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9th Cir.: Complaint That Failed To Allege Entity Exercised Control Over Nature And Structure Of The Employment Relationship Did Not Properly Allege Defendant Was “Employer”
Dianda v. PDEI, Inc.
Plaintiff-appellant Joseph Dianda worked for two days as a “best boy” in the production of a television commercial, but was allegedly paid three days late. Dianda sued the production company and PDEI, Inc. (“PDEI”) for various violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and California law. In the case below, all defendants moved to dismiss the action. The district court denied the motion as to the production company, but granted the motion as to PDEI after determining that PDEI was not Dianda’s “employer” under the FLSA or California law. Dianda appealed and the 9th Circuit affirmed, discussing the requirements for an “employer” under both the FLSA and California law. Here, because the Complaint failed to adequately allege that PDEI exercised control over the nature and structure of the Plaintiff’s employment, the Court affirmed the dismissal as to PDEI.
“I. ‘Employer’ Status Under California’s Labor Code and FLSA
The essence of the test for “employer” status under the California Labor Code is “whether the principal has the right to control the manner and means by which the worker accomplishes the work.” Estrada v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., Inc., 64 Cal.Rptr.3d 327, 335 (Cal.Ct.App.2007). FLSA’s test is broader, asking whether the “individual [here, PDEI] exercises control over the nature and structure of the employment relationship.” Boucher v. Shaw, 572 F.3d 1087, 1090-91 (9th Cir.2009) (quotation marks omitted).
Dianda has not shown that PDEI had the right to control the details of his work or that PDEI exercised control over his employment relationship. In his deposition, Dianda admitted that PDEI did not tell him how to do his job, PDEI did not hire him, PDEI did not terminate him, PDEI never communicated with him in any way, and Dianda never took instructions or directions from PDEI concerning the commercial. Nonetheless, Dianda argues that his pay stub and W-2 form identify PDEI as the “employer.” However, “[t]he parties’ label is not dispositive and will be ignored if their actual conduct establishes a different relationship.” Estrada, 64 Cal.Rptr.3d at 335-36. See also Real v. Driscoll Strawberry Assocs., Inc., 603 F.2d 748, 755 (9th Cir.1979) (“Economic realities, not contractual labels, determine employment status for the remedial purposes of the FLSA.”). Furthermore, PDEI’s alleged use of its own account to pay wages and PDEI’s maintenance of payroll records are explainable as part of the service it provides as a payroll company. See, e.g., Moreau v. Air France, 356 F.3d 942, 950-52 (9th Cir.2004) (determining that Air France was not a joint employer of contracted service workers where Air France’s involvement was to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements).”
E.D.Va.: Applicant For A Job May Not Assert An Action For FLSA Retaliation, Because Not A Covered “Employee” Of The Potential Employer
Dellinger v. Science Applications Intern. Corp.
This case was before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant. Plaintiff alleged that Defendant violated the anti-retaliation provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) codified at 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3), by refusing to hire her after they received notice that she had filed a separate FLSA action against a former employer. Defendant moved to dismiss on the basis that Plaintiff was never an “employee” of Defendant, and the Court granted Defendant’s Motion on this basis.
The Court reasoned:
“In a statutory construction case, the beginning point must be the language of the statute, and when a statute speaks with clarity to an issue [,] judicial inquiry into the statute’s meaning, in all but the most extraordinary circumstance, is finished.” Ramey v. Director, office of Workers’ Compensation Program, 326 F.3d 474, 476 (4th Cir.2003)(citing Estate of Cowart v. Nicklos Drilling Co. ., 505 U.S. 469, 475, 112 S.Ct. 2589, 120 L.Ed.2d 379 (1992)). The statute at issue here, 29 U.S.C. § 215 states, in pertinent part:
(a) [I]t shall be unlawful for any person …
(3) to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this chapter …
29 U.S.C. § 215 (emphasis added). Congress chose to define “employee” as “any individual employed by an employer.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(e)(1). For an individual to be “employed” by an “employer” they must be “suffer[ed] or permitt[ed] to work.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(g). Here, Plaintiff was never “permitted” to work for SAIC, in fact, her main allegation is that the offer of employment was withdrawn. (See Compl. ¶ 34.).
The two district courts that have addressed this issue have found that a job applicant should not be considered an “employee” for purposes of the anti-retaliation provision of the FLSA. In Harper v. San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center, an applicant for a nursing position at defendant hospital was involved in an unrelated federal wage claim suit against several municipalities. Harper, 848 F.Supp. 911 (D.Colo.1994). The hospital hired several allegedly less qualified individuals over plaintiff Harper and Harper filed suit alleging FLSA retaliation. In reaching its decision the Court specifically relied on the plain language of the statute, noting that “where a statute names parties who come within its provisions, other unnamed parties are excluded.” Id. at 913-914 (D.Colo.1994) (citing Foxgord v. Hischemoeller, 820 F.2d 1030, 1035, cert. denied, 484 U.S. 986, 108 S.Ct. 503, 98 L.Ed.2d 502, (9th Cir.1987); See Contract Courier Services, Inc. v. Research and Special Programs Admin. of U.S. Depart. of Transp., 924 F.2d 112, 114 (7th Cir.1991)(holding “statutory words mean nothing unless they distinguish one situation from another; line-drawing is the business of language”). The Court in Harper held that § 215(a)(3) “specifically identifies those individuals who come within its provisions i.e. employees. Therefore, other unnamed parties such as non-employee job applicants are excluded from its protection.” Harper, 848 F.Supp. at 914.
