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Woodard v. FedEx Freight East

February 19, 2008

WILLIAM WOODARD, PLAINTIFF
v.
FEDEX FREIGHT EAST, INC., DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Vanaskie

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court in this action to recover overtime compensation are (1) Defendant FedEx Freight East, Inc.'s ("FedEx Freight") Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Class and Collective Action Allegations Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(f) and Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(d), or, in the alternative, for a More Definite Statement Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e) ("Motion to Strike or for More Definite Statement"), (Dkt. Entry 3); and (2) Plaintiff William Woodard's Motion to Toll the Running of the FLSA Statute of Limitations Period ("Motion to Toll FLSA-SOL"). (Dkt. Entry 39.) Mr. Woodard, a former employee of FedEx Freight, alleges that FedEx Freight misclassified him and other similarly situated employees as exempt from the overtime pay requirements of federal and Pennsylvania law. He further alleges that he and other misclassified employees worked in excess of forty hours per week without receiving the overtime premium pay mandated by these laws. Mr. Woodard claims that FedEx Freight's misclassification and consequent failure to pay overtime violated the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-218; the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act of 1968 ("MWA"), 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 333.101-.115; and the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law ("WPCL"). 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 260.1-.45. Mr. Woodard asserts these claims on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, seeking to prosecute the FLSA claim as a collective action under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), and the MWA and WPCL claims as a class action under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3).*fn1

In moving to strike the state wage law class action allegations, FedEx Freight argues that a state wage law class action cannot be maintained in the same proceeding as an FLSA collective action because the opt-out mechanism of Rule 23 class actions is "inherently incompatible" with the opt-in scheme of FLSA collective actions. Finding merit in this argument, the Court will grant the motion to strike.

FedEx Freight also argues that the FLSA collective action allegations must be stricken because misclassification claims are fact-intensive, focusing on the duties actually performed by the employee, and therefore unsuitable for collective action treatment. The Court will deny FedEx Freight's motion to strike because misclassification cases are certified as collective actions notwithstanding the concerns raised by FedEx Freight. The Court will, however, grant FedEx Freight's motion for a more definite statement, and require Mr. Woodard to define more precisely the class of workers on whose behalf he purports to bring this action.

As to the motion to toll the running of the FLSA statute of limitations applicable to the claims of the prospective opt-in plaintiffs, Mr. Woodard argues equitable tolling is appropriate because the prospective opt-in plaintiffs are prejudiced by the delay caused by FedEx Freight's motion. Because this is not an appropriate basis for equitable tolling, Mr. Woodard's motion will be denied.*fn2

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The allegations of the Amended Complaint, taken as true, reveal the following: From September, 2004, through July, 2005, Mr. Woodard worked for FedEx Freight as a shift manager at the company's facility in Pocono Summit, Pennsylvania. (Am. Compl., Dkt. Entry 2, ¶ 23.) FedEx Freight classified Mr. Woodard as an exempt employee, meaning he was not covered by certain federal or state wage law protections, such as the right to be paid overtime. Despite this classification, Mr. Woodard's actual work required little skill and no capital investment. (Id. ¶ 25.) And while his job title was shift "manager," he had no managerial responsibility nor did he exercise independent judgment. (Id.) Mr. Woodard frequently worked in excess of forty hours each week. (Id. ¶ 26.) Because he was classified as an exempt employee, he was not compensated for these additional hours, either at his regular hourly rate or the overtime premium rate. (Id.) Other employees of FedEx Freight -- whose job titles, duties, and work locations are unknown -- were classified as exempt even though their positions required little skill and no capital investment, and their duties did not entail managerial responsibility or the exercise of independent judgment. (Id. ¶ 27.) These employees similarly worked in excess of forty hours per week, but received no compensation for the additional hours. (Id. ¶ 28.)

