Tag Archives: Collective Action

3d Cir.: Defendant May Not “Pick Off” a Putative Collective Action by Tendering Full Relief to Named-Plaintiff at Outset

Symczyk v. Genesis Healthcare Corp.

In an issue that has now been addressed by several circuits in recent years, the Third Circuit was presented with the question of whether a defendant-employer in an FLSA case may “pick off” a putative collective action (prior to conditional certification), where it tenders full relief to the named-Plaintiff.  Consistent with other circuits to have taken up this issue, the Third Circuit held that a defendant may not do so and that such an offer of judgment (OJ) does not moot a putative collective action.  As such, the court reversed the decision below, dismissing the case on mootness grounds.

In dismissing the case initially, the trial court below reasoned, “[Plaintiff] does not contend that other individuals have joined her collective action. Thus, this case, like each of the district court cases cited by Defendants, which concluded that a Rule 68 offer of judgment mooted the underlying FLSA collective action, involves a single named plaintiff. In addition, Symczyk does not contest Defendants’ assertion that the 68 offer of judgment fully satisfied her claims….”

After discussing the application of full tender relief offers in the Rule 23 context, the court concluded that the same reasoning precludes picking off the named-plaintiff in a representative action brought pursuant to 216(b).  Instead, the court held that a motion for conditional certification in an FLSA case made within a reasonable time “relates back” to the time of the filing of the Complaint and thus such a representative action may proceed, notwithstanding to purportedly “full tender” offer to the named-plaintiff.  The court explained:

“Although the opt-in mechanism transforms the manner in which a named plaintiff acquires a personal stake in representing the interests of others, it does not present a compelling justification for limiting the relation back doctrine to the Rule 23 setting. The considerations that caution against allowing a defendant’s use of Rule 68 to impede the advancement of a representative action are equally weighty in either context. Rule 23 permits plaintiffs “to pool claims which would be uneconomical to litigate individually.” Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Shutts, 472 U.S. 797, 809, 105 S.Ct. 2965, 86 L.Ed.2d 628 (1985). Similarly, § 216(b) affords plaintiffs “the advantage of lower individual costs to vindicate rights by the pooling of resources.” Hoffmann–La Roche, 493 U.S. at 170. Rule 23 promotes “efficiency and economy of litigation.” Crown, Cork & Seal Co. v. Parker, 462 U.S. 345, 349, 103 S.Ct. 2392, 76 L.Ed.2d 628 (1983). Similarly, “Congress’ purpose in authorizing § 216(b) class actions was to avoid multiple lawsuits where numerous employees have allegedly been harmed by a claimed violation or violations of the FLSA by a particular employer.” Prickett v. DeKalb Cnty., 349 F.3d 1294, 1297 (11th Cir.2003).

When Rule 68 morphs into a tool for the strategic curtailment of representative actions, it facilitates an outcome antithetical to the purposes behind § 216(b). Symczyk’s claim-like that of the plaintiff in Weiss—was “acutely susceptible to mootness” while the action was in its early stages and the court had yet to determine whether to facilitate notice to prospective plaintiffs. See Weiss, 385 F.3d at 347 (internal quotation marks omitted). When the certification process has yet to unfold, application of the relation back doctrine prevents defendants from using Rule 68 to “undercut the viability” of either’ type of representative action. See id. at 344.

Additionally, the relation back doctrine helps safeguard against the erosion of FLSA claims by operation of the Act’s statute of limitations. To qualify for relief under the FLSA, a party plaintiff must “commence” his cause of action before the statute of limitations applying to his individual claim has lapsed. Sperling v. Hoffmann–La Roche, Inc., 24 F.3d 463, 469 (3d Cir.1994).  For a named plaintiff, the action commences on the date the complaint is filed. 29 U.S.C. § 256(a). For an opt-in plaintiff, however, the action commences only upon filing of a written consent. Id. § 256(b). This represents a departure from Rule 23, in which the filing of a complaint tolls the statute of limitations “as to all asserted members of the class” even if the putative class member is not cognizant of the suit’s existence. See Crown, Cork & Seal Co. 462 U.S. at 350 (internal quotation marks omitted). Protracted disputes over the propriety of dismissal in light of Rule 68 offers may deprive potential opt-ins whose claims are in jeopardy of expiring of the opportunity to toll the limitations period—and preserve their entitlements to recovery—by filing consents within the prescribed window.

In sum, we believe the relation back doctrine helps ensure the use of Rule 68 does not prevent a collective action from playing out according to the directives of § 216(b) and the procedures authorized by the Supreme Court in Hoffmann–La Roche and further refined by courts applying this statute. Depriving the parties and the court of a reasonable opportunity to deliberate on the merits of collective action “conditional certification” frustrates the objectives served by § 216(b). Cf. Sandoz, 553 F.3d at 921 (explaining “there must be some time for a[n FLSA] plaintiff to move to certify a collective action before a defendant can moot the claim through an offer of judgment”). Absent undue delay, when an FLSA plaintiff moves for “certification” of a collective action, the appropriate course—particularly when a defendant makes a Rule 68 offer to the plaintiff that would have the possible effect of mooting the claim for collective relief asserted under § 216(b)—is for the district court to relate the motion back to the filing of the initial complaint.

Upon remand, should Symczyk move for “conditional certification,” the court’ shall consider whether such motion was made without undue delay, and, if it so finds, shall relate the motion back to December 4, 2009the date on which Symczyk filed her initial complaint. If (1) Symczyk may yet timely seek “conditional certification” of her collective action, (2) the court permits the case to move forward as a collective action (by virtue of Symczyk’s satisfaction of the “modest factual showing” standard), and (3) at least one other similarly situated employee opts in, then defendants’ Rule 68 offer of judgment would no longer fully satisfy the claims of everyone in the collective action, and the proffered rationale behind dismissing the complaint on jurisdictional grounds would no longer be applicable. If, however, the court finds Symczyk’s motion to certify would be untimely, or otherwise denies the motion on its merits, then defendants’ Rule 68 offer to Symczyk—in full satisfaction of her individual claim—would moot the action.

For the foregoing reasons, we will reverse the judgment of the District Court and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

Thus, while ultimately the OJ might have the effect of mooting the case, it could not do so prior to a reasonable opportunity to plaintiff of seeking conditional certification of same.

Click Symczyk v. Genesis Healthcare Corp. to read the entire decision.

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E.D.Pa.: Defendant’s Attempt to Obtain Class Waivers From Absent Class Members While Motion for Conditional Certification Pending Impermissible; Corrective Measures Ordered

Williams v. Securitas Sec. Services USA, Inc.

Before the court was the emergency motion of plaintiffs for a protective order and corrective mailing to address defendant’s improper communications with absent class members.  While plaintiffs motion for conditional certification was pending before the court (but before it had been resolved), the defendant sought to obtain class waivers of the claims in the case from its current employees, by sending each an alternative dispute resolution agreement.  The court held that such attempts by the defendant amounted to an obstruction of the court’s role in managing the collective action, granted plaintiffs motion and ordered related corrective action by defendant.

The motion alleged that defendant distributed to all its employees, including its Pennsylvania employees, a document entitled “Securitas Security Services USA, Inc. Dispute Resolution Agreement” (hereinafter “the Agreement”). The body of the Agreement consists of ten paragraphs on four type-written, single-spaced pages and is written in a small font. A fifth page provides a place for the employee to acknowledge receipt of the document.  In relevant part:

“The Agreement purports to require all Securitas employees to submit “any dispute arising out of or related to Employee’s employment with [Securitas] … or termination of employment” to a binding arbitration conducted pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 1, et seq. It states in small boldface letters that “this Agreement requires all such disputes to be resolved only by an arbitrator through final and binding arbitration and not by way of court or jury trial.” The Agreement specifies that any dispute arising from federal “wage-hour law” and the FLSA must be arbitrated. The Agreement states, again in small bold font, “there will be no right or authority for any dispute to be brought, heard or arbitrated as a class, collective or representative action (“Class Action Waiver”).”

