Bell v. Citizens Financial Group, Inc.
Although all circuit courts that have taken up the issue have held that so-called hybrid wage and hour cases- comprised of both opt-in collective actions (FLSA) and opt-out class action (state wage and hour law)- are permissible, some courts within the Third Circuit continue to hold otherwise. As a result, not surprisingly, defendant-employers in such cases continue fighting the class action components of such cases on “inherent incompatibility” grounds. Such was the case here, where the court had previously conditionally certified the FLSA claims, but denied plaintiffs related motion for class certification of Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (“PMWA”) claims on compatibility grounds. However, in what may become a frequently cited case going forward, the plaintiffs took the logical next step and asked the court to dismiss the PMWA claims so they could re-file them in state court alone, where there would be no issue of compatibility. Not surprisingly, the defendants then threw up their arms, essentially arguing that the plaintiffs should not be able to bring their class claims in federal court and therefore not be able to proceed as a class in any venue. The court rejected the defendants argument, permitting the voluntary dismissal of the state law claims to be pursued separately in state court.
After reviewing the applicable standards under Rule 41, the court granted plaintiffs’ motion for voluntary dismissal of the PMWA claims. The court reasoned:
“Here, defendants have already filed an answer and do not stipulate to the dismissal. Therefore, the court must weigh the equities and decide whether to enter an order of dismissal. Defendants do not assert, and the court cannot ascertain, that they would suffer any plain legal prejudice as a result of dismissal of Watson’s claims. Watson’s intent to re-file a PMWA claim in state court is not plain prejudice. Pouls, 1993 WL 308645, at *1.
Upon weighing the factors set forth in Pouls, we conclude that it is appropriate to grant Watson’s motion to voluntarily dismiss her case. Defendants are not prejudiced by their efforts and expenses in this litigation, because other opt-in plaintiffs remain and the instant suit will continue. Defendants have failed to identify any efforts or expenses unique to Watson. Similarly, the progression of the litigation and Watson’s diligence in moving for dismissal are not determinative factors, due to the ongoing nature of the collective action suit. Consideration of the final factor, the duplicative or excessive expense of subsequent litigation, yields some possibility of prejudice to defendants. If Watson does file a PMWA case in state court and if defendants successfully remove it to federal court, defendants might incur some duplicative expenses in future federal court litigation on issues of claim incompatibility. However, at this time, such expenses are highly speculative. Therefore, we do not find plain prejudice to defendants based on duplicative expenses.
Accordingly, because there is no plain legal prejudice and because the equities weigh in favor of dismissal, we will grant plaintiff Watson’s motion to dismiss her claims without prejudice to her right to refile these claims in state court. An appropriate order follows.”
With the issue of permissibility of so-called hybrids up at the Third Circuit right now it will be interesting to see if this decision gains legs in its trial courts. For now however it is safe to say that defendants in so-called hybrid cases should be careful what they wish for in seeking dismissal of state classes, because two is not always better than one.
Click Bell v. Citizens Financial Group, Inc. to read the entire Memorandum and Order.