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Cobble v. 20/20 Communications, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

October 11, 2017

JAMES COBBLE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
20/20 COMMUNICATIONS, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS A. VARLAN CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This civil action is before the Court on defendant's Motion to Stay Briefing and Adjudication of Plaintiff's Motion for Conditional Certification [Doc. 78]. In this motion, defendant moves the Court to stay briefing and adjudication of plaintiff James Cobble's Expedited Motion to Conditionally Certify Collective Action and Facilitate Notice to Potential Opt-in Plaintiffs [Doc. 71], pending resolution of defendant's motions to dismiss, transfer venue, or transfer the opt-in claims [Docs. 5, 46]. Plaintiff responded in opposition to defendant's motion to stay [Doc. 83], and defendant filed a reply [Doc. 84]. After carefully considering the matter, the Court will grant defendant's motion to stay.

         I. Background

         This case concerns allegations of unpaid overtime wages under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-19. Plaintiff James Cobble seeks to represent all similarly situated Field Sales Managers whom defendant employed in the past three years to service its account with Samsung Electronics America, Inc., and to whom it allegedly failed to properly pay overtime wages [Doc. 1 ¶¶ 1-2]. Plaintiff[1] originally filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”), seeking the same relief [Doc. 6-1]. After that proceeding had remained pending for almost a year, however, plaintiff withdrew his arbitration demand and filed a complaint for monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief in this Court [Doc. 1]. The complaint asserts that defendant employed hundreds of Field Sales Managers who worked over forty hours per week yet did not receive sufficient overtime pay [Id. ¶¶ 28-29].

         Defendant responded by moving the Court to dismiss plaintiff's complaint and compel arbitration or, in the alternative, to transfer this action to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas [Doc. 5]. In support of this motion, defendant asserted that, as a condition of employment, all Field Sales Managers had signed a Mutual Arbitration Agreement (“MAA”), which required the parties to submit all non-excepted disputes to arbitration and which contained a class action waiver [Doc. 6 pp. 2-3]. Defendant also noted that, even if no enforceable arbitration agreement existed, plaintiff's employment agreement contained a forum-selection clause fixing venue in Tarrant County, Texas [Id. at 13]. Plaintiff responded that he never signed an MAA or forum-selection clause, noting that defendant has been unable to produce the original, signed agreement [Doc. 16 pp. 5-7].[2] Moreover, plaintiff has argued that the MAA would be unenforceable under controlling Sixth Circuit precedent to the extent it contains a class action waiver [Doc. 83 p. 1 (citing NLRB v. Alt. Entm't, Inc., 858 F.3d 393 (6th Cir. 2017))].

         On July 3, 2017, defendant filed a motion to transfer the claims of all but one opt-in plaintiff to the Northern District of Texas on the ground that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over these claims [Doc. 46].[3] Defendant later moved for a stay of discovery pending a ruling on its motions to dismiss or transfer venue [Doc. 55]. Then, on August 18, 2017, plaintiff moved the Court to conditionally certify this matter as a collective action and to order sending notice to potential opt-in plaintiffs, pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) [Doc. 71]. The Court referred these motions to Magistrate Judge Clifton L. Corker for his consideration [Docs. 58, 76-77]. These motions remain pending before Magistrate Judge Corker as of the date of entry of this opinion.

         Finally, on August 31, 2017, defendant moved for a stay of briefing and adjudication of plaintiff's conditional certification motion [Doc. 78]. Defendant submits that, in the interests of judicial economy and preservation of party resources, the Court should defer ruling on plaintiff's motion until it has ruled on defendant's motions to dismiss or transfer venue [Doc. 79 p. 2]. Plaintiff responded in opposition [Doc. 83], and defendant replied [Doc. 84]. Defendant's motion to stay is thus fully briefed and ready for disposition.