Paragraph 7 of the Agreement says that although the Agreement is meant to apply “broadly,” if an employee is “a named party plaintiff, or ha[s] joined as a party plaintiff this Agreement shall not apply to those Actions, and you may continue to participate in them without regard to this Agreement,” but “shall apply to all Actions in which you are not a plaintiff or part of a certified class.” The Agreement then lists five representative or class action lawsuits in which Securitas is a named defendant, including this lawsuit, “Frankie Williams and Kimberly Ord, filed 12/10/2010, USDC, Eastern District of Pennsylvania Case No. 2:10–CV–07181–HB.” The term “Actions” is defined as “litigation on behalf of [Securitas] employees in which those employees desire to represent claims of other employees in class, collective or other representative actions.” Thus, the term “Actions” does not appear to be limited only to the five lawsuits enumerated later in paragraph 7. The nature of the Williams action is not explained.

The Agreement further states that if the employee would like to participate in one of the “Actions,” he or she “may opt out of this Agreement by following the procedure set forth in Section 9, below.”  To opt out of the Agreement, the employee must call a toll-free telephone number within 30 days of the date the employee received the Agreement. According to the Agreement, “Should an Employee not opt out of this Agreement within 30 days of the Employee’s receipt of this Agreement, continuing the Employee’s employment constitutes mutual acceptance of the terms of this Agreement by the Employee and [Securitas].” The Agreement declares that not opting out means an employee forfeits the right to participate in any collective or representative action. Securitas adds that it will not retaliate against any employee for opting out of the Agreement or for asserting claims according to its terms.

The fifth page of the Agreement states as follows:

ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF RECEIPT OF THE SECURITAS SECURITY SERVICES USA, INC. DISPUTE RESOLUTION AGREEMENT

BY SIGNING BELOW, I AM ACKNOWLEDGING RECEIPT OF THE SECURITAS SECURITY SERVICES USA, INC. DISPUTE RESOLUTION AGREEMENT, EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY.

Below this text is a place for the employee to sign and date the Agreement. There is also a place for a witness to sign his or her name.”

The court rejected defendant’s attempts to stretch the holding of the Supreme Court’s recent holding in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, stating:

“Under Hoffman–La Roche, this court has a responsibility to prevent confusion and unfairness concerning this action in which plaintiffs seek to have the matter proceed as a collective action and to insure that all parties act fairly while the court decides whether and how this action will move forward under the FLSA. In the meantime, to prevent confusion and unfairness, we will order Securitas to rescind the Agreement with respect to its Pennsylvania employees as it relates to this litigation. We will require Securitas to set forth the nature of this action and advise its Pennsylvania employees that the Agreement is not binding with regard to those employees’ right to participate in this lawsuit, notwithstanding the fact that the employee may have signed the Agreement or failed timely to opt out.

Securitas contends that any interference by this court with its efforts to compel arbitration of disputes with its employees will be contrary to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, –––U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 1740, 179 L.Ed.2d 742 (2011). We disagree. In Concepcion, the Supreme Court held that, generally, states may not adopt rules of contract interpretation that undermine the “overarching purpose” of the FAA, which “is to ensure the enforcement of arbitration agreements according to their terms so as to facilitate streamlined proceedings.” Id. at 1748. There, the Court considered California contract law, which deemed unconscionable certain contracts that disallowed class arbitration. The Court found the law impermissibly stood “as an obstacle to the accomplishment of the FAA’s objectives.”

Securitas’ reliance on Concepcion is inapposite because plaintiffs’ motion for a protective order does not rely on any state-law ground to invalidate the Agreement. Here the issue is quite different. This court has found the Agreement to be a confusing and unfair communication with the class of possible plaintiffs in this action under the FLSA.

Securitas argues that invalidating the Agreement merely because this class action lawsuits is pending is equivalent to preventing it from adopting any arbitration policy at all. Whatever right Securitas may have to ask its employees to agree to arbitrate, its current effort, which specifically references this lawsuit, is confusing and misleading and clearly designed to thwart unfairly the right of its employees to make an informed choice as to whether to participate in this collective action under the FLSA. Since the Agreement by its terms will directly affect this lawsuit, this court has authority to prevent abuse and to enter appropriate orders governing the conduct of counsel and the parties. Hoffman–La Roche, 493 U.S. at 171–72. Securitas did not act fairly when it gave notice through the Agreement to potential class members concerning this lawsuit.

Defendant’s proposal to resolve the plaintiffs’ pending motion for conditional class certification before resolving issues related to the Agreement is insufficient to prevent potential plaintiffs from misapprehending their rights. The confusing nature of the Agreement may cause Securitas employees to misunderstand the nature of their rights to participate in this litigation while the court determines whether to conditionally certify a class, damage not easily undone. Similarly, Securitas’s proposal to allow its Pennsylvania employees a second 30–day opt out period if the court conditionally certifies a class is also insufficient because it is for the court, not Securitas, to determine the amount of time employees shall have to consider their right to join this action. Immediate action by this court is necessary.

Securitas shall be required to implement the corrective measures described in the accompanying order.”

In the accompanying Order, the court required that the defendant submit a proposed corrective notice to the plaintiffs within 48 hours which, among other things, stated the the dispute resolution agreement was not binding on with regard to participation in the case (i.e. they would not be precluded from joining this class if they signed the agreement at issue).

Click Williams v. Securitas Security Services USA, Inc. to read the entire Memorandum Opinion and here to read the accompanying Order.

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S.D.Tex.: Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Collective Action Allegations Denied; Argument Inappropriately Raised at Pleading Stage

Richardson v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

This case was before the court on the Motion to Dismiss Collective Action Allegations, or, in the Alternative, Motion for More Definite Statement (“Motion”).  Plaintiff, a former personal banker for Wells Fargo, filed this collective action alleging that Defendant violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) by failing to pay him overtime compensation for hours worked in excess of forty (40) per week. Plaintiff purported to sue also on behalf of all Wells Fargo personal bankers throughout the United States.  Defendant filed the Motion, asserting that Plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts to support the collective action allegations.

Holding such a motion was inappropriately made at the pleading stage, the court explained:

“Plaintiff alleges sufficient facts in his Complaint to satisfy the pleading requirements for collective actions under the FLSA. Plaintiff alleges that he and other similarly-situated personal bankers working for Wells Fargo were improperly classified as non-exempt, regularly worked more than forty hours per week, and were not paid overtime compensation for those additional hours. These are all factual allegations that, if proven, state a plausible claim for relief under the FLSA. See, e.g., Hoffman v. Cemex, Inc., 2009 WL 4825224, *3 (S.D.Tex. Dec.8, 2009) (Rosenthal, J.).

Additionally, dismissal of the collective action allegations under Rule 12(b)(6) is not appropriate. Whether the case should proceed as a collective action is properly addressed when Plaintiff moves for conditional certification and issuance of notice to the class. Id. at *4 (citing Mooney v. Aramco Servs. Co., 54 F.3d 1207, 1212 (5th Cir.1995)).

For the same reasons that dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is unwarranted, there is no need for Plaintiff to file a more definite statement. Plaintiff alleges an adequate factual basis for the FLSA claim and the Federal Rules require no more at this stage.

Plaintiff has adequately pled his FLSA claim. Whether the case should proceed as a collective action will be determined if and when Plaintiff moves for conditional certification and the issuance of notice.”

Armed with recent Supreme Court jurisprudence (Iqbal and Twombly), FLSA defendants are making more and more motions to dismiss as here.  However, as this court correctly held, such motions, in effect, to “decertify” collective actions before they reach “stage 1″ or the conditional certification stage are inappropriately made at the pleading stage of a case.

Click Richardson v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. to read the entire Memorandum and Order.

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7th Cir.: Collective Action FLSA Claims May Proceed In A “Hybrid Action” With State Law Rule 23 Claims

Ervin v. OS Restaurant Services, Inc.