In the similar case of Glover v. City of North Charleston, plaintiff was also the lead plaintiff in a separate FLSA wage and hour suit against the North Charleston (Fire Dept.) District. Glover, 42 F.Supp. 243 (D.S.C.1996). After Glover brought suit against the District, the District Fire Department was disbanded and the City of North Charleston Fire Department was formed; however, the City had discretion to determine which of the District Department’s employees would be hired. Id. at 245. In his suit against the City, Glover alleged a violation of § 215(a)(3) claiming the City’s decision not to hire Glover was retaliation for his earlier FLSA claims. In dismissing the case, the Glover court found that plaintiffs were job applicants and thus not yet “employees” within the meaning of the Act. Id. at 246.
In so doing, the Court drew a careful distinction between § 215‘s initial language holding that it “shall be unlawful for any person ” to commit certain acts (§ 215(a)), and more limited language of the provision at issue here, protecting “any employee ” from the person’s misconduct (§ 215(a)(3)). Id. at 245-246 (emphasis added). The court found that the statute’s application to “any person” did not bar suit against the “non-employer” City, however, the plain language of the statue restricting its protections to “any employee” did mean that a mere job “applicant” did not have standing to bring a § 215 action. Id. As the Glover court found, the first sentence of the statute applies to “any person,” if “Congress wanted to cover non-employees, it could have written § 215(a)(3) to prevent discrimination [or retaliation] against “any person” instead of “any employee.” Id. at 246-247. Based on the plain language of the statute, the courts that have considered the issue have found that § 215(a)(3) does not cover job applicants.
Plaintiff attempts to distinguish these cases as outliers and non-binding on this Court. As decisions from other Districts they are clearly not binding precedent, however, their reasoning is, contrary to Plaintiff’s argument, applicable here. Both opinions rest on the plain language of the statute and both were unwilling to read the term “employee” to mean an individual who was never employed the Defendant.
Defendant points to the leading Fourth case regarding the sufficiency of an anti-retaliation claim under FLSA, Darveau v. Detecon, Inc., 515 F.3d 334 (4th Cir.2008.) In the Fourth Circuit, to assert a prima facie claim of retaliation under the FLSA a plaintiff must show: “that (1) he engaged in an activity protected by the FLSA; (2) he suffered adverse action by the employer subsequent to or contemporaneous with such protected activity; and (3) a causal connection exists between the employee’s activity and the employer’s adverse action.” Darveau v. Detecon, Inc., 515 F.3d 334, 340 (4th Cir.2008) (citing Wolf v. Coca-Cola Co., 200 F.3d 1337, 1342-43 (11th Cir.2000); Conner v. Schnuck Mkts., Inc., 121 F.3d 1390, 1394 (10th Cir.1997)). Similarly, Defendant argues that as the Fourth Circuit standard requires a “casual connection” between the “employee’s activity” and the “employer’s” action, Plaintiff has no standing to bring suit as she was never an “employee.” (Mem. in Supp. Mot. to Dismiss at 4.) Without reading beyond the plain language of the statute, a job applicant cannot be considered an ’employee.’ ”
Although not highlighted here, the Court also rejected several alternative arguments put forth by Plaintiff, that the Court should look beyond the FLSA, to statutory definitions and construction of Title VII and the NLRA statutes.
9th Cir.: Walmart Not Joint Employer Of Its Suppliers’ Employees Under FLSA; Employees Not Third-party Beneficiaries Of Standards Contained In Supply Contracts Between Walmart And Plaintiff’s Employers
Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
The appellants were employees of foreign companies that sell goods to Wal-Mart. They brought claims against Wal-Mart based on the working conditions in each of their employers’ factories. These claims relied primarily on a code of conduct included in Wal-Mart’s supply contracts, specifying basic labor standards that suppliers must meet. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal on appeal.
For its analysis the Court assumed the following facts to be true:
“In 1992, Wal-Mart developed a code of conduct for its suppliers, entitled “Standards for Suppliers” (“Standards”). These Standards were incorporated into its supply contracts with foreign suppliers. The Standards require foreign suppliers to adhere to local laws and local industry standards regarding working conditions like pay, hours, forced labor, child labor, and discrimination. The Standards also include a paragraph entitled “RIGHT OF INSPECTION”:
To further assure proper implementation of and compliance with the standards set forth herein, Wal-Mart or a third party designated by Wal-Mart will undertake affirmative measures, such as on-site inspection of production facilities, to implement and monitor said standards. Any supplier which fails or refuses to comply with these standards or does not allow inspection of production facilities is subject to immediate cancellation of any and all outstanding orders, refuse [sic] or return [sic] any shipment, and otherwise cease doing business [sic] with Wal-Mart.