         II. Analysis

         The Court will first determine the standard of review it must apply in considering defendant's motion to stay. The Court will then determine, in light of that standard, which of the various motions pending before the Court should receive priority consideration and whether defendant's requested stay is warranted.

         A. Determining the Proper Standard of Review

         First, defendant submits that a stay of briefing and adjudication of plaintiff's conditional certification motion is appropriate, based on principles of judicial economy [Doc. 79 p. 2]. Plaintiff responds that, under applicable Sixth Circuit precedent, the proponent of a stay must show that it will suffer irreparable injury absent a stay and that its opponent will not suffer any injury if a stay is entered [Doc. 83 pp. 2-3]. Plaintiff argues that defendant has made no such showing.

         A district court generally “has broad discretion to stay proceedings as an incident to its power to control its own docket.” Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 706 (1997) (citing Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936)); see also FTC v. E.M.A. Nationwide, Inc., 767 F.3d 611, 626-27 (6th Cir. 2014) (“The power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes in its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel and for litigants . . . .” (quoting Ohio Envtl. Council v. U.S. Dist. Court, S. Dist. of Ohio, E. Div., 565 F.2d 393, 396 (6th Cir. 1977))). On the other hand, courts “must tread carefully in granting a stay of proceedings, since a party has a right to a determination of its rights and liabilities without undue delay.” Ohio Envtl. Council, 565 F.2d at 396. Thus, when a party seeks a stay of proceedings in a case, that party bears the burden of proving “that it will suffer irreparable injury if the case moves forward, and that the non-moving party will not be injured by a stay.” Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, Local Union No. 2020 v. AT&T Network Sys., 879 F.2d 864, at *8 (6th Cir. 1989) (table opinion). The court must also consider whether the requested stay will “further the interest in economical use of judicial time and resources.” Id.

         Plaintiff asserts that the standard described above for granting a stay of proceedings governs defendant's motion.[4] The Court disagrees. While judicial economy and prejudice to the parties are certainly relevant considerations in any stay analysis, the cases cited above concerned a litigant's motion for a stay of all proceedings pending some other event. See, e.g., Clinton, 520 U.S. at 707-08 (overturning stay of lawsuit against President Clinton until his term of office expired); E.M.A. Nationwide, Inc., 767 F.3d at 628-29 (affirming denial of stay pending resolution of criminal proceedings); Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, 879 F.2d 864, at *8-9 (affirming denial of stay pending resolution of separate class action). Here, by contrast, defendant has requested only a stay of briefing and adjudication of one motion in a case that may otherwise proceed before this Court [Doc. 78].

         While courts have yet to define a precise standard to apply to such a request, a review of the case law from this circuit suggests that courts do not require an affirmative showing of irreparable harm when considering such a motion. See, e.g., Holmes v. Kelly Servs. USA, LLC, No. 16-cv-13164, 2017 WL 1077987, at *3 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 22, 2017); In re Amazon.com, Inc., Fulfillment Ctr. FLSA & Wage & Hour Litig., No. 3:14-md-2504, 2016 WL 8203223, at *1 (W.D. Ky. Apr. 22, 2016); Price v. Medicaid Dir., No. 1:13-cv-74, 2016 WL 8201769, at *2 (S.D. Ohio Feb. 1, 2016); Shannon v. PNC Bank, N.A., No. 3:14-cv-421, 2015 WL 339577, at *2 (W.D. Ky. Jan. 26, 2015); New Jerusalem Deliverance Church v. Rabette, No. 10-12566, 2011 WL 587145, at *1 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 10, 2011); Ford Motor Co. v. United States, No. 08-12960, 2009 WL 2776881, at *1 (E.D. Mich. Aug. 27, 2009). Rather, courts exercise their broad discretion in “balancing the ‘competing interests'” of the parties, Holmes, 2017 WL 1077987, at *3 (quoting Landis, 299 U.S. at 254), with the Court's duty to promote judicial economy and efficiently manage its docket, see Price, 2016 WL 8201769, at *2. ...


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