In this appeal the Seventh Circuit considered “whether employees who institute a collective action against their employer under the terms of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. (“FLSA”), may at the same time litigate supplemental state-law claims as a class action certified according to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3). The district court thought not; it rejected the plaintiffs’ effort to proceed as a class under Rule 23(b)(3) on the ground that there is a “clear incompatibility” between the FLSA proceeding and the proposed class action.”  Answering this question in the affirmative (finding that so-called “hybrid actions” are permissible) the Seventh Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision holding otherwise and remanded the case for further findings in accordance with its opinion.

The court explained:

“The problem, as the court saw it, stems from the fact that the FLSA requires potential plaintiffs to opt in to participate in an action, while the plaintiffs in a Rule 23(b)(3) class action are included in the case unless they opt out. Trying to use both systems side-by-side would be rife with complications, it concluded; more formally, it held that one could never find the superiority requirement of Rule 23(b)(3) satisfied if the case also involved an FLSA collective action.

The question whether these two distinct types of aggregate litigation may co-exist within one case has divided the trial courts in this circuit and elsewhere. In the Northern District of Illinois alone, compare Barragan v. Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Co., 259 F .R.D. 330 (N.D.Ill.2009), and Ladegaard v. Hard Rock Concrete Cutters, Inc., 2000 WL 1774091 (N.D.Ill.2000), with Riddle v. National Sec. Agency, Inc., 2007 WL 2746597 (N.D.Ill.2007), McClain v. Leona’s Pizzeria, Inc., 222 F.R.D. 574 (N.D.Ill.2004), and Rodriguez v. The Texan, Inc., 2001 WL 1829490 (N.D.Ill.2001). As far as we can tell, no court of appeals has yet had occasion to address it. But see Wang v. Chinese Daily News, Inc., 623 F.3d 743, 753-55, 760-62 (9th Cir.2010) (holding that a district court properly certified a Rule 23(b)(2) class along with an FLSA collective action and properly exercised supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claim); Lindsay v. Government Employees Ins. Co., 448 F.3d 416, 420-25 (D.C.Cir.2006) (concluding, in the context of an appeal under Rule 23(f), that the FLSA does not necessarily preclude an exercise of supplemental jurisdiction over related state-law claims); De Asencio v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 342 F.3d 301, 307-12 (3d Cir.2003) (concluding that a district court presiding over an FLSA collective action should not have exercised supplemental jurisdiction over parallel state-law claims).

We conclude that there is no categorical rule against certifying a Rule 23(b)(3) state-law class action in a proceeding that also includes a collective action brought under the FLSA. (We refer to these as “combined” actions, rather than “hybrid” actions, to avoid confusion with other uses of the term “hybrid”-e.g., for cases certified under more than one subsection of Rule 23(b).) In combined actions, the question whether a class should be certified under Rule 23(b)(3) will turn-as it always does-on the application of the criteria set forth in the rule; there is no insurmountable tension between the FLSA and Rule 23(b)(3). Nothing in the text of the FLSA or the procedures established by the statute suggests either that the FLSA was intended generally to oust other ordinary procedures used in federal court or that class actions in particular could not be combined with an FLSA proceeding. We reverse the district court’s class-certification determination and remand for further consideration in accordance with this opinion.”

Click Ervin v. OS Restaurant Services, Inc. to read the entire opinion.

The DOL had submitted an Amicus Brief in support of the Plaintiffs in this case.  Click DOL Amicus Brief to read the Amicus Brief the US DOL filed in support of the plaintiff’s in this case.

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D.Neb.: Defendant Limited To Full Discovery For 2 Plaintiffs and Representative Discovery From 15% of Class Where Almost 300 Opt-ins

Morales v. Farmland Foods, Inc.

This matter was before the court on the plaintiffs’ Motion for Protective Order, seeking protection from responding to discovery requests including interrogatories, requests for production, and requests for admission served on nearly all of the almost 300 FLSA opt-in plaintiffs.

Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion, the court reasoned:

“As a starting point, “[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense-including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any documents …” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). However, “[t]he District Court does have discretion to limit the scope of discovery.” Credit Lyonnais v. SGC Int’l, Inc ., 160 F.3d 428, 431 (8th Cir.1998). To determine if a matter is discoverable, the court must first evaluate whether the sought discovery is relevant to a claim or defense. Accordingly, although limited, relevant evidence includes “any matter that could bear on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that bears on” the claims or defenses of any party.   Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978). “Some threshold showing of relevance must be made before parties are required to open wide the doors of discovery and to produce a variety of information which does not reasonably bear upon the issues in the case.” Hofer v. Mack Trucks, Inc., 981 F.2d 377, 380 (8th Cir.1992). “Determinations of relevance in discovery rulings are left to the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion.” Hayden v. Bracy, 744 F.2d 1338, 1342 (8th Cir.1984). Once the requesting party meets the threshold relevance burden, generally “[a]ll discovery requests are a burden on the party who must respond thereto. Unless the task of producing or answering is unusual, undue or extraordinary, the general rule requires the entity answering or producing the documents to bear that burden.” Continental Ill. Nat’l Bank & Trust Co. of Chicago v. Caton, 136 F.R.D. 682, 684-85 (D.Kan.1991) (citation omitted).

The defendant has met its burden of showing the discovery sought is relevant to the claims and defenses in this matter, in a broad sense. Similarly, the plaintiffs have met their burden to show the plaintiffs are subject to unusual, undue or extraordinary burden by having to respond on behalf of each separate opt-in class member. Allowing the defendant to obtain the discovery sought from each opt-in class member is inappropriate in this FLSA lawsuit. See Reich v. Homier Distr. Co., 362 F.Supp.2d 1009, 1015 (N.D.Ind .2005) (“The individual discovery required … would destroy ‘the economy of scale envisioned by the FLSA collective action procedure.’ ”). The defendant seeks to obtain information about the differences between each opt-in class member, however the defendant fails to explain how the representative sampling method suggested by the plaintiffs is deficient for the purpose of establishing (or refuting) similarity between the opt-in class members. Furthermore, the extensive nature of the discovery sought outweighs the benefit. See Geer v. Challenge Fin. Investors Corp., No. 05-1109, 2007 WL 1341774 (D.Kan. May 4, 2007) (finding “the burden and expense the requested discovery (depositions of [each of the 272] opt-in plaintiff[s] ) would impose on Plaintiffs clearly outweighs the likely benefit of such discovery”); see also Fast v. Applebee’s Int’l, Inc., No. 06-4146, 2008 WL 5432288 (W.D.Mo. Dec. 31, 2008) (denying motion to compel interrogatory responses from each opt-in plaintiff). The plaintiffs’ generous proposal of limiting discovery to a random sample of fifteen percent of the opt-in class members is reasonable. See Nerland v. Caribou Coffee Co., Inc., 564 F.Supp.2d 1010, 1016 (D.Minn.2007) (noting the court had “authorized individualized discovery for eighty-five randomly selected opt-in plaintiffs through completion of questionnaires and a limited number of depositions”). The court will not determine the content of the discovery requests as it appears the parties will be able to resolve the issue without court intervention. Upon consideration,

IT IS ORDERED:

The plaintiffs’ Motion for Protective Order (Filing No. 158) is granted as follows.

1. The defendant may take full discovery of the two named plaintiffs.

2. The defendant may serve discovery on a random sample of fifteen percent of the FLSA opt-in class members.

3. No opt-in class member will be allowed to testify at trial unless first responding to the discovery discussed in paragraph 2 above.”

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W.D.Mo.: Where Over 1,000 Opt-ins, “Full Discovery” Targeting All Class Members Inappropriate

Dernovish v. AT&T Operations, Inc.

This case involved a collective action brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Plaintiffs, call center employees, alleged that Defendant failed to pay them for some time spent working, while they were in the process of logging in to Defendant’s computer system, prior to their scheduled shift.  The issue before the Court was what proper scope of discovery should be granted to Defendant, with respect to the over 1,000 members of the opt-in class.  While the Defendant maintained that all opt-ins were parties and thus, they were entitled to full discovery from each and every class member, the Plaintiffs disagreed.  The Court held that the opt-ins need only produce limited discovery responses, because they were akin to class members in a Rule 23 class.