Thus, each supplier must acknowledge that its failure to comply with the Standards could result in cancellation of orders and termination of its business relationship with Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart represents to the public that it improves the lives of its suppliers’ employees and that it does not condone any violation of the Standards. However, Plaintiffs allege that Wal-Mart does not adequately monitor its suppliers and that Wal-Mart knows its suppliers often violate the Standards. Specifically, Plaintiffs claim that in 2004, only eight percent of audits were unannounced, and that workers are often coached on how to respond to auditors. Additionally, Plaintiffs allege that Wal-Mart’s inspectors were pressured to produce positive reports of factories that were not in compliance with the Standards. Finally, Plaintiffs allege that the short deadlines and low prices in Wal-Mart’s supply contracts force suppliers to violate the Standards in order to satisfy the terms of the contracts.”
Initially, the Court found that Plaintiffs’ Complaint could not support a third-party beneficiary claim on behalf of the employees under the contract their employer had with Walmart.
Next, the Court addressed the “Plaintiffs’ theory that Wal-Mart was Plaintiffs’ joint employer, such that they can “sue Wal-Mart directly for any breach of contract or violation of labor laws.” Again, the Court concluded, to the contrary, that Wal-Mart could be considered Plaintiffs’ employer on the facts alleged. “The key factor to consider in analyzing whether an entity is an employer is “the right to control and direct the activities of the person rendering service, or the manner and method in which the work is performed.” Serv. Employees Int’l Union v. County of L.A., 225 Cal.App.3d 761, 275 Cal.Rptr. 508, 513 (1990) (internal quotations and citation omitted). “A finding of the right to control employment requires … a comprehensive and immediate level of ‘day-to-day’ authority over employment decisions.” Vernon v. State, 116 Cal.App.4th 114, 10 Cal.Rptr.3d 121, 132 (2004).”
The Court then addressed “Plaintiffs’ negligence claims, which Plaintiffs bring under four distinct theories: third-party beneficiary negligence, negligent retention of control, negligent undertaking, and common law negligence. Whichever theory is invoked, however, we conclude that Wal-Mart did not owe Plaintiffs a common-law duty to monitor Wal-Mart’s suppliers or to prevent the alleged intentional mistreatment of Plaintiffs by the suppliers. Without such a duty, Plaintiffs’ negligence theories do not state a claim. See *684 Paz v. State, 22 Cal.4th 550, 93 Cal.Rptr.2d 703, 994 P.2d 975, 980-81 (2000) (“The threshold element of a cause of action for negligence is the existence of a duty …”).
Plaintiffs’ “third-party beneficiary” negligence theory relies on the assumption that Wal-Mart owes Plaintiffs a duty under Wal-Mart’s supply contracts. Because we have already determined that no legal obligation flows from Wal-Mart to Plaintiffs under Wal-Mart’s supply contracts, Plaintiffs do not state a claim for third-party beneficiary negligence.
In order to state a claim for “negligent retention of control and supervision,” Plaintiffs must allege facts that, if proven, would show that Wal-Mart exercised significant control over Plaintiffs and that “exercise of retained control affirmatively contributed to the employee’s injuries.” Hooker v. Dep’t of Transp., 27 Cal.4th 198, 115 Cal.Rptr.2d 853, 38 P.3d 1081, 1083 (2002) (emphasis in original). We have already determined that Wal-Mart is not Plaintiffs’ employer because Wal-Mart exercised minimal or no control over the day-to-day work of Plaintiffs in the suppliers’ foreign factories. Accordingly, we hold that Wal-Mart did not owe Plaintiffs a special duty to protect Plaintiffs from the suppliers’ alleged intentional misconduct.
Plaintiffs’ “negligent undertaking” theory relies on the assumption that Wal-Mart undertook to protect Plaintiffs, and therefore Wal-Mart had to exercise reasonable care in monitoring the suppliers. See Delgado v. Trax Bar & Grill, 36 Cal.4th 224, 30 Cal.Rptr.3d 145, 113 P.3d 1159, 1175 (2005) (stating that one who “undertakes to provide protective services to another” must exercise a duty of care). This theory fails because, as we have already concluded, Wal-Mart did not undertake any obligation to protect Plaintiffs. “[T]he scope of any duty assumed depends upon the nature of the undertaking,” id., and here Wal-Mart merely reserved the right to cancel its supply contracts if inspections revealed contractual breaches by the suppliers. Any inspections actually performed by Wal-Mart were therefore gratuitous, and do not independently impose a duty on Wal-Mart to protect Plaintiffs. Id.
Plaintiffs’ “common law negligence” claim provides no additional ground for finding a duty on the part of Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart had no duty to monitor the suppliers or to protect Plaintiffs from the intentional acts the suppliers allegedly committed. Thus, Plaintiffs’ theories sounding in negligence do not state a claim. See Paz, 93 Cal.Rptr.2d 703, 994 P.2d at 980-81.”
