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Castillo v. Western Range Association

United States District Court, D. Nevada

April 13, 2017

ABEL CÁNTARO CASTILLO et al., Plaintiffs,


          ROBERT C. JONES United States District Judge.

         This is a putative wage and hour class action arising primarily from the Defendants' alleged failure to pay their employees minimum wages under Article 15, Section 16 of the Nevada Constitution. Now pending before the Court are five Motions to Dismiss, (ECF Nos. 35, 37, 55, 66, 74), and a Motion for Leave to File Excess Pages, (ECF No. 75). For the reasons given herein, the Court grants the motions to dismiss Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint.


         Plaintiffs Abel Cántaro Castillo (Cántaro) and Alcides Inga Ramos (“Inga”) are Peruvian citizens lawfully admitted to the United States under the Department of Labor's (“DOL”) H-2A guestworker visa program, pursuant to 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(a), 1188(a)(1), and 20 C.F.R. Part 655, Subpart B. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 29-32, 59-62, ECF No. 45.) Cántaro alleges that he was recruited into the H-2A visa program in 2007 by Defendant Western Range Association (“WRA”). (Id. at ¶¶ 29-30.) WRA assisted Cántaro through the process of obtaining his H-2A visa, and eventually assigned him to work for a “particular WRA ranch, Defendant El Tejon Sheep Company, which is owned and managed by Defendant [Melchor] Gragirena.” (Id. at ¶¶ 30-32.) Cántaro alleges that he was jointly employed by WRA, El Tejon, and Gragirena while working in the United States from approximately 2007 through June 2014. (Id. at ¶ 43.)

         Inga alleges that he was recruited into the H-2A visa program in early 2012 by Defendant Mountain Plains Agricultural Service (“MPAS”). (Id. at ¶¶ 59-60.) MPAS assisted Inga with the visa process and assigned him to work for a “particular MPAS ranch, Defendant Estill Ranches, LLC (‘Estill Ranches'), which is owned and managed by Defendant John Estill.” (Id. at ¶¶ 60- 62.) Inga alleges that he was jointly employed by MPAS, Estill Ranches, and Estill while working in the United States from about April 2012 through February 2013. (Id. at ¶ 72.)

         Plaintiffs were employed as range sheep herders, engaged to be on call twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 46-48, 73-75, ECF No. 45.) Accordingly, under 20 C.F.R. Part 655, Subpart B, Defendants were required to pay Plaintiffs “a wage that is the highest of the monthly AEWR established under this section, the agreed-upon collective bargaining wage, or the applicable minimum wage imposed by Federal or State law or judicial action.” 20 C.F.R. § 655.211(a)(1). Plaintiffs allege that Defendants paid them the monthly AEWR-or Adverse Effect Wage Rate[1]-despite the fact that the Nevada state minimum wage mandated a higher rate of pay. Accordingly, this lawsuit centers on Defendants' alleged failure to pay Plaintiffs at least the Nevada minimum wage as set forth in the Minimum Wage Amendment (“MWA”) to the Nevada Constitution. Nev. Const. art. 15, § 16.

         Cántaro filed this action against El Tejon, Gragirena, and WRA on May 3, 2016, asserting claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the MWA. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) On September 16, 2016, El Tejon, Gragirena, and WRA filed motions to dismiss. (ECF Nos. 35, 37.) Rather than oppose the motions, Cántaro filed a First Amended Complaint (“FAC”), adding Inga as co-plaintiff and MPAS, Estill Ranches, and Estill as defendants. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 45.) In the FAC, Plaintiffs have eschewed any claim based on the FLSA. Accordingly, all of their claims now arise under Nevada state law: failure to pay minimum wages in violation of the MWA, failure to pay wages due upon termination under NRS Chapter 608, breach of contract, promissory estoppel, unjust enrichment, and quantum meruit.

         Now, WRA, El Tejon, Gragirena, Estill Ranches, and Estill have filed motions to dismiss the FAC. (ECF Nos. 55, 66, 74.) Based on the absence of any claim expressly arising under federal law, Defendants seek dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In the alternative, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs have failed to state a plausible claim for relief, and request dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) provides that a plaintiff may amend his complaint “as a matter of course” within 21 days after (1) service of the complaint, (2) service of a responsive pleading, or (3) service of a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f). The Ninth Circuit construes “the phrase ‘matter of course' as consonant with ‘as of right, ' implying, if not expressly declaring, that Rule 15 confers a ‘right' to amend upon the parties.” Ramirez v. Cty. of San Bernardino, 806 F.3d 1002, 1007 (9th Cir. 2015). When an amended complaint is filed, it “supersedes the original, the latter being treated thereafter as non-existent.” Forsyth v. Humana, Inc., 114 F.3d 1467, 1474 (9th Cir. 1997) (internal citation omitted), overruled on other grounds by Lacey v. Maricopa Cty., 693 F.3d 896, 927-28 (9th Cir. 2012).