Discussing the issue, the Court said:

“The Court holds Plaintiffs’ view is more appropriate. Normally, a class action governed by Rule 23(b)(3) would permit those defined by the class definition to opt out of the suit. The FLSA effectively changes the normal situation in two ways: it creates its own class action device that replaces the one created in Rule 23 and requires individuals defined by the class definition to opt in, not opt out. See Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 170 (1989) (describing section 216(b) as permitting “employees to proceed on behalf of those similarly situated”); Anderson v. Unisys Corp., 47 F.3d 302, 305 n. 6 (8th Cir.1995) (declaring that “Certification of ADEA class actions is governed by 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) rather than Fed.R.Civ.P. 23.”); Kelley v. Alamo, 964 F.2d 747, 749 (8th Cir.1992) (“the FLSA provides for a form of ‘class action’ suit under” section 216(b)); Kloos v. Carter-Day Co., 799 F.2d 397, 399-400 (8th Cir.1986) (describing section 216(b) as creating a “type of statutory class action”). Other courts have reached the same conclusion. E.g., Alvarez v. City of Chicago, No. 09-2020, slip op. at —- (7th Cir. May 21, 2010) (“A collective action is similar to, but distinct from the typical class action…. The principle difference is that plaintiffs who wish to be included in a collective action must affirmatively opt-in to the suit….”); Thompson v. Weyerhaeuser Co., 582 F.3d 1125, 1127 (10th Cir.2009) (“the opt-in class mechanism of the [FLSA] authorizes class actions when the complaining parties are ‘similarly situated.’ ”); Smith v. T-Mobile USA Inc., 570 F.3d 1119, 1122 (9th Cir.2009) (“A plaintiff seeking FLSA collective action certification does not have a procedural right to represent a class in the absence of any opt-in plaintiffs.”); Ruehl v. Viacom, Inc., 500 F.3d 375, 379 & n. 3-4 (3d Cir.2007). This characterization suggests the permissible scope of discovery for the class members is not necessarily intended to be as great as it is for the actual parties to the case.

Another factor affecting the scope of discovery is the measure of damages, which consists of “the payment of wages lost and an additional equal amount as liquidated damages.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). This determination is based on a formula, not subjective testimony; there is no recovery for pain and suffering or emotional distress. Defendant’s policies provide the commonality that binds the class together. If it is determined that employees were required to login before the start of their shift, damages will be calculated by multiplying the applicable wage by the amount of time necessary to login, multiplied again by the number of days the employee worked. There is also no great need to rely on the employees’ memory to ascertain damages-the superior, more reliable evidence resides in Defendant’s records.”

The Court was careful to note that the Defendant was entitled to some individualized discovery:

“Nothing the Court has said, however, means that Defendant is not entitled to any information about the individuals who opt in. Even in a traditional class action under Rule 23, class members may be required to supply a certain amount of information. However, allowing the “full” range of discovery defeats the purpose of permitting a collective/class action by denying the efficiencies such a procedure is intended to produce. The nature and extent of the discovery effort is subject to the trial court’s discretion and depends on the nature of the case and the purported need for the information. Manual for Complex Litigation (Fourth) at 256.

With these principles in mind, the Court has reviewed Defendant’s discovery requests. The Court concludes it is appropriate and proper for those who opt-in to the case to answer Interrogatory Number Two. This interrogatory asks the individual to identify job titles, supervisors, and locations worked for Defendant. The remaining interrogatories ask for information that is more readily (and conclusively) found in Defendant’s records (such as Interrogatories 3 and 5), carries a significant burden that can be obviated by seeking discovery from the named Plaintiffs (such as Interrogatories 1 and 4), or ask for information that is of dubious importance in the case (such as Interrogatories 6, 7, 8, and 9).

The Request for Production of Documents presents an additional problem: Defendant has posed “contention”-type requests. For instance, Defendant asks the class members to produce “[a]ll documents regarding your assertion that AT & T ‘required these call center employees to be ready to work at the beginning of their scheduled shift.’ “ The undersigned generally finds such interrogatories to be unnecessary at best and inappropriate at worst . Here, requiring the class members to supply the documents will result in significant duplication and inefficiencies that are not warranted in the circumstances of this case. The class members will be required to produce any documents they may have responsive to requests 2 and 3, and submit any such documents along with their answer to Interrogatory Number Two. The remaining requests for documents need not be answered by the class members.”

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D.N.J.: Plaintiffs’ State Law Claims Not “Inherently Incompatible” With FLSA Claims; Plaintiffs’ Motion to Remand Denied

Dare v. Comcast Corp

This matter was before the Court on the motion of Plaintiffs to sever and remand all state wage and hour claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 21.  In denying Plaintiffs’ motion, the Court discussed, at length the state of Third Circuit law applicable to so-called hybrid (state law and FLSA) cases.

Unlike many cases within the Third Circuit to have considered the viability of hybrid Wage and Hour cases, in this case it was the Plaintiffs arguing that State Law claims and FLSA claims were “inherently incompatible.”  Rejecting this oft-raised argument the Court explained:

Fed.R.Civ.P. 21 provides for the severance of claims “at any time, on just terms.” Courts must balance several considerations in determining whether severance is warranted, including “the convenience of the parties, avoidance of prejudice to either party, and promotion of the expeditious resolution of the litigation.” German v. Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., 896 F.Supp. 1385, 1400 n. 6 (2d Cir.1995); see also Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors v. Shapiro, 190 F.R.D. 352, 355 (E.D.Pa.2000). Specific factors that must be weighed are:

(1) whether the claims arise out of the same transaction or occurrence; (2) whether the claims present some common questions of law or fact; (3) whether settlement of the claims or judicial economy would be facilitated; (4) whether prejudice would be avoided if severance were granted; and (5) whether different witnesses and documentary proof are required for the separate claims.  In re Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc. Research Reports Securities Litigation, 214 F.R.D. 152, 154-55 (S.D.N.Y.2003).

In this case, the factors all weigh against severance at this time. With regard to the first two factors, it is clear that both Plaintiffs’ state and federal claims arise from and are predicated upon the same set of core facts. Specifically, both claims are based on the fact that Defendants allegedly failed to pay its employees for overtime or off-the-clock hours worked, failed to provide the required minimum wage, and took unauthorized deductions from employee wages. As to the third factor, severance of the state claims would require the parties to litigate parallel cases with duplicative discovery, thereby frustrating judicial economy. Fourth, there is no indication that any of the parties would be prejudiced by not severing Plaintiffs’ state law claims at this time. Finally, there is no indication that the state and federal claims would require different witnesses or documentary proofs.

Although Plaintiffs have raised a number of arguments in support of their position that the claims should be severed, all are without merit. First, Plaintiffs argue that their state law claims should be severed and remanded in this case because “an FLSA opt-in collective action and a state law wage and hour opt-out class action are ‘inherently incompatible.’ “ (Pl. Br. at 3.) However, this is not an accurate statement of the law. Although Plaintiffs cite to De Asencio v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 342 F.3d 301 (3d Cir.2003) in support of their argument, this case does not stand for that proposition. To the contrary, the Third Circuit’s holding in De Asencio was premised on a case-specific analysis of supplemental jurisdiction, and not any alleged incompatibility between Rule 23 class actions and FLSA collective actions. See 342 F.3d at 312. Plaintiffs have failed to cite to any case in which the state class action claims were dismissed on the basis of their alleged inherent incompatibility with FLSA claims.

Second, Plaintiffs argue that the differences between the opt-in nature of their FLSA collective action and the opt-out nature of their state law class action warrants severance of the state law claim. However, the Court finds the procedural differences between the state and federal claims to be outweighed by the common questions of fact and substantive law. See De Asencio, 342 F.3d at 307-312 (noting that bringing state law class action in same case as FLSA claim “may be proper strategy where the state and federal actions raise similar issues and require similar terms of proof”); Cannon v. Vineland Hous. Auth., 627 F.Supp.2d 171, 176 n. 4 (D.N.J.2008) (noting that FLSA and New Jersey wage and hour laws employ same test for overtime claims).