Lastly, the Court addressed Plaintiffs’ claim of unjust enrichment. “Plaintiffs allege that Wal-Mart was unjustly enriched at Plaintiffs’ expense by profiting from relationships with suppliers that Wal-Mart knew were engaged in substandard labor practices. Unjust enrichment is commonly understood as a theory upon which the remedy of restitution may be granted. See 1 George E. Palmer, Law of Restitution § 1.1 (1st ed. 1978 & Supp. 2009); Restatement of Restitution § 1 (1937) (“A person who has been unjustly enriched at the expense of another is required to make restitution to the other.”). California’s approach to unjust enrichment is consistent with this general understanding: “The fact that one person benefits another is not, by itself, sufficient to require restitution. The person receiving the benefit is required to make restitution only if the circumstances are such that, as between the two individuals, it is unjust for the person to retain it.” First Nationwide Sav. v. Perry, 11 Cal.App.4th 1657, 15 Cal.Rptr.2d 173, 176 (1992) (emphasis in original).
The lack of any prior relationship between Plaintiffs and Wal-Mart precludes the application of an unjust enrichment theory here. See Smith v. Pac. Props. & Dev. Corp., 358 F.3d 1097, 1106 (9th Cir.2004) (noting that a party generally may not seek to disgorge another’s profits unless “a prior relationship between the parties subject to and benefiting from disgorgement originally resulted in unjust enrichment”). Plaintiffs essentially seek to disgorge profits allegedly earned by Wal-Mart at Plaintiffs’ expense; however, we have already determined that Wal-Mart is not Plaintiffs’ employer, and we see no other plausible basis upon which the employee of a manufacturer, without more, may obtain restitution from one who purchases goods from that manufacturer. That is, the connection between Plaintiffs and Wal-Mart here is simply too attenuated to support an unjust enrichment claim. See, e.g., Sperry v. Crompton Corp., 8 N.Y.3d 204, 831 N.Y.S.2d 760, 863 N.E.2d 1012, 1018 (2007) (holding that “the connection between the purchaser of tires and the producers of chemicals used in the rubbermaking process is simply too attenuated to support” the purchaser’s claim of unjust enrichment).
In sum, we conclude that Plaintiffs have not stated a claim against Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart had no legal duty under the Standards or common law negligence principles to monitor its suppliers or to protect Plaintiffs from the suppliers’ alleged substandard labor practices. Wal-Mart is not Plaintiffs’ employer, and the relationship between Wal-Mart and Plaintiffs is too attenuated to support restitution under an unjust enrichment theory.”
9th Cir.: Managers Of Business Are “Employers” Within Meaning Of FLSA, Subject To FLSA Liability; Bankruptcy Of The Underlying Corporation Does Not Affect This Liability Where Individual (Not Corporate Pledged) Assets Sought
Boucher v. Shaw
Three former employees of the Castaways Hotel, Casino and Bowling Center (the Castaways) and their local union sued the Castaways’ individual managers for unpaid wages under state and federal law. The district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims. This appeal raised several issues, most significantly whether the Castaways’ individual managers can be held liable for unpaid wages under Nevada law and/or the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The state court held that individual managers cannot be held liable as “employers,” and therefore that claim was properly dismissed by the district court. The Ninth Circuit holds that such managers can be held liable, and therefore reversed and remanded the FLSA claim to the district court.
“The Castaways filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on June 26, 2003. The individual plaintiffs were discharged in January 2004, when the Castaways was operating as the debtor-in-possession. On February 10, 2004, after the plaintiffs were discharged, the Chapter 11 petition was converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation, and the Castaways ceased operations. The individual plaintiffs, Ardith Ballard, Thelma Boucher and Joseph Kennedy III, filed suit in Nevada state court seeking to recover unpaid wages for themselves and for a class of Castaways employees. Ballard alleges that she has not been paid for the last pay period that she worked at the Castaways. Boucher alleges that she was not paid for the final pay period until two weeks after her employment was terminated. All three individual plaintiffs allege that they have not been paid their accrued vacation and holiday pay. Culinary Workers Union, Local 226 (Local 226 or the union) seeks to recover wages that were withheld as dues from the paychecks of Thelma Boucher and other employees. The plaintiffs assert claims under Chapter 608 of the Nevada Revised Statutes and the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 206(a).
The defendants are three Castaways’ managers. Dan Shaw was the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Castaways at the time the plaintiffs were discharged. Michael Villamor was responsible for handling labor and employment matters at the Castaways. And James Van Woerkom was the Castaways’ Chief Financial Officer. Shaw had a 70 percent ownership in the Castaways, and Villamor had a 30 percent ownership interest. The plaintiffs allege that each defendant had custody or control over the “plaintiffs, their employment, or their place of employment at the time that the wages were due.”
