supervisors' refusal to allow him to carry keys, his supervisors and another employee “retaliat[ed]” against him by “conspir[ing]” to carry out an elaborate plot that would culminate in Gomer's termination. (Id. ¶ 35). First, Defendants Ferraro and Cote, as well as Criss Butterbaugh, Mike Fillipone, and Gary Templar, “conspired” to transfer Gomer to the Tools Rental Department. (Id.). These individuals knew Gomer had no experience in this department, and they refused to provide him training or a staff to help him run the department. (Id.).

         While Gomer was supervising the Tools Rental Department, Templar brought some customers to Gomer and introduced them as “gentlemen from the church nearby” (the “Church Customers”) who needed to rent a generator. (Id. ¶ 37). Templar asked Gomer to perform the rental. (Id.). Because Gomer had never received training on how to rent a generator, Ryan Kane, a veteran of the department, executed the rental contract. (Id. ¶ 38). The Church Customers did not return the generator to the store by the deadline identified in the rental contract. (Id. ¶ 39). “[I]n playing out their script, ” Gomer's supervisors chose not to pursue recovery of the generator through law enforcement agents, instead electing to accuse Gomer of stealing the generator. (Id.). Gomer's supervisors then used the false allegation of theft to terminate Gomer's employment.[4] (Id. ¶ 40).

         Before Gomer's termination, on December 31, 2012 and November 19, 2014, Defendants “said and wrote a statement to the hearing of several persons that [Gomer] has shoplifted a generator” from the store.[5] (Id. ¶ 14). Defendants transmitted this false allegation to their corporate attorneys and the staff of the store and corporate office. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 16). After learning of this allegation, Home Depot's corporate attorneys contacted Gomer, demanding payment for the generator and threatening legal action, including criminal prosecution. (Id. ¶ 15).

         Also prior to his termination, in October 2014, Gomer's department and the entire store were short-staffed, causing Gomer to work “several overtime hours.” (Id. ¶ 54). Gomer demanded payment, but he was “ignored” and “never paid.” (Id. ¶ 55).

         In November 2014, Gomer filed a charge of discrimination with the Howard County Office of Human Rights and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (Id. ¶ 11). After receiving a right to sue letter, Gomer filed suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland on November 20, 2015. (ECF No. 2). Gomer named only Home Depot as a defendant and raised claims for defamation (Count I) and civil conspiracy (Count II). (Id.). Home Depot timely removed the matter to this Court on February 8, 2016. (ECF No. 1).

         On February 16, 2016, Home Depot filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 8). Gomer filed a First Amended Complaint on March 8, 2016, in which he added Ferraro and Cote as defendants and raised new claims for (1) disparate treatment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (2012) (Count III), and (2) unpaid overtime in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. (2012), and the “Maryland Fair Labor Practices Act”[6] (Count IV). (First Am. Compl.). Gomer asserts Count I against Home Depot, Ferraro, and Cote; Count II against Ferraro and Cote; and Counts III and IV against Home Depot. (Id.). On March 18, 2016, the Court denied Home Depot's Motion to Dismiss as moot without prejudice. (ECF No. 16).

         On March 22, 2016, Home Depot filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 17). On April 30, 2016, Gomer filed a Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint, maintaining his four claims, but adding new factual allegations. (ECF No. 25). After serving several discovery requests on Gomer, on June 7, 2016, Home Depot filed a Motion to Compel Discovery Responses and for an Order Deeming Facts in Defendant's First Requests for Admission to be admitted as True. (ECF No. 31). Gomer filed a Motion to Remand on July 19, 2016 (ECF No. 35), and Cote filed a Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint on July 26, 2016 (ECF No. 38). All pending Motions are fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion to Remand

         The Court begins with the threshold issue of whether it has subject-matter jurisdiction over this case. The Court will deny Gomer's Motion to Remand because the Court had diversity jurisdiction over the action when Home Depot removed it to this Court.

         Gomer argues remand is warranted because the Court no longer has diversity jurisdiction over this case. He contends his First Amended Complaint defeats the complete diversity of citizenship required under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (2012) because it adds Cote and Ferraro, who, like Gomer, are Maryland citizens.

         The party seeking removal carries the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction. Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994) (citing Wilson v. Republic Iron & Steel Co., 257 U.S. 92 (1921)). The Court must strictly construe removal jurisdiction because removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns. Id. (citing Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100 (1941)). Accordingly, if federal jurisdiction is doubtful, the Court should grant a motion to remand. Id. (citation omitted).

         A defendant may remove a state court action to federal court if the federal court would have original subject-matter jurisdiction over the action. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) (2012). Federal district courts have original jurisdiction over civil actions that arise under federal law, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, or have an amount in controversy exceeding $75, 000, exclusive of interests and costs, and complete diversity of citizenship, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). There is complete diversity of citizenship if “no party shares common citizenship with any party on the other side.” Cunningham v. Twin City Fire Ins. Co, 669 F.Supp.2d 624, 627 (D.Md. 2009) (quoting Mayes v. Rapoport, 198 F.3d 457, 461 (4th Cir. 1999)).

         For purposes of diversity jurisdiction, a corporation is a citizen of every State in which it is incorporated or maintains its principal place of business. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1). A corporation's principal place of business is “the place where [the] corporation's officers direct, control, and coordinate the corporation's activities. Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 92-93 (2010). In practice, a corporation's principal place of business “should normally be the place where the corporation maintains its headquarters.” Id. at 93. An individual is a citizen of the state of his domicile, “i.e. the state he considers his permanent home.” Dyer v. Robinson, 853 F.Supp. 169, 172 (D.Md. 1994).

         When a plaintiff amends his complaint after removal, the court considers the original complaint rather than the amended complaint in determining whether removal was proper. Pinney v. Nokia, Inc., 402 F.3d 430, 443 (4th Cir. 2005); see Pullman Co. v. Jenkins, 305 U.S. 534, 537 (1939) (explaining that in determining whether removal was proper, the court considers the plaintiff's pleading at the time of the removal petition). This rule “is grounded not only in well over a half-century of precedent, but also in sound policy. If parties were able to defeat jurisdiction by way of post-removal [amendments], they could unfairly manipulate judicial proceedings.” Dotson v. Elite Oil Field Servs., Inc., 91 F.Supp.3d 865, 874 (N.D.W.Va. 2015) (quoting Hatcher v. Lowe's Home Centers, Inc., 718 F.Supp.2d 684, 688 (E.D.Va. 2010)).

         Here, the Court concludes it would have original jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. In his original Complaint, Gomer names only Home Depot as a Defendant, and he alleges Home Depot is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. (Compl. ¶ 3, ECF No. 2). Because Gomer alleges he lives only in Maryland, (id. ¶ 2), Gomer and Home Depot are completely diverse. And, Gomer alleges an amount in controversy of $435, 000. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 33). The Court, therefore, concludes removal was proper and the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over this case. Accordingly, the Court will deny Gomer's Motion to Remand.

         B. Motion ...


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