Third, Plaintiffs argue that denial of the motion will prejudice them by delaying both class certification and the speedy trial of their state claims by a state court should this Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction at some point in the future. However, the Court can conceive of no reason why the presence of both state and federal claims in this action would prevent Plaintiffs from seeking to certify the class in a timely manner. Indeed, since filing the instant motion Plaintiffs have moved to conditionally certify the class for their state claims. Further, any hypothetical delay Plaintiffs might suffer should the Court decline supplemental jurisdiction at some point in the future is outweighed by the very real prejudice of having to conduct parallel state and federal court actions with expensive, duplicative discovery that Defendants would face were this motion granted. Plaintiffs contention that Defendants would not be prejudiced by severing the state claims because any duplicative discovery, additional expense, or inconsistent results could have been avoided if they declined to remove the case is likewise unavailing. Plaintiffs have not cited any authority to suggest that a defendant waives its right to argue that it would be prejudiced by an action simply by exercising its right to remove a case involving a federal question.

Finally, Plaintiffs argue that the state claim should be severed because it will substantially predominate the FLSA claim. This argument implicates the Court’s exercise of supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ state claim. District courts have supplemental jurisdiction over any claims that share a “common nucleus of operative fact” with a claim over which they have original jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a); De Asencio, 342 F.3d at 307-312. The courts may nonetheless decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction if “the state law claim substantially predominates over the claim or claims over which the district court has original jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(2). Generally, a state claim will be found to substantially predominate where it “ ‘constitutes the real body of a case, to which the federal claim is only an appendage’-only where permitting litigation of all claims in the district court can accurately be described as allowing a federal tail to wag what is in substance a state dog.” Borough of W. Mifflin v. Lancaster, 45 F.3d 780, 789 (3d Cir.1995) (quoting United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 727 (1966)); see also De Asencio, 342 F.3d at 309. In such instances, “the state claims may be dismissed without prejudice and left for resolution to state tribunals.” Gibbs, 383 U.S. at 726.

The Third Circuit has made clear that in examining supplemental jurisdiction over state wage and hour claims brought alongside an FLSA collective action:

[a] court must examine the scope of the state and federal issues, the terms of proof required by each type of claim, the comprehensiveness of the remedies, and the ability to dismiss the state claims without prejudice to determine whether the state claim constitutes the real body of the case. This is necessarily a case-specific analysis.  De Asencio, 342 F.3d at 312. This analysis may only be conducted after the parties have completed substantial discovery, the opt-in procedure is completed, and the plaintiffs move for class certification of their state claims. See id. at 309-312.

In this case, the opt-in procedure for Plaintiffs’ FLSA claim has not been completed and discovery is ongoing. Further, although Plaintiffs have moved for conditionally certify the state law class, this motion is still pending before the Court. Accordingly, it is premature for the Court to consider whether Plaintiffs’ state law claim substantially predominates over its FLSA claim such that the Court should decline supplemental jurisdiction. Plaintiffs’ argument on this issue is therefore not a proper basis for severance at this time.”

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7th Cir.: District Court Erred In Dismissing FLSA Claims; Court Was Required To Consider Most Efficient Way To Adjudicate Claims and Subclaims; Plaintiffs Have Right To Pursue Claims Individually

Alvarez v. City of Chicago

In this case a collective action had previously been consolidated with a multiple-Plaintiff non-collective action.  Each of the Plaintiffs presented a variety of claims and between the hundreds of plaintiffs there were 10 different types of claims.  The Court below granted the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment against all plaintiffs, reasoning that the plaintiffs were not similarly situated because each plaintiff raised a different combination of the ten subclaims, such that the plaintiffs could not be readily divided into homogenous subgroups.  The district court also noted that arbitration pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, while not mandatory, might be a more efficient way to resolve the paramedics’ claims.  The court did not reach the merits of the ten subclaims raised by the plaintiffs.  Instead, it dismissed the claims of all plaintiffs, without prejudice, and directed them to pursue arbitration.  The Seventh Circuit reversed however, noting that, the Court failed to consider the efficiency of adjudicating the claims as a collective action, and, that the named Plaintiffs in each of the consolidated cases had the right to proceed with their individual claims, regardless of whether they were similarly situated to the other class members.

The Court reasoned:

“The Fair Labor Standards Act gives employees the right to bring their FLSA claims through a “collective action” on behalf of themselves and other “similarly situated” employees. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) (2006). A collective action is similar to, but distinct from, the typical class action brought pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23. The principle difference is that plaintiffs who wish to be included in a collective action must affirmatively opt-in to the suit by filing a written consent with the court, while the typical class action includes all potential plaintiffs that meet the class definition and do not opt-out.

The City-and the district court’s opinion-relies heavily on our decision in Jonites v. Exelon Corp., 522 F.3d 721 (7th Cir.2008). In Jonites, we affirmed the dismissal of a collective action brought on behalf of more than a thousand lineman and other hourly workers employed by Commonwealth Edison. The Jonites plaintiffs alleged that two types of purportedly off-duty time were really compensable work. The first involved Com Ed’s “call-out” policy, which required off-duty workers to respond to at least 35% of the calls from their employer for additional manpower on an emergency basis. The frequency of these call-outs varied widely among workers; some were called as often as once every five and a half days on average, and others no more than once a month. The employees took the position that they were entitled to be paid for “some of the time” during which they were subject to call, with the amount to be determined by the trier of fact. The second challenge was to the lunch policy, which required workers at job sites to remain awake and be alert for trespassing and the theft of tools. However, only part of the class worked the daytime shift, to which the lunch policy applied. We held that as to both of these claims, the purported class was “hopelessly heterogenous” because liability would require significant individual fact-finding and many of the workers had no conceivable claim at all. Id. at 725-26. We further held that the individual plaintiffs must either file individual suits, create homogenous classes, or ask the union to file grievance proceedings under the collective bargaining agreement. Id. at 726. Because the purported class here is made up of plaintiffs who each have a different combination of subclaims, defendants argue that it is similarly heterogenous and was properly dismissed in favor of arbitration.

Appellants argue that this case is different from Jonites because the plaintiffs here appear to be similarly situated with regard to individual subclaims, but are heterogenous only because there are several different combinations of those subclaims. For example, whether any given paramedic is entitled to recover on the uniform pay theory depends on the legal question of whether such pay should have been included in the base rate, and the simple factual question of whether the particular paramedic received uniform pay. Instead of dismissing their claims as heterogenous, plaintiffs argue, the district court should have allowed them to split their claims into homogenous subclasses. See, e.g., Fravel v. County of Lake, No. 2:07-cv-253, 2008 WL 2704744 (N.D.Ind. July 7, 2008) (allowing plaintiffs to proceed collectively and grouping the plaintiffs into four distinct subclasses depending on which theory of liability applied to them). Plaintiffs suggest that here, as in Fravel, “[r]esolving common questions as a class, even through the additional mechanism of sub-classes, remains inherently more efficient” than splitting the action into four separate collective actions or allowing individual claims by each plaintiff. Id. at *3.

The district court appeared to agree with the plaintiffs’ characterization of their subclaims, noting that the City’s liability to any particular plaintiff on any given subclaim turns only upon a single uniform policy and whether that policy impacted that particular plaintiff. However, the district court refused to adopt the Fravel approach, concluding that the number of subclaims made the plaintiffs “hopelessly heterogenous” and that arbitration would be more efficient.