The plaintiffs filed this lawsuit in Nevada state court on October 14, 2004. On December 21, 2004, Defendant Shaw removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of Nevada and filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Villamor and Van Woerkom separately filed motions to dismiss, alleging the same grounds for dismissal as Shaw. The district court granted the defendants’ motions and dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ claims. Boucher v. Shaw, No. CV-S-04-1738-PMP (PAL) (D.Nev. Jan. 25, 2005); Boucher v. Shaw, No. CV-S-04-1738-PMP (PAL) (D.Nev. Feb. 18, 2005); Boucher v. Shaw, No. CV-S-04-1738-PMP (PAL) (D.Nev. Apr. 11, 2005). The district court concluded that the defendants were not “employers” under Nevada law, Local 226 lacks standing to bring a claim under Nevada law and the plaintiffs cannot maintain a cause of action under the Fair Labor Standards Act against the defendants. Boucher v. Shaw, No. CV-S-04-1738-PMP (PAL), slip op. at 1-2 (D.Nev. Jan. 25, 2005). The plaintiffs challenge each of these conclusions on appeal. We certified the state law question to the Nevada Supreme Court, and stayed the case pending its resolution. The Nevada Supreme Court has answered the state law question, and we incorporate that court’s reasoning into our decision.”
After discussing the holding of Nevada’s Supreme Court, upon referral of the issue from the Ninth Circuit, that Nevada State law does not consider individuals liable for wage law violations of the corporation as “employers,” the Court considered the same issue under the FLSA, and whether such individuals can be liable as employers, despite the bankrupt status of the underlying corporate employer.
“In the case at bar, Ballard has alleged that Defendant Villamor was responsible for handling labor and employment matters at the Castaways; Defendant Shaw was chairman and chief executive officer of the Castaways; and Defendant Van Woerkom was the Castaways’ chief financial officer and had responsibility for supervision and oversight of the Castaways’ cash management. The plaintiff also alleges that Shaw held a 70 percent ownership interest in the Castaways, Villemor held a 30 percent ownership interest and all three defendants had “control and custody of the plaintiff class, their employment, and their place of employment.” ( See Complaint ¶¶ 9-11.) Accepting these allegations of material fact as true, Ballard’s claim withstands a motion to dismiss. See Simon, 546 F.3d at 664.
The defendants do not challenge their status as employers under the FLSA. Rather, they argue that any duty they had to pay wages to Castaways’ employees ended with the conversion of the Castaways’ Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding into a Chapter 7 liquidation. The defendants cite no authority for this proposition, but state merely that “[a]ny action under the FLSA is properly directed to the Chapter 7 Trustee and not Shaw, Villamor or Van Woerkom.” (Appellees’ Br. at 14.) Ballard responds that the case was not converted to a Chapter 7 proceeding until February 10, 2004, at least eleven days after she was fired, so that even if the duty to pay wages ceased upon the conversion of the case, the managers were liable up until that point. In supplemental briefing ordered by the court, the defendants do not dispute that the bankruptcy was converted to a Chapter 7 on February 10. Yet they assert that the Castaways “had ceased its operations altogether at the time that Ballard’s wage claim accrued,” which appears to mean that although Ballard is owed wages for the final pay period prior to when the Castaways ceased operating on January 29, her paycheck was not due to be issued to her until afterwards. Ballard argues to the contrary, citing Nev.Rev.Stat. § 608.020, for the proposition that wages and compensation earned and unpaid at the time of discharge are to be paid immediately. We agree. Moreover, the defendants’ subsequent argument that Ballard’s FLSA claim should fail because her wage claim has already been satisfied in the bankruptcy proceeding raises a question of fact not properly resolved on a motion to dismiss.
As a more general matter, we cannot see how it makes a difference one way or the other whether the Castaways was in Chapter 11 or Chapter 7. The Castaways is not a defendant, and the defendants are not debtors. The defendants perhaps assume that the automatic stay or other injunctive power of the bankruptcy court has some effect on the plaintiff’s claim, but they have not shown how that would be.
Section 362 of the Bankruptcy Code embodies the automatic stay, which immediately applies when a debtor files a bankruptcy petition and is designed to preclude a variety of post-petition actions-both judicial and non-judicial-against the debtor or affecting property of the estate. See 11 U.S.C. § 362(a). The automatic stay is fundamental to bankruptcy law. It ensures that claims against the debtor will be brought in one place, the bankruptcy court. The stay protects the debtor by giving it room to breathe and, thereby, hopefully to reorganize. The stay also protects creditors as a group from any one creditor who might otherwise seek to obtain payment on its claims to the others’ detriment. See, e.g., Chugach Forest Prods., Inc. v. Northern Stevedoring & Handling Corp., 23 F.3d 241, 243 (9th Cir.1994) (quoting Hillis Motors, Inc. v. Hawaii Auto. Dealers’ Ass’n, 997 F.2d 581, 585 (9th Cir.1993)).