B. Procedural Background

On May 10, 2006, Mr. Woodard filed a complaint against FedEx Corp. in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. (Dkt. Entry 1-3.) On June 12, 2006, Mr. Woodard filed an Amended Complaint substantially identical to the original complaint, except for naming FedEx Freight as the proper Defendant. (Dkt. Entry 2.) FedEx Freight moved under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to transfer venue to this Court. (Dkt. Entry 1-9.) The parties stipulated to the transfer, and District Judge Kimba M. Wood entered an Order transferring the action to this Court. (Dkt. Entry 1.)

The Amended Complaint consists of two counts. First, Mr. Woodard asserts a claim under the FLSA to redress FedEx Freight's "policy and practice" of refusing to pay its employees overtime compensation for hours worked in excess of forty hours per week. Mr. Woodard further alleges that FedEx Freight violated the FLSA by failing to maintain and preserve records sufficient to enable a determination of the hours worked and wages earned by each employee. (Am. Compl. ¶ 38.) He claims such violations were "willful." (Id. ¶ 39.) Among other things, Mr. Woodard prays for an order certifying his FLSA claim as a collective action and an award of unpaid overtime wages, liquidated damages, attorney's fees, and costs and expenses. The proposed collective action group is defined as follows:

[A]ll persons who are or were formerly employed by Defendant in the United States at any time since June 12, 2003 to the entry of judgment in this case (the "Collective Action Period") who were not paid for hours that they actually worked as well as for overtime compensation at rates not less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay for hours worked in excess of forty hours per workweek (the "Collective Action Members"). (Id. ¶ 8.)

Count Two of the Amended Complaint seeks relief under the MWA and WPCL. The same conduct underlying the FLSA claim -- misclassification and failure to pay overtime -- is alleged to have violated the MWA and WPCL. Mr. Woodard purports to prosecute this claim as a Rule 23(b)(3) class action on behalf of himself and the following putative class:

[A]ll persons who were employed by Defendant in the [Commonwealth] of Pennsylvania at any time since April 28, 2003, to the entry of judgment in this case (the "Class Period"), who were non-exempt employees within the meaning of the PMWA and PWPCL and have not been paid for hours actually worked as well as overtime wages in violation of the PMWA and PWPCL (the "Class"). (Id. ¶ 15.) Mr. Woodard requests an order certifying this claim as a Rule 23(b)(3) class action, as well as other relief similar to that sought under the FLSA.

On August 11, 2006, FedEx Freight filed its Motion to Strike or for More Definite Statement, (Dkt. Entry 3), and a supporting memorandum. (Dkt. Entry 4.) Mr. Woodard filed his brief in opposition thereto on November 8, 2006. (Dkt. Entry 20.) FedEx Freight filed a reply brief on November 27, 2006. (Dkt. Entry 23.) On December 14, 2006, Mr. Woodard filed a sur-reply letter brief. (Dkt. Entry 27.) The Court heard argument on FedEx Freight's motion on February 1, 2007. (Dkt. Entry 33.)*fn3

On September 7, 2007, Mr. Woodard filed his Motion to Toll FLSA-SOL, (Dkt. Entry 39), along with a supporting brief. (Dkt. Entry 40.) FedEx Freight filed an opposition brief on September 24, 2007. (Dkt. Entry 42.) Mr. Woodard filed a reply brief on October 4, 2007. (Dkt. Entry 43.)