A district court has wide discretion to manage collective actions. See Hoffmann-La Roche v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 171 (1989). However, it appears that here the district court may have mistakenly read Jonites to forbid it from adopting a subclaim approach merely because the variety of subclaims renders the class “heterogenous.” The problem with the Jonites class, however, was not that the plaintiffs had different subclaims, but rather that determining whether any given plaintiff had a viable claim depended on a detailed, fact-specific inquiry, and many plaintiffs lacked any conceivably viable claim altogether. Jonites, 522 F.3d at 723, 725-26; see also Mooney v. Aramco Services Co., 54 F.3d 1207, 1214-15 (5th Cir.1995), overruled on other grounds by Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa, 539 U.S. 90 (2003) (affirming decertification of collective action where employees who brought ADEA claim were subject to “vastly disparate employment situations” and defense was likely to center on purported reasonable factors other than age specific to each employee). If common questions predominate, the plaintiffs may be similarly situated even though the recovery of any given plaintiff may be determined by only a subset of those common questions.

Similarly, the district court mistakenly compared the efficiency of proceeding through subclaims only to the perceived efficiency of arbitration. Plaintiffs have the right to proceed individually and may be able to form more tailored classes. See Jonites, 522 F.3d at 725 (noting that a collective bargaining agreement cannot preempt or waive a worker’s right to a judicial remedy for FLSA violations). Thus, if it appears plaintiffs are prepared to proceed individually or through separate classes, the district court must consider whether these other mechanisms for judicial resolution of their claims are more or less efficient than a collective action comprised of various subclaims. Cf. Fravel, supra. In Jonites, the circumstances suggested that plaintiffs had “no stomach for proceeding case by case.” Id. at 726. Here, the twelve Caraballo plaintiffs filed their complaint as individuals and moved for summary judgment as individuals. Indeed, there is nothing apparent from the record to indicate that the fifty-four named plaintiffs in Alvarez were unwilling to proceed individually. Yet the district court dismissed their claims in favor of arbitration without considering whether it was better to address sixty-five individual claims or one collective action comprised of ten subclaims.

Finally, the district court erred when it dismissed the claims of the named plaintiffs. When a collective action is decertified, it reverts to one or more individual actions on behalf of the named plaintiffs. See Hipp v. Liberty Nat’l Life Ins. Co., 252 F.3d 1208, 1218 (11th Cir.2001) (citing Mooney, 54 F.3d at 1213-14); see also Fox v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 519 F.3d 1298, 1301 (11th Cir .2008) (affirming decertification of an FLSA collective action, dismissal of the opt-in plaintiffs, and severance of each of the named plaintiffs into separate individual actions). Defendants do not argue that arbitration under the collective bargaining agreement preempts litigating these issues in federal court. Plaintiffs are entitled, at minimum, to pursue their claims individually. Whether they are permitted to do so in one action or several is committed to the sound discretion of the district court, but misjoinder of parties is never a ground for dismissing an action. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 21. We therefore reverse the district court’s dismissal of the named plaintiffs’ claims in both the Alvarez and Caraballo actions.

Sifting through the subclaims of each of the myriad plaintiffs is an unenviable task. But plaintiffs are nonetheless entitled to their day in court. Moreover, it appears that here, common questions predominate with regard to each theory of liability. The parties have already filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the merits of these common questions. After the district court determines the validity of these subclaims, calculation of each plaintiff’s award (if any) will be largely mechanical. On remand, given that the claims of the named plaintiffs will still be before it, the district court should consider whether a collective action might be the most efficient judicial resolution of this matter after all.”

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D.R.I.: Collective Action FLSA Claims Not Mooted By Offer Of Judgment, In Full Satisfaction, To Named Plaintiff; Motion To Dismiss Denied

Nash v. CVS Caremark Corp.

Plaintiff pled this lawsuit for overtime benefits as a “collective action” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  That is, he purported to act on behalf of himself and “other employees similarly situated” pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).  After one supposedly “similarly situated” party opted in to the case, Defendants presented both that person and Plaintiff with offers of judgment pursuant to Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  The opt-in party previously accepted the offer and was no longer part of the case; Plaintiff rejected the offer, but did not dispute that it was adequate to cover his damages. Defendants then moved to dismiss the suit on grounds that the Rule 68 offer mooted Plaintiff’s claim.  However, since that time, other parties opted into the action and seeking to have their claims resolved as part of a “collective action” with Plaintiff.  Denying, Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss on mootness grounds, the Court discussed the remedial purposes of the FLSA’s collective action mechanisms.

Discussing Rule 68 initially, the Court reasoned, “[n]othing in the text of Rule 68 compels dismissal of a case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction when a plaintiff rejects an adequate offer of judgment. Rather, the Rule creates what amounts to a penalty scheme when a plaintiff moves forward with litigation despite being offered the maximum damages she can hope to obtain at trial. “If the judgment that the offeree finally obtains is not more favorable than the unaccepted offer, the offeree must pay the costs incurred after the offer was made.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 68(d). Of course, as a practical matter, in some circumstances a Rule 68 offer may “eliminate[ ] a legal dispute upon which federal jurisdiction can be based,” because “[y]ou cannot persist in suing after you’ve won.” Greisz v. Household Bank (Illinois), N.A., 176 F.3d 1012, 1015 (7th Cir.1999). But this does not transform Rule 68 into an escape hatch from every lawsuit. Rather, as this case makes clear, whether a controversy becomes moot following a Rule 68 offer depends on the factual circumstances, the cause of action, and the procedural status of the claims at issue. Moreover, nothing in Rule 68 itself suggests that it should be used as a vehicle for sabotaging claim-aggregating devices like 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) and Rule 23. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 1. (explaining that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure should be “construed and administered to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding”).”

The Court then distinguished a 216(b) collective action, from a Rule 23 class action:

“The Court agrees with Judge Almond that Cruz v. Farquharson, 252 F.3d 530, 533 (1st Cir.2001), in which the First Circuit approved the dismissal of a Rule 23 action as moot, is distinguishable. Cruz emphasized that between the date the plaintiffs in that case received “complete relief,” and the date the district court dismissed the case as moot, “no new plaintiffs tried to intervene, and the named plaintiffs made no effort to amend their complaint to add new parties.” Cruz, 252 F.3d at 533. That is not so here. Four additional parties have, in fact, “tried to intervene” as “similarly situated” plaintiffs by submitting their consents for the Plaintiff to pursue claims on their behalf.

As Judge Almond noted, where even one similarly-situated plaintiff opts in to an FLSA suit after the rejection of a Rule 68 offer, courts “have refused to permit defendants to moot putative FLSA collective actions.”   Yeboah v. Central Parking Sys., No. 06 CV 0128(RJD)(JMA), 2007 WL 3232509, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 1, 2007); see Reyes v. Carnival Corp., No. 04-21861-CIV., 2005 WL 4891058, at *2 (S.D.Fla. May 25, 2005) (refusing to dismiss FLSA action where “other plaintiffs. opted in to [the] suit [after] the offer of judgment was made”); Roble v. Celestica Corp., 627 F.Supp.2d 1008, 1013-14 (D.Minn.2007) (finding that identifying opt-ins sustained jurisdiction); Rubery v. Buth-Na-Bodhaige, Inc., 494 F.Supp.2d 178, 179-80 (W.D.N.Y.2007) (denying motion to dismiss where more than fifty people had filed consents to join FLSA action). This is true even if, as here, there is no dispute about the adequacy of the offer. See Yeboah, 2007 WL 3232509, at *5 (explaining that even if the plaintiff could not dispute the sufficiency of the judgment, “it neither mooted plaintiff’s FLSA claim nor deprived [the court] of subject matter jurisdiction,” because of the “presence of opt-ins.”).

