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N.D.Cal.: Defendant’s Motion to Compel Depositions of 3 Named Plaintiffs and 25 Opt-ins in Venue Where Case Pending Denied Due to Financial Concerns
Gee v. Suntrust Mortg., Inc.
This case was before the court on the defendant’s motion to compel the three named plaintiffs and twenty-five opt-in plaintiffs who live in twenty-five different cities across the country to appear for depositions in San Francisco or in three other cities of its choice. The defendant argued that the deponents were required to appear in San Francisco, which is where the FLSA putative collective action was filed, because they have not established good cause for appearing elsewhere. Prior to its motion, the defendant offered to take the depositions either in San Francisco or in three other cities it claims would be more convenient to the deponents. The plaintiffs had offered to produce the deponents in 14 different cities, or alternatively suggested that the depositions be taken by video conference. Plaintiffs opposed the motion, arguing that traveling to any of the cities selected by the defendant would be financially burdensome for them, and that requiring them to do so despite this burden would contradict the purpose of joining a collective action brought under the FLSA. Holding that the financial concerns expressed by the plaintiffs constituted good cause for excusing the deponents from traveling to the cities selected by the defendant for the depositions, the court denied the defendant’s motion.
Addressing the parties contentions, the court reasoned:
“One of the chief advantages of opting into a collective action, such as the one brought by Plaintiffs, is that it “lower[s] individual costs to vindicate rights by the pooling of resources.” Hoffmann–La Roche Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 179, 110 S.Ct. 482, 107 L.Ed.2d 480 (1989). Here, this advantage would be significantly reduced or even eliminated if the proposed deponents are required to travel hundreds of miles for their depositions. See, e.g., Bransfield v. Source Broadband Services, LLC, 255 F.R.D. 447, 450 (W.D.Tenn.2008) (rejecting defendants’ argument that opt-in plaintiffs in FLSA collective action must be required to appear for depositions in the forum where action was filed because doing so “would cancel much of the benefit gained by joining in the collective action” and because “the forum was chosen for [the opt-in plaintiffs]”). The Court is not persuaded by Suntrust’s interpretation of the case law cited by Plaintiffs, but even when taking its interpretation at face value, this case meets the criteria for excusing the deponents from appearing in the cities selected by Suntrust, as Suntrust has made no showing that the issues to be covered in the depositions are sufficiently complex to require in-person depositions.
Likewise, Suntrust’s argument that conducting the depositions via videoconference would be detrimental to its ability to question and observe the deponents is unconvincing. Parties routinely conduct depositions via videoconference, and courts encourage the same, because doing so minimizes travel costs and “permits the jury to make credibility evaluations not available when a transcript is read by another.” Fanelli v. Centenary College, 211 F.R.D. 268, 270 (D.N.J.2002) (citations omitted); see also Guillen v. Bank of America Corp., No. 10–cv–05825, 2011 WL 3939690, at *1 (N.D.Cal. August 31, 2011) (“A desire to save money constitutes good cause to depose out-of-state witnesses via telephone or remote means”). Accordingly, Suntrust’s motion is denied.”
Click Gee v. Suntrust Mortg., Inc. to read the entire Order Denying Motion to Compel.
W.D.Pa.: Following Denial of Class Cert as Incompatible With 216(b) Collective Action, Plaintiffs’ Motion to Dismiss State Law Claims to Re-File in State Court Granted
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.
E.D.Pa.: Dukes Does Not Affect Court’s Analysis On 216(b) Conditional Cert Motion; Defendant’s Motion to Reconsider Denied
Spellman v. American Eagle Exp., Inc.
In one of the first decisions, post-Dukes, to clarify what affect the Supreme Court’s recent decision will have on conditional certification of FLSA cases, the answer appears to be not much.
In Dukes, the Supreme Court held that the trial court had inappropriately certified a class of over a million women employed by Wal-mart, based on claims of gender bias. The Supreme Court reasoned that the plaintiffs had not met their burden to demonstrate the requisite commonality required by FRCP 23. In the wake of Dukes, there was much speculation as to whether courts would extend the reasoning in Dukes to cases seeking conditional certification of collective actions under 216(b) of the FLSA. In one of the first decisions rendered on this issue, the answer appears to be a resounding no.
This case was before the court on the defendant’s motion seeking reconsideration of the court’s prior order conditionally certifying a class of drivers employed by defendant. Plaintiffs alleged that defendant, a trucking company, improperly misclassified all of its drivers as independent contractors, when they were really employees. Holding that plaintiffs had met their lenient burden of proof as so-called stage one, the court conditionally certified a nationwide class of drivers, all of whom had been classified as independent contractors. Following the Duke’s decision, the defendant sought reconsideration of the order conditionally certifying the class. Denying the motion, the court explained that the differences between FRCP 23, the class action provision under which Dukes was decided and 216(b), the opt-in provision for FLSA collective actions render Dukes inapplicable in the context of an FLSA collective action. As such, the court denied defendant’s motion.
The court reasoned:
“The instant case is a collective action brought pursuant to the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Unlike Rule 23 class actions. the FLSA requires collective action members to affirmatively opt in to the case. See § 216(b). To determine whether the proposed group of plaintiffs is “similarly situated,” and therefore qualified to proceed as a conditional collective action, a district court applies a two-step test. See Smith v. Sovereign Bancorp, Inc., No. 03–2420, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21010 (E.D.Pa. Nov. 13, 2003). In the first step, which is assessed early in the litigation process, the plaintiff at most must make only a “modest factual showing” that the similarly situated requirement is satisfied. See Bosley v. Chubb Corp., No. 04–4598, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10974, at *7–9 (E.D.Pa. Jun. 3, 2005). The Plaintiffs have made this modest factual showing, and this Court’s analysis is not affected by Dukes. The second step of the collective action certification process will be conducted at the close of class-related discovery, at which time this Court will conduct “a specific factual analysis of each employee’s claim to ensure that each proposed plaintiff is an appropriate party.” Harris v. Healthcare Servs. Grp., Inc., No. 06–2903, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55221, at *2 (E.D.Pa. Jul. 31, 2007). At this second stage, AEX may argue that Dukes‘s analysis of what constitutes a “common question” is persuasive to this Court’s analysis of whether an FLSA collective action should be certified. In the interim, AEX’s motion for reconsideration is denied.”
Click Spellman v. American Eagle Exp., Inc. to read the entire Order.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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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