II. DISCUSSION

A. Motion to Strike or for More Definite Statement

1) Standard

Upon proper motion, a "court may strike from a pleading . . . any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(f). Whether to grant a motion to strike is reserved to the discretion of the district court, although such motions are disfavored and usually denied "'unless the allegations have no possible relation to the controversy and may cause prejudice to one of the parties, or if the allegations confuse the issues.'" Krisa v. Equitable Life Assurance Soc'y, 109 F. Supp. 2d 316, 319 (M.D. Pa. 2000) (quoting River Rd. Dev. Corp. v. Carlson Corp.-Ne., Civ. A. No. 89-7037, 1990 WL 69085, at *3 (E.D. Pa. May 23, 1990)). Courts are generally reluctant to strike class action allegations before the parties have the opportunity to engage in discovery or before a motion to certify is before the court. See Ricciardi v. Elec. Data Sys. Corp., No. 03-CV-5285, 2005 WL 2782932, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 24, 2005). Nevertheless, a district court will strike class action allegations without permitting discovery or waiting for a certification motion where the complaint and any affidavits clearly demonstrate that the plaintiff cannot meet the requirements for a class action. See Thompson v. Merck & Co., Inc., Nos. C.A. 01-1004, 01-1328, 01-3011, 01-6029, 02-1196, 02-4176, 2004 WL 62710, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 6, 2004).

A party may also move for a more definite statement if the pleading is "so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e). Rule 12(e) must be viewed in light of the notice-pleading requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). See Blue Fish Clothing, Inc. v. Kat Prints, Civ. A. No. 91-1511, 1991 WL 71113, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 29, 1991). The decision to grant a motion for a more definite statement is committed to the discretion of the district court. Clark v. McDonald's Corp., 213 F.R.D. 198, 232 (D.N.J. 2003).

2) Mr. Woodard's MWA and WPCL Class Action Claims

FedEx Freight argues that Mr. Woodard's state law class action allegations must be stricken because such a Rule 23 opt-out class action cannot be pursued simultaneously in federal court with a collective action under the FLSA. FedEx Freight observes that the FLSA requires an employee to affirmatively opt in, or consent, to become a party plaintiff to the action. See 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). By contrast, Rule 23, which is inapplicable to the FLSA, but applicable to Mr. Woodard's MWA and WPCL claims, includes all putative class members in the action unless those individuals affirmatively opt out of, or request exclusion from, the case. FedEx Freight contends that the opt-in and opt-out devices are "inherently incompatible," and to allow Mr. Woodard to pursue both in the same proceeding will undermine Congress's intent in establishing the FLSA opt-in requirement. (Reply Br. Supp. Def.'s Mot. Strike or More Definite Statement ("Def.'s Reply Br."), Dkt. Entry 23, at 6-7.)

Mr. Woodard counters that there is no inherent conflict between an FLSA collective action and a state law class action "since the rights for redress exist under two separate statutes -- the FLSA and Pennsylvania law." (Pl.'s Sur-reply Letter Br., Dkt. Entry 27, at 2.) He argues the decisions cited by FedEx Freight fail to explain why these two actions cannot coexist in the same proceeding. "Merely stating there is an incompatibility is not a demonstration of any such incompatibility." (Id.) Mr. Woodard observes that district courts within and without the Third Circuit have permitted wage and hour lawsuits to proceed simultaneously as FLSA opt-in collective actions and state law Rule 23 opt-out class actions. (Id. at 2 & n.2.)

The question of whether a plaintiff may assert an FLSA collective action and a state law class action concurrently in federal court must be analyzed through the lens of supplemental jurisdiction. See De Asencio v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 342 F.3d 301, 307 (3d Cir. 2003); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1367; Freeman v. Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc., Civ. A. No. 07-1503 (JLL), 2007 WL 4440875, at *2 (D.N.J. Dec. 18, 2007); Neary v. Metro Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 472 F. Supp. 2d 247, 251 (D. Conn. 2007). In this regard, the Court finds a compelling reason to decline jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(4). Specifically, the Court agrees with FedEx Freight that the opt-in regime of § 216(b) is "inherently incompatible" with the opt-out mechanism of Rule 23. Moreover, the Court concludes that, where a plaintiff asserts an FLSA collective action and a state law Rule 23 class action, both of which are predicated on the same facts and seek to vindicate identical statutory rights, but the state law lacks an opt-in requirement, the simultaneous prosecution of these claims will undermine the objectives Congress sought to achieve by amending § 216(b) to require written consent to become party plaintiffs to FLSA actions. Under the circumstances, jurisdiction must be declined. See Hyman v. WM