Defendants contend that the opt-ins cannot be considered “plaintiffs” or “parties” to the suit for purposes of any exception to mootness carved out by Cruz. See Cruz, 252 F.3d at 533. Cruz stressed that there had been no “decision on class certification” under Rule 23, appearing to require a formal grant of class status in order to preserve a controversy after named parties obtain full relief. Here, the case has not yet reached the equivalent stage in the § 216(b) context: “preliminary collective action certification,” which requires an initial demonstration that the plaintiff “is ‘similarly situated’ to the other members of the proposed class.” Poreda v. Boise Cascade, L.L.C., 532 F.Supp.2d 234, 238 (D.Mass.2008). In the absence of preliminary certification, Defendants argue, Plaintiff has no procedural right to act on behalf of purported “similarly situated” parties. “[A] § 216(b) plaintiff … presents only a claim on the merits …. [and][i]n contrast to the Rule 23 plaintiff, a § 216(b) plaintiff has no claim that he is entitled to represent other plaintiffs.” Cameron-Grant v. Maxim Healthcare Servs., Inc., 347 F.3d 1240, 1249 (11th Cir.2003).

In other words, Defendants insist, without the only safe harbor arguably warranted by Cruz-collective action status-this lawsuit died the moment that Plaintiff rejected his Rule 68 offer. At that time, there were no other opt-ins with live claims, and plaintiff had no right to stand in for anyone else. Later opt-ins could not resurrect the action once it expired.

This logic has some superficial appeal. But its limitation is that, if true, employers could always “use Rule 68 as a sword … and avoid[ ] ever having to face a collective action.” Sandoz v. Cingular Wireless LLC, 553 F.3d 913, 919 (5th Cir.2008). Congress clearly did not intend such an “anomaly” in enacting § 216(b). See id. Neither does Cruz, which concerns Rule 23, require the result Defendants urge here, which would effectively thwart Congress’ preference to “avoid multiple lawsuits where numerous employees” allege FLSA violations. Prickett v. DeKalb County, 349 F.3d 1294, 1297 (11th Cir.2003).

The Court recognizes that Cruz may create some tension with the underlying rationale for decisions allowing § 216(b) opt-ins to preserve jurisdiction. As explained by the Fifth Circuit in Sandoz, at bottom those cases rest on what is known as the “relation back” doctrine. See Sandoz, 553 F.3d at 921;see, e.g., Yeboah, 2007 WL 3232509, at *3 (citing Weiss v. Regal Collections, 385 F.3d 337, (3d Cir.2004), a Rule 23 case dealing with the “relation back” doctrine). Sandoz acknowledged the quandary raised by Cameron-Grant: a named FLSA plaintiff “cannot represent any other employees until they affirmatively opt in to the collective action.” Sandoz, 553 F.3d at 919 (citing Cameron-Grant, 347 F.3d at 1249.). “If our analysis stopped there,” the court reasoned, “[the plaintiff's] case would be moot,” because she had received an adequate offer of judgment before any opt-ins joined the case. Id. Nevertheless, the court cited Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393 (1975), as providing a solution. There, the Supreme Court observed that a Rule 23 controversy might become moot “before the district court can reasonably be expected to rule on a certification motion.” Id. at 402 n. 11. Depending on the circumstances, in such instances class certification might “be said to ‘relate back’ to the filing of the complaint,” which would preserve jurisdiction. Id. at 402 n. 11.Sandoz found that the “relation back” doctrine was just as appropriate for § 216(b) as Rule 23, because both types of actions were vulnerable to strategic mooting by Defendants. Accordingly, “there must be some time for a[n FLSA] plaintiff to move to certify a collective action before a defendant can moot the claim through an offer of judgment.” Sandoz, 553 F.3d at 921.

Defendants fairly point out that Cruz did not approve of such an approach to Rule 23, and in fact took a narrow view of Sosna. The holding in Sosna was that jurisdiction did not disappear when a named plaintiff’s claim became moot after certification of a class with live controversies. Sosna, 419 U.S. at 402. Cruz stated outright that the “holding in Sosna ” was not applicable, because the plaintiffs in Cruz had not obtained class certification. Cruz, 252 F.3d at 534. At the same time, Cruz did not address the footnote in Sosna explaining the “relation back” idea. Furthermore, no First Circuit decision has considered the question of whether it would be proper to use the “relation back” approach in the context of § 216(b).FN2

In the Court’s view, applying the “relation back” doctrine is appropriate in this case. Plaintiff represents he has not yet moved for preliminary certification because he has been busy opposing Defendants’ efforts to transfer venue and dismiss the case, which they commenced less than a month after the Complaint was filed. Under the “relation back” doctrine, the opt-ins who appeared after Plaintiff rejected the Rule 68 offer sustain jurisdiction; this will give Plaintiff the opportunity to seek provisional certification without “undue delay” after the entry of this Order. Sandoz, 553 F.3d at 921 (quoting Weiss, 385 F.3d at 348). This, in turn, will enable “due deliberation” on the issue of whether Plaintiff is the appropriate representative of a collective action. See Weiss, 385 F.3d at 348.”

Last, the Court noted that policy precludes a dismissal due to mootness under these circumstances, because of the remedial purposes of the FLSA:

“As discussed, and as Judge Almond noted, granting dismissal in these circumstances would impair the Congressional preference for collective actions embodied in 216(b). The Court offers some additional comments on this topic below. But there is also a second policy consideration that favors affirming the R & R. Specifically, the present motion underscores the unique danger of tactical manipulation in FLSA cases. Thus, as explained below, to the extent Cruz could be read to establish a broad mootness regime that reaches beyond the Rule 23 context, an exception for FLSA actions is warranted.

To begin with, it is clear that allowing Defendants to “pick off” named FLSA plaintiffs one-by-one encourages manipulation of cases and ultimately of the federal courts. See Sandoz, 553 F.3d at 919. One court in Illinois described the ways employers can hamstring collective actions if allowed to snuff named plaintiffs’ claims using Rule 68:

[The] defense strategy creates a virtually unwinnable situation for plaintiffs in collective or class action lawsuits. Defendant makes an offer of “judgment” to Plaintiff, then alleges that the action is moot. Plaintiff therefore must either pursue discovery very early in the case, when a court likely will deem it premature, or seek class certification and/or notice before discovery, which runs the risk of harming the interest of those as-yet undiscovered class members.  Reed v. TJX Cos., NO. 04 C 1247, 2004 WL 2415055, at *3 (N.D.Ill. Oct. 27, 2004). The FLSA enforcement scheme clearly does not envision such a minefield. Section 216(b) does not require plaintiffs to petition for provisional certification of a “collective action” when filing a complaint. In fact, the final ruling on whether the named plaintiff may maintain a “collective action” usually occurs “after discovery is complete.” Poreda, 532 F.Supp.2d at 239. The collective action process “should be able to ‘play out’ according to the directives” of § 216(b) and the cases applying it, to permit “due deliberation by the parties and the court” on collective action certification. See Weiss, 385 F.3d at 347-48 (discussing the Rule 23 process).

The moot-and-dismiss tactic also facilitates forum-shopping and plaintiff-shopping. At oral argument, Defendants confirmed that multiple lawsuits regarding the overtime claims asserted here are pending in different jurisdictions around the country. Permitting use of Rule 68 to moot cases in one or more forums and thereby cherry-pick another, potentially with the weakest collective action representative, upends the longstanding principle that, in cases based on federal-question jurisdiction, the plaintiff is the “master of the claim.” Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987).

Defendants might object that Rule 23 actions present the same worries. After all, Rule 23 advances a policy similar to § 216(b): the efficient resolution of widespread small claims dependent on common legal and factual questions. Arguably, the opt-out structure of Rule 23 embodies an even firmer commitment to aggregating claims, in contrast to the opt-in rule for § 216(b) cases. And if this is true, how can the cited policies provide any basis to distinguish Cruz, where the same concerns were not enough to stave off dismissal of a Rule 23 action? In that case, the plaintiffs alleged, there was a large pool of class members, and the defendant had defused class action litigation by mooting the claims of the named parties. See Cruz, 252 F.3d at 535.

