United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division
SARAH McCURRY and DWAN WILLS, on behalf of themselves and all other similarly situated employees, Plaintiffs,
BELLS NURSING HOME, INC. d/b/a BELLS NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER; CROCKETT COUNTY NURSING HOME, INC. d/b/a ALAMO NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER; and HARBER-LAMAN, LLC, Defendants.
THOMAS ANDERSON, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Defendants Bells Nursing Home, Inc. d/b/a Bells
Nursing and Rehabilitation Center; Crockett County Nursing
Home, Inc. d/b/a Alamo Nursing and Rehabilitation Center; and
Harber-Laman, LLC's Partial Motion to Dismiss (ECF No.
18) filed on February 27, 2017. Plaintiffs Sarah McCurry and
Dwan Wills have responded in opposition. For the reasons set
forth below, Defendants' Motion is DENIED.
filed a Complaint on January 12, 2017, alleging that
Defendants had violated the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938,
29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. According to the
Complaint, McCurry was employed as beautician at the Alamo
Nursing and Rehabilitation Center (“Alamo nursing
home”) from 2003 to 2016. Compl. ¶ 15. Wells was
employed as a beautician at the Bells Nursing and
Rehabilitation Center (“Bells nursing home”) in
2013. Id. ¶ 22. Both Plaintiffs make
substantially similar allegations: each was supposed to work
a set number of hours and receive a set amount of pay but
would often work more hours (up to 80 hours) during the
biweekly pay period. Despite the fact that Plaintiffs often
worked hours in excess of their scheduled hours,
Defendants' payroll department asked them to sign
biweekly timesheets that did not accurately reflect the time
Plaintiffs actually worked. As a result of these payroll
practices, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants paid them less
than the federal minimum wage.
their Partial Motion to Dismiss, Defendants raise two
arguments. First, Defendants contend that the Complaint fails
to make plausible allegations about the willfulness of the
alleged FLSA violations. The FLSA has a general two-year
statute of limitations for a failure to pay overtime and a
three-year statute of limitations for willful violations of
the Act. Defendants argue Plaintiffs have failed to allege
that Defendants knew or showed reckless disregard for the
consequences of its practices. As such, the Court should hold
that the Complaint fails to state a claim for a willful
violation of the FLSA. Second, Defendants argue that
Plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged the existence of a
broader payroll practice to support their prayer for a
collective action. The Complaint merely alleges that each
named Plaintiff was employed as a beautician at separate
nursing homes and was denied a minimum wage and overtime pay.
Defendants contend that these conclusory allegations are
insufficient to state a claim for a collective action.
Therefore, the Court should dismiss Plaintiffs' demand to
certify a collective action.
have responded in opposition to Defendants' Motion.
Plaintiffs maintain that the Complaint satisfies the Rule 8
notice pleading requirement as to the willfulness of
Defendants' violations. Plaintiffs point out that the
Complaint contains a specific allegation about
Defendants' willfulness. The Complaint also contains
additional allegations that Defendants' payroll
departments required Plaintiffs to sign a false timesheet,
implying that Defendants knew their employees were working
more than the number of hours documented on the timesheets.
According to Plaintiffs, these allegations suffice to show
that Defendants' improper payroll practices were willful.
With respect to Defendants' argument against the
collective action allegations, Plaintiffs respond that the
issue is better addressed once Plaintiffs file their
forthcoming motion for conditional certification of a
collective action. Defendants have raised arguments that go
to the merits of whether the Court should certify the
collective action, and not the pleading standards for a
collective action. Plaintiffs ask the Court to deny
defendant may move to dismiss a claim “for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted” under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). When considering a
Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must treat all of the
well-pleaded allegations of the pleadings as true and
construe all of the allegations in the light most favorable
to the non-moving party. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S.
232, 236 (1974); Saylor v. Parker Seal Co., 975 F.2d
252, 254 (6th Cir. 1992). However, legal conclusions or
unwarranted factual inferences need not be accepted as true.
Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10,
12 (6th Cir. 1987). “To avoid dismissal under Rule
12(b)(6), a complaint must contain either direct or
inferential allegations with respect to all material elements
of the claim.” Wittstock v. Mark a
Van Sile, Inc., 330 F.3d 899, 902 (6th Cir.
Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint
need only contain “a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although this standard does not require
“detailed factual allegations, ” it does require
more than “labels and conclusions” or “a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 681
(2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555 (2007). See also Reilly v. Vadlamudi, 680
F.3d 617, 622 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555). In order to survive a motion to dismiss, the
plaintiff must allege facts that, if accepted as true, are
sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level” and to “state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570. “A claim has
facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content
that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Court holds that the Complaint has plausibly alleged
Defendants' willfulness in violating the FLSA and the
existence a single policy affecting all members of the
putative class. The FLSA has a three-year statute of
limitations for any “cause of action arising out of a
willful violation.” 29 U.S.C. § 255(a). As the
Sixth Circuit has explained, “[u]nder the FLSA, a
lawsuit to recover unpaid compensation must ‘be
commenced within two years after the cause of action accrued,
' unless the cause of action arose ‘out of a
willful violation, ' in which case the lawsuit must
‘be commenced within three years after the cause of
action accrued.'” Hughes v. Region VII Area
Agency on Aging, 542 F.3d 169, 187 (6th Cir. 2008)
(quoting 29 U.S.C. § 255(a)). The cause of action
accrues, “as a general rule, ‘at each regular
payday immediately following the work period during which the
services were rendered for which the wage or overtime
compensation is claimed.'” Id. (quoting
Archer v. Sullivan Cnty., Nos. 95-5214, 95-5215,
1997 WL 720406, at *6 (6th Cir. Nov. 14, 1997)). An FLSA
violation is willful if “the employer either knew or
showed reckless disregard for the matter of whether its
conduct was prohibited by the statute.” Elwell v.
Univ. Hosps. Home Care Servs., 276 F.3d 832, 842 (6th
motion-to-dismiss stage, the Plaintiffs must only state a
plausible claim that the alleged violations were willful.
Rule 9(b) allows a plaintiff to plead “[m]alice,
intent, knowledge, and other conditions of a person's
mind ... generally, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(b), but the Rule
“does not give a plaintiff license to ‘plead the
bare elements of his cause of action . . . and expect his
complaint to survive a motion to dismiss.'”
Katoula v. Detroit Entm't, LLC, 557 F. App'x
496, 498 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678-79) (analyzing FMLA claim of “willfulness”
under Twombly and Iqbal). Applying this
standard to a “willful” claim under the Family
Medical Leave Act, the Sixth Circuit noted that
“although conditions of a person's mind may be
alleged generally, ‘the plaintiff still must plead
facts about the defendant's mental state, which, accepted
as true, '” make the allegation plausible.
Id. (quoting Republic Bank & Trust Co. v.
Bear Stearns & Co., 683 F.3d 239, 247 (6th Cir.
Court holds that Plaintiffs' Complaint satisfies the
notice pleadings standard. While paragraph 42 of the
Complaint contains a conclusory reference to the
Defendants' “willful” conduct, Plaintiffs
also allege the existence of a system by which the Defendants
deliberately attempted to avoid paying them an appropriate
minimum wage and/or overtime compensation by preparing
incorrect timesheets and requiring Plaintiffs to sign them.
These detailed allegations about the Defendants' ongoing
practices allegedly intended to evade the FLSA “do more
than make the conclusory assertion that a defendant acted
willfully.” Katoula, 557 F. App'x at 498.
Of course, the burden remains with Plaintiffs to prove the
willfulness of any violation, and the final determination on
that issue may influence the timeliness of Plaintiffs'
claims. At the pleadings stage, however, the Court holds that
the Complaint presents facts, taken as true, that make the
allegation of willfulness plausible. Therefore,
Defendants' Motion is DENIED as to this issue.
the Court finds Defendants' argument for the dismissal of
Plaintiffs' class allegations unpersuasive. The FLSA
permits a court to “conditionally certify” a
class of employees when an FLSA action is based on a
defendant's unified and allegedly illegal policy and the
pleadings allege that the defendant's policy has resulted
in FLSA violations to all putative class members.
O'Brien v. Ed Donnelly Enterprs., 575 F.3d 567,
585-86 (6th Cir. 2009) (requiring, at a minimum, an
allegation that each putative class member suffered from an
FLSA violation). Conditional certification, however, is not
to be confused with stating a claim for collective action.
Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' Complaint has not
pleaded all of the elements for conditional certification.
This contention conflates the pleading ...