         Two motions to dismiss Plaintiffs' original Complaint were filed on September 16, 2016. (ECF Nos. 35, 37.) Plaintiffs then filed the FAC on October 3, 2016. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 40-1.) Because the FAC was filed within 21 days of the service of Defendants' Rule 12(b) motions, the effect of the FAC is to supersede and replace the original Complaint, such that “the original pleading no longer performs any function, ” and effectively “ceases to exist.” Ramirez, 806 F.3d at 1008. Accordingly, because the pre-amendment motions to dismiss target Plaintiffs' original Complaint, which is no longer in effect, those motions are moot. See id.

         III. DISMISSAL UNDER FRCP 12(b)(1)

         a. Legal Standards

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides for dismissal of a claim based on the lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. While the defendant is the moving party in a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff is the party invoking the court's jurisdiction. Consequently, “the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the case is properly in federal court.” Wright v. Incline Vill. Gen. Imp. Dist., 597 F.Supp.2d 1191, 1198 (D. Nev. 2009) (citing McCauley v. Ford Motor Co., 264 F.3d 952, 957 (9th Cir. 2001)). A motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) may take one of two forms. Thornhill Publ'g Co. v. Gen. Tel. & Elec. Corp., 594 F.2d 730, 733 (9th Cir. 1979). It may be a “facial” challenge or it may be a “factual” challenge. Id. “In a facial attack, the challenger asserts that the allegations contained in a complaint are insufficient on their face to invoke federal jurisdiction.” Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004). “[I]n a factual attack, the challenger disputes the truth of the allegations that, by themselves, would otherwise invoke federal jurisdiction.” Id.

         If the movant's challenge is a facial one, then the “court must consider the allegations of the complaint to be true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Nevada ex rel. Colo. River Comm'n of Nev. v. Pioneer Cos., 245 F.Supp.2d 1120, 1124 (D. Nev. 2003) (citing Love v. United States, 915 F.2d 1242, 1245 (9th Cir. 1989)). If the attack is factual, however, “no presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's allegations, and the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims.” Thornhill, 594 F.2d at 733 (quoting Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977)). The plaintiff has the “burden of establishing that the court, in fact, possesses subject-matter jurisdiction” by present[ing] affidavits or any other evidence necessary.” St. Clair v. City of Chico, 880 F.2d 199, 201 (9th Cir. 1989). Indeed, the district court is “free to hear evidence regarding jurisdiction and to rule on that issue prior to trial, resolving factual disputes where necessary.” Augustine v. United States, 704 F.2d 1074, 1077 (9th Cir. 1983) (citing Thornhill, 594 F.2d at 733).

         b. Analysis

         The FAC includes only claims arising under Nevada state law. Nonetheless, Plaintiffs assert two bases for federal jurisdiction in this case. First, Plaintiffs argue that federal question jurisdiction (28 U.S.C. § 1331) applies to the “claims brought under the contracts, ” because these claims “require the Court to resolve significant and serious questions of federal law.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 45.) Second, Plaintiffs argue that diversity jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”) (28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)) applies to the “state-law claims against WRA, ” (Am. Compl. ¶ 6), which in turn supports supplemental jurisdiction (28 U.S.C. § 1367) over the remaining Defendants, (Resp. 9-11, ECF No. 77).

         i. Federal Question Jurisdiction Under 28 U.S.C. § 1331

         Federal courts have original jurisdiction over civil actions “arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. For a case to “arise under” federal law, a plaintiff's well-pleaded complaint must establish “either that federal law creates the cause of action or that the plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law.” Empire Healthchoice Assur., Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 690 (2006) (citing Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 27- 28 (1983)).

         Accordingly, “in certain cases federal-question jurisdiction will lie over state-law claims that implicate significant federal issues.” Grable & Sons Metal Prod., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 312 (2005). However, there is a “long-settled understanding that the mere presence of a federal issue in a state cause of action does not automatically confer federal-question jurisdiction.” Merrell Dow Pharm. Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 813 (1986). The Supreme Court has consistently explained that “federal jurisdiction demands not only a contested federal issue, but a substantial one, indicating a serious federal interest in claiming the advantages thought to be inherent in a federal forum.” Id. at 313. In other words, a state-law claim will not arise under federal law “unless it really and substantially involves a dispute or controversy respecting the validity, construction or effect of such a law, upon the determination of ...

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