The answer to the question above is that FLSA actions are more vulnerable to manipulation than Rule 23 actions. For the latter, filing a complaint tolls the statute of limitations for all alleged class members, whether they know of the lawsuit or not. See Crown, Cork & Seal Co. v. Parker, 462 U.S. 345, 350 (1983) (“The filing of a class action tolls the statute of limitations as to all asserted members of the class ….”). In contrast, parties alleged to be “similarly situated” in a § 216(b) case must affirmatively opt in to toll the limitations period. See29 U.S.C. § 256 (explaining that an FLSA action is not considered to be commenced for a similarly situated party until he submits written consent to join the case); Bonilla v. Las Vegas Cigar Co., 61 F.Supp.2d 1129, 1136-37 (D.Nev.1999) ( “[A]ll potential plaintiffs to § 216(b) actions must file their consent to the suit to toll the statute of limitations.”) (emphasis in original).

This means that defendants can bleed value out of a large pool of outstanding FLSA claims in a way they cannot with a comparable group of Rule 23 claims. “Picking off” § 216(b) plaintiffs delays the point at which any collective action can be provisionally certified. This stalls notification to potential “ similarly situated” parties. O’Donnell v. Robert Half Int’l, Inc., 534 F.Supp.2d 173, 177 (D.Mass.2008) (“A class may be conditionally certified and notified of the pendency of an action only if the putative class members are “similarly situated” with the named plaintiffs.”) The longer it takes for an FLSA class to mature, the lower members’ damages will be once they opt in, given the two-year limitations period. See29 U.S.C. § 255 (2010). In a parallel situation under Rule 23, the clock for absentees stops upon the filing of a complaint that raises their claims. Thus, even if employers pick off some named plaintiffs, the limitations period for absentees pauses while any applicable class action is pending.

The predicament of the opt-ins in this case brings the problem into sharper focus. Widespread claims involving common issues invite lawsuits in different jurisdictions, as is the situation here. Note the disparate outcomes this creates for Rule 23 absentees and FLSA opt-ins. As a practical matter, if a Rule 23 action is dismissed, class members may not have to worry about expiration dates for their claims drawing closer. If there is another class action underway that allegedly embraces their claims, the automatic tolling rule from Crown, Cork & Seal shelters them. Opt-ins to collective actions enjoy no such protection. If the suit to which they have hitched their claims sinks-the result Defendants seek here-the clock starts running again, even if they might be “similarly situated” to the named plaintiff in another pending case. Thus, as Judge Almond observed:

[I]f [Defendants were] successful in dismissing the case as mooted, the four plaintiffs who opted in … would arguably have to either initiate new individual FLSA actions or join another applicable collective action. Thus, the tolling of the limitations period for their claims could be delayed and, if they were ultimately successful, their back pay damages could be reduced since the value of their claims is potentially diminished with each passing day.  (R & R at 4-5.) The point is that FLSA opt-ins are more exposed to the erosion and possible expiration of their claims than Rule 23 absentees.

Simply put, it is easier to drown collective actions than class actions. If allowed to use Rule 68 as a weapon, defendants can torpedo complaint after complaint, leaving opt-ins to swim for the nearest viable action as their claims leak value. This justifies a more relaxed mootness standard in FLSA cases than Rule 23 cases, and therefore provides an additional basis for distinguishing Cruz.”

Thus, the Court denied Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.

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E.D.Tex.: Where Class Consists Of Over 1000 Plaintiffs, Court Limits Discovery To 91 Randomly Chosen Representative “Discovery Plaintiffs”

Nelson v. American Standard, Inc.

Before the Court is Plaintiffs’ motion for entry of limited discovery order, filed in support of Plaintiffs’ proposal contained in the Joint Motion for Entry of Discovery and Case Management Plan and Scheduling Order.  Although the parties largely agreed on the extent of discovery to be conducted, Plaintiffs sought an Order limiting such discovery a representative sampling of 91 “discovery Plaintiffs,” while Defendants claimed they should be entitled to seek discovery from every individual class member.  Agreeing with Plaintiffs, the Court pared discovery down to the 91 representative Plaintiffs.

The Court described the dispute as follows:

“[The parties] have agreed to the scope of oral discovery and to a schedule governing the deadlines in this case. The parties have also agreed that they will select individual case participants as “Discovery Plaintiffs” as a representative sample from all of the individuals who are named plaintiffs or who have opted into the litigation. The “Discovery Plaintiffs” are to be selected as follows: (1) three Named Plaintiffs (Nelson, Gross, and Dewberry); (2) 19 individuals who submitted declarations in support of the Motion for Notice; and (3) 84 opt-ins selected at random by the parties from the 1,328 individuals in the consolidated case, with a specified number of opt-ins for each location.  The fundamental disagreement which remains to be resolved by the Court is the scope of written discovery. The central disagreement is that Plaintiffs seek to limit written discovery to the Discovery Plaintiffs who may be used at trial while Defendant seeks to allow written discovery to be issued to the entire class of 1,328 opt-in plaintiffs in some capacity. In the joint motion, both sides present their proposals on how written discovery should be conducted. In support of Plaintiffs’ proposal contained in the joint motion for discovery order, Plaintiffs’ also filed a motion for entry of limited discovery order. (Dkt. No. 110.) Plaintiffs seek to limit both written and oral discovery of class members to the agreed upon group of 91 Discovery Plaintiffs rather than to require all 1,328 participants to be subjected to written discovery and disclosures. Defendant seeks individualized written discovery for all opt-in plaintiffs.”

Citing other courts that have reached the same conclusion, the Court ordered representative discovery, rather than individualized discovery, stating:

“The Eastern District of Texas, and specifically this Court, is one of many jurisdictions that has ordered limited, representative discovery of the named plaintiffs and opt-in plaintiffs in FLSA actions. Schiff et al. v. Racetrac Petroleum, Inc., 2:03-cv-402-TJW, Dkt. No. 111 (E.D. Tex. June 8, 2005) (limiting discovery to a random sample of 35 opt-in plaintiffs). Numerous other courts also have found that individualized discovery is generally not appropriate in FLSA collective actions and should be limited to a representative sample of the entire group. See Smith v. Lowes Home Ctrs., 236 F.R.D. 354, 356-58 (S.D.Ohio 2006) (denying defendant’s request for individualized discovery of more than 1,500 opt-ins and instead ordering a representative sample of 90 randomly selected individuals from the opt-in plaintiffs); Cranney v. Carriage Services, Inc., 2008 WL 2457912 at *3-5 (D.Nev. June 16, 2008) (limiting individualized discovery to 10% of a relevant combination of workers and work sites for the opt-in plaintiffs). The Court finds that limiting discovery in a FLSA action to a relevant sample minimizes the burden imposed on the plaintiffs “while affording the defendant a reasonable opportunity to explore, discover and establish an evidentiary basis for its defenses.” Smith, 236 F.R.D. at 357-58. Further, the Court finds that there is no due process violation to Defendant in limiting written discovery to the Discovery Plaintiffs.

In this case “representative” discovery refers not only to the named plaintiffs but to a sample of 91 largely randomly selected individuals that the parties have agreed to designate as “Discovery Plaintiffs.” The Court finds that there is no reason that all defenses and alleged differences among class members cannot be ascertained and articulated based on the results of full discovery for the “Discovery Plaintiffs.” If the discovery shows defenses and differences for these individuals, Defendant Trane will be able to make its case for decertification or summary judgment. The fundamental precept of statistics and sampling is that meaningful differences among class members can be determined from a sampling of individuals. The Court finds that the agreed upon group of “Discovery Plaintiffs” is a statistically acceptable representative sample of the entire group of opt-in Plaintiffs. Defendant Trane has not shown that the representative sample needs expanding to all class members for discovery purposes. However, if after conducting the discovery of the representative sample Defendant Trane can demonstrate to the Court that broader discovery is appropriate and necessary, the Defendant can so move.

III. CONCLUSION

Accordingly, it is ORDERED that written discovery in this case be limited to the named plaintiffs and the 91 opt-in plaintiffs who the parties have agreed to designate as Discovery Plaintiffs. A concurrent order will be entered that adopts the parties’ joint proposal for discovery and case management plan and adopts the Plaintiffs’ proposal on written discovery, consistent with this order. Thus, Plaintiffs’ Motion (Dkt. No. 110) is hereby GRANTED.”

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