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Eaton v. Montana Silversmiths

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

July 12, 2019

ROBERT A. EATON, Plaintiffs,



         Pro se Plaintiff Robert A. Eaton brings this action alleging generally that Defendant Montana Silversmiths discriminated against him, maintained a hostile work environment, and wrongfully terminated his employment. (Doc. 12.) Montana Silversmiths has moved to dismiss all claims asserted in Eaton's Second Amended Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Doc. 16.) For the following reasons, the Court recommends the motion be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Background

         According to his complaint, Eaton worked at Montana Silversmiths in Columbus, Montana until he was laid off on June 15, 2017. (Doc. 12 at 2-3.) Prior to being laid off, Montana Silversmiths employed a man in his early twenties to train for Eaton's job between August of 2016 and January of 2017. Id. at 1.

         On January 24, 2017, Eaton raised concerns with a director of the company regarding his supervisor's alleged sexual and racial harassment. Id. Thereafter, Montana Silversmiths' vice president insisted Eaton change his work hours, making it difficult for Eaton to pick up his children from school. Id. at 2. On April 4, 2017, Eaton's supervisor gave him subpar ratings on his yearly evaluation. Id. The following day, Eaton attended a meeting with his supervisor and Montana Silversmiths' vice president. Id. Eaton was sent home at the end of the meeting. Id. Eaton wrote a grievance letter to the company regarding this incident. Id.

         On April 10, 2017, Eaton returned to work. Id. Four days later, however, Eaton underwent surgery for a work-related injury. Id. In May and June of 2017, Eaton communicated with Montana Silversmiths' human resources department regarding his grievance letter. Id. But on June 15, 2017, Montana Silversmiths' called Eaton to inform him he was being laid off.

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Rule 12(b)(1)

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) challenges the court's subject matter jurisdiction over the action. As the party asserting jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving its existence. Kingman Reef Atoll Investments, L.L.C. v. United States, 541 F.3d 1189, 1197 (9th Cir. 2008.)

         A defendant may pursue a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss either as a facial challenge to the jurisdictional allegations of a pleading, or as a substantive challenge to the facts underlying those allegations. Savage v. Glendale Union High School, Dist. No. 205, Maricopa Cty., 343 F.3d 1036, 1039 (9th Cir. 2003). A facial challenge contests whether the allegations “are insufficient on their face to invoke federal jurisdiction.” Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004). The challenge does not involve resolution of factual disputes; it only concerns the allegations in the complaint. Wolfe v. Strankman, 392 F.3d 358, 362 (9th Cir. 2004). Therefore, the court must assume the allegations in the complaint are true and “draw all reasonable inferences in [plaintiff's] favor.” Id.

         B. Rule 12(b)(6)

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). “Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper when the complaint either (1) lacks a cognizable legal theory or (2) fails to allege sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory.” Zixiang Li v. Kerry, 710 F.3d 995, 999 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Mendiondo v. Centinela Hosp. Med. Ctr., 521 F.3d 1097, 1104 (9th Cir. 2008)). The Court's standard of review under Rule 12(b)(6) is informed by Rule 8(a)(2), which requires that a pleading contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-678 (2009) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P 8(a)).

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A plausibility determination is context specific, and courts must draw on judicial experience and common sense in evaluating a complaint. Levitt v. Yelp! Inc., 765 F.3d 1123, 1135 (9th Cir. 2014).

         Because Eaton is a pro se plaintiff, the Court must construe his complaint liberally, and the complaint, “however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers[.]” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Nevertheless, pro se litigants must adhere to the rules of procedure. Ghazali v. Moran, 46 F.3d 52, 54 (9th Cir. 1995).

         III. Discussion

         Eaton's Second Amended Complaint alleges six counts against Montana Silversmiths: retaliation (Count 1); wrongful termination (Count 2); disability discrimination (Count 3); age discrimination (Count 4); hostile work environment (Count 5); and defamation of character (Count 6). (Doc. 12.) Eaton does not specify any particular statute, act, or constitutional provisions he relies upon for the basis of his claims.

         Montana Silversmiths moves to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Montana Silversmiths argues Eaton's complaint fails to establish subject matter jurisdiction because his complaint fails to state federal question jurisdiction, and diversity jurisdiction does not exist because Eaton alleges both parties are citizens of Montana. (Doc. 17 at 3.) Montana Silversmiths also argues Eaton's complaint fails to state a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 4.

         As the party asserting federal diversity jurisdiction, Eaton bears the burden of pleading and proving its existence. NewGen, LLC v. Safe Cig, LLC, 840 F.3d 606, 613-14 (9th Cir. 2016). Diversity jurisdiction exists where the action is between citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. “The essential elements of diversity jurisdiction, including the diverse residence of all parties, must be affirmatively alleged in the pleadings.” Bautista v. Pan American World Airlines, Inc., 828 F.2d 546, 552 (9th Cir. 1987) (quoting In re Mexico City Aircrash, 708 F.2d 400, 404 n. 4 (9th Cir. 1983)). Eaton's complaint must therefore plead and establish he and Montana Silversmiths are citizens of different states and the matter in controversy exceeds $75, 000.[1]

         Eaton alleges that Montana Silversmiths is a corporation. (Doc. 12 at ¶ 2.) A corporation is a citizen of the state under whose laws it is incorporated, and a citizen of the state of its “principal place of business.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1); Davis v. HSBC Bank Nevada, N.A., 557 F.3d 1026, 1028 (9th Cir. 2009). Eaton fails to allege facts establishing where Montana Silversmiths is incorporated, and whether its principal place of business is in Montana or another state. Rather, Eaton's complaint alleges he and Montana Silversmiths are residents of Montana. (Doc. 12 at 1.) When uncertainty as to jurisdictional existence arises, any doubt is normally resolved against a finding of such jurisdiction. Kantor v. ...

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