As a general rule, the automatic stay protects only the debtor, property of the debtor or property of the estate. See 11 U.S.C. §§ 362(a); 541(a) (defining property of the estate); Advanced Ribbons and Office Prods., Inc. v. U.S. Interstate Distrib., Inc., 125 B.R. 259, 263 (9th Cir.BAP1991) (citation omitted); see also Chugach, 23 F.3d at 246. The stay “does not protect non-debtor parties or their property. Thus, section 362(a) does not stay actions against guarantors, sureties, corporate affiliates, or other non-debtor parties liable on the debts of the debtor.” Chugach, 23 F.3d at 246 (citations omitted). We have refused to extend the automatic stay to enjoin claims against a contractor-debtor’s surety, even though a surety bond guarantees the contractor-debtor’s performance. See In re Lockard, 884 F.2d 1171, 1178-79 (9th Cir.1989). In Lockard, we reasoned that extending the stay was inappropriate because the surety, not the contractor-debtor, puts its property directly at risk of liability to creditors in the event of nonpayment by the contractor-debtor, and therefore a surety bond is not property of the bankruptcy estate. Id. at 1178. We found that this was the case even though allowing a claim against the surety would trigger the surety’s right to recourse against the debtor. Id. Similarly, the automatic stay does not protect the property of parties such as officers of the debtor, even if the property in question is stock in the debtor corporation, and even if that stock has been pledged as security for the debtor’s liability. Advanced Ribbons, 125 B.R. at 263.
We have never addressed the question whether a company’s bankruptcy affects the liability of its individual managers under the FLSA. But our case law regarding guarantors, sureties and other non-debtor parties who are liable for the debts of the debtor leaves no doubt about the answer: the Castaways bankruptcy has no effect on the claims against the individual managers at issue here.
This is, in fact, an easier case than our precedent cited supra . Here, the plaintiff’s claim does not seek to reach property of the managers that has been pledged to secure the Castaways’ debt, or that would otherwise impact property of the estate. The individual managers generally are not liable for debts of the debtor, and even if they were, the plaintiff’s statutory claim against the individual managers is unrelated to any of the Castaways’ debts. Nor does the plaintiff seek damages based on an insurance policy held by the debtor. Cf. A.H. Robins Co., Inc. v. Piccinin, 788 F.2d 994, 998-1004 (4th Cir.1986). The plaintiff’s claim is not being used as an alternative route to recoup property of the estate, and therefore cannot be said to be “related to” the bankruptcy proceeding, such that it would be swept into the bankruptcy court’s jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1334(b). See Celotex v. Edwards, 514 U.S. 300, 307-08, 115 S.Ct. 1493, 131 L.Ed.2d 403 (1995). Neither party has alleged that the estate would be diminished by any judgment in favor of the plaintiff, nor is there any indication in the record that the Castaways would be required to indemnify the individual managers for legal expenses or any judgment against them in this case. Cf. In re Minoco Group of Cos., 799 F.2d 517, 518 (9th Cir.1986) (affirming bankruptcy court’s finding that insurance policy cancellation was automatically stayed because of its impact on debtor’s obligation to indemnify officers and directors). However, if the liability of the non-debtor party were to affect the property of the bankruptcy estate, such as by a requirement that the debtor indemnify the non-debtor or by payment of the liability from a director’s and officer’s insurance policy, it may be necessary for the plaintiff in such a case to proceed against the non-debtor party through bankruptcy proceedings. See id.; A.H. Robins Co., 788 F.2d at 1007-08.
In this case, the parties have not raised any claims that this suit would affect the bankruptcy estate, so we need not reach this question.
To the contrary, the managers are independently liable under the FLSA, and the automatic stay has no effect on that liability. The defendants in their supplementary briefing repeatedly assert that they were unable to find any authority in support of this proposition. We have found at least two cases holding that individual managers can be held liable under the FLSA even after the corporation has filed for bankruptcy. See Donovan v. Agnew, 712 F.2d 1509, 1511, 1514 (1st Cir.1983) (finding managers of bankrupt corporation individually liable under FLSA and noting, “The overwhelming weight of authority is that a corporate officer with operational control of a corporation’s covered enterprise is an employer along with the corporation, jointly and severally liable under the FLSA for unpaid wages.”); Chung v. New Silver Palace, 246 F.Supp.2d 220, 226 (S.D.N.Y.2002) (“The automatic stay … affects only [the debtor]; it does not apply to plaintiff’s [FLSA] claims against the [debtor]’s non-debtor co-defendants.”).
The district court correctly held that the plaintiffs could not state a claim against the managers for unpaid wages under Nevada law, and therefore correctly dismissed that claim, making the issue of the union’s standing moot. However, the plaintiffs have adequately stated a claim under the FLSA.”
E.D.N.Y.: Alleged Operators Of Garment Factory May Constitute Plaintiffs’ Employers Or Joint Employers Under FLSA; Motion To Dismiss Denied
Lin v. Great Rose Fashion, Inc.
In this Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) case, Plaintiffs allege that they were deprived of a minimum wage and overtime pay while working in a garment factory, and ultimately discharged from their employment in retaliation for pursuing their rights to this compensation. Plaintiffs had previously moved for both a preliminary injunction and a TRO, based on alleged retaliatory conduct from Defendants, and allegations that Defendants were seeking to strip the factory where Plaintiffs had been employed of their assets. Of particular interest on the parties Motions currently before the Court, the Defendants sought to dismiss Plaintiffs’ claims based on alleged lack of standing—arguing that that Defendants were not Plaintiffs’ employers under the FLSA. Denying Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss based on lack of standing, the Court reviewed the elements of joint employers under the FLSA as well as those used to distinguish between independent contractors and employees. The Court held an evidentiary hearing and made factual findings regarding the nature of the parties’ relationship.
“Defendants argue that Plaintiffs lack standing to sue because they were not ’employees,’ as defined in the FLSA, but rather ‘independent contractors.’ Defendants claim they ‘outsourced the packing and trimming work to Wen Ming Lin and Yu Jiao Lin,’ and Wen Ming Lin’ in turn employed a group of ‘independent contractors,’ the Packer Plaintiffs. In support of their view, Defendants assert that they did not hire, fire, supervise, or manage the workers. They claim that the ‘subcontractors’ maintained the other workers’ employment records, negotiated a pay rate for the group and collected checks on one desk, and that ‘the plaintiffs themselves decided when they should arrive, depart, and the amount of time for which they were to work.’
The evidence presented at the Hearing exposed each of these assertions to be patently false. Applying the Brock factors, there is simply no question that these Plaintiffs “depend[ed] upon someone else’s business for the opportunity to render service” and were not “in business for themselves.” See Brock, 840 F.2d at 1059. The Plaintiffs were low-skilled, immigrant piece-workers toiling for long hours of manual labor in a garment factory. At least one, Yu Jiao Lin, expressed that she was illiterate. The testimony of the Plaintiffs established that they were interviewed, hired, fired, assigned work and hours, and supervised and managed by Mrs. Lin and Fang Zhen, or others under their control. (Tr. 31, 33-36, 78-81.) Contrary to the Defendants’ assertions, there is no evidence that Wen Ming Lin or Yu Jiao Lin had the power to hire, fire, manage assignments and schedules, or discipline other workers. (Id.)
It is plain that Mrs. Lin and Fang Zhen exercised a degree of control over the workers commensurate with the role of an employer. The Defendants’ collective denial of control over the workers is not credible. Wen Ming Lin’s referral of prospective workers to Mrs. Lin for her to interview does not elevate him to the role of independent contractor. (Tr. 52-53.) The Defendants’ additional arguments are similarly unavailing and unsupported by the evidence. For example, the Defendants’ repeatedly point to a single paycheck issued on December 9, 2005 and marked “payment for the assigned contractors” as evidence that “Plaintiffs shared and shared alike,” creating a relationship “best [ ] characterized as a partnership.” (Def. Post-Hearing Opp. 3, Def. Ex. A.) The Defendants’ choice to unilaterally label the Plaintiffs “contractors,” and to attempt to pay them via a collective paycheck on one occasion years ago, does not control the legal question before the court. This crude argument fails to set the Plaintiffs apart as independent contractors.
Considering the remaining Brock factors, the Defendants’ “independent contractor” theory proves even more preposterous. There is zero evidence that Plaintiffs had any opportunity for profit or loss or an “investment” in the business. The packers and thread-cutters were engaged in low-skilled factory labor, which was obviously not a matter of “independent initiative.” The Plaintiffs who took the stand worked at the Factory on a permanent, daily basis for three years. Their work at the Factory was not an occasional project. The Plaintiffs performed discrete tasks that assisted the line production, assembly, and packaging of goods. It is clear that their work was “an integral part of the employer’s business.”
Defendants’ contrived efforts to distance themselves from their workers and treat them as “subcontractors” have failed. The Defendants’ argument is nothing more than a transparent attempt to use a legal fiction to escape liability for their alleged labor abuses. The notion that these Plaintiffs acted as independent contractors outside the protection of the FLSA is so thoroughly without merit that it borders on an affront to the dignity of this court.”
B. Silver Fashion and Mrs. Lin Constitute “Employers” Under the FLSA
As a matter of economic reality, the Plaintiffs were employed by the Factory and the entities that owned it over the years: Silver Fashion, Great Rose, and Spring Fashion. Under the Carter factors, Silver Fashion maintained formal control over the Plaintiffs through the actions of its principal managers. Since Mrs. Lin’s parents were absentee, nominal owners of the business, Mrs. Lin controlled the company. The persistent euphemism that Mrs. Lin was just “helping out” her parents and that Fang Zhen was “helping” Mrs. Lin cannot be taken seriously. The only conceded owners or managers of Silver Fashion were Mrs. Lin’s parents, who live in China and appear to have no involvement whatsoever in the operations of this company held in their names. As Mrs. Lin eventually summarized: “Basically I was running the company.”(Tr. 262.)
As reviewed above, Plaintiffs were interviewed, hired, fired, assigned work and hours, and supervised and managed by Mrs. Lin and Fang Zhen, or others under their control. (Tr. 31, 33-36, 78-81.) There is no serious dispute that Mrs. Lin or others acting on her behalf determined the rate and method of payment. Mrs. Lin also maintained employment records, as demonstrated by the Defendants’ production of the Weekly Trim/Packing Reports. (See Def. Ex. A (original records in blue ink).) These records purport to show the quantity and price of the piecework performed by the Packer Plaintiffs, which formed the basis for their weekly compensation. At a minimum, Plaintiffs have standing to sue Silver Fashion, its predecessor entities, and Mrs. Lin under the FLSA. The court reserves judgment pending discovery as to the role of Fang Zhen in the employment scheme.
C. Great Wall and Mr. Lin May Constitute Joint Employers Under the FLSA
Defendants also argue that the case should be dismissed as to Great Wall and Mr. Lin, because they had no “operational control” over the Plaintiffs. (Def. Post-Hearing Opp. 10-15.) The agency regulations promulgated under the FLSA expressly recognize that a worker may be employed by more than one entity at the same time. See29 C.F.R. § 791.2 (2003); Zheng, 355 F.3d at 66 (citing Torres-Lopez v. May, 111 F.3d 633, 639-45 (9th Cir.1997) (permitting claims against joint employers under the FLSA); Antenor v. D & S Farms, 88 F.3d 925, 929-38 (11th Cir.1996) (same)). Plaintiffs have standing to sue Great Wall and Mr. Lin, in addition to the other Defendants, if they exercised “functional control” over the Factory and its workers. See Barfield, 537 F .3d at 143;
Zheng, 355 F.3d at 66, 72.
Discovery is needed to determine whether a functional employment relationship existed between the Plaintiffs and Great Wall under the Zheng factors. The economic reality test intentionally reaches beyond traditional concepts of agency law to encompass “working relationships, which prior to [the FLSA], were not deemed to fall within an employer-employee category.” Zheng, 355 F.3d at 69 (quoting Walling v. Portland Terminal Co., 330 U.S. 148, 150-51 (1947)). Under the theory of functional control, “an entity can be a joint employer under the FLSA even when it does not hire and fire its joint employees, directly dictate their hours, or pay them.” Zheng, 355 F.3d at 70 (interpreting Rutherford Food Corp. v. McComb, 331 U.S. 722 (1947)). Evidence already establishes that purported agents of Great Wall-Mrs. Lin and Fang Zhen, who each testified that they were employed exclusively by Great Wall-supervised the Plaintiffs’ work in the Factory. The ownership of the premises and the equipment used in the Factory could be imputed to Great Wall, given the tangled leasing relationships between Mr. and Mrs. Lin and the fact that the Factory’s space was distinguished from Great Wall’s space by nothing more than a pile of paper boxes. The Second Circuit has also recognized that a company can de facto set employees’ wages and “dictate[ ] the terms and conditions” of their employment, though they do not “literally pay the workers,” where those employees perform work exclusively in service of that company. Id. at 72.In effect, Plaintiffs functionally worked for Great Wall, because they worked in a Factory that manufactured garments exclusively for Great Wall. Upon review of the preliminary evidence before the court, the relationship between Plaintiffs and Silver Fashion appears to have had “no substantial, independent economic purpose” beyond serving as a “subterfuge meant to evade the FLSA or other labor laws” for the benefit of Great Wall.Id.
In light of the court’s obligation to look beyond the strictures of formal tests and consider all relevant facts, the court finds that Defendants’ dubious uses of the corporate form and the interlocking relationships between the Defendant Corporations are pertinent to the joint employer inquiry in this case. Defendants’ attempt to distinguish Great Wall as a mere “customer of Silver Fashion” is a fallacy. Nearly every aspect of these businesses was intertwined. Together, the Lins controlled both companies. Mr. Lin owned Great Wall, and his wife operated Silver Fashion. Mrs. Lin’s parents appear to be nothing more than straw owners of Silver Fashion. Great Wall was Silver Fashion’s landlord and sole client. Silver Fashion manufactured garments exclusively for Great Wall. In turn, Mr. Lin could not identify a single supplier to his company other than Silver Fashion. Mrs. Lin owned the building where both companies were housed, yet leased the entire building to a company wholly controlled by her husband, so that he could sublet part of it back to her parents for $18,000 a month. (See Section II.A supra.)From the rent and the garment sales, significant funds flowed between these related companies on a regular basis. These entities were functioning as complementary components of a single business enterprise.FN9Based upon these facts, Plaintiffs may have standing to hold Great Wall and Mr. Lin liable either as their functional employers or under other legal theories. The court denies Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss for lack of standing in its entirety.”
D.Minn.: Whether Defendant Is An “Employer” Under 216(b) Is Element Of The Claim, Not Jurisdictional
Saleen v. Waste Management, Inc.
Plaintiffs brought this action to recover overtime compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. The matter was before the Court on the Defendant’s motion of to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. WMI argued that, because plaintiffs were employed by two of its subsidiaries, and not by Defendant itself, Defendant is not plaintiffs’ “employer” within the meaning of the FLSA. Defendant further argued that, because Defendant is not an “employer” within the meaning of the FLSA, the Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over this action. The Court disagreed with the latter argument, and thus the Court did not take up the former argument at this time.
The Court held that Defendant’s assertion that it is not an “employer” under the FLSA is a defense on the merits and not a challenge to subject-matter jurisdiction. Therefore, Defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction was denied.
The Court declined to treat Defendant’s motion as one for summary judgment, because plaintiffs had not yet had an opportunity to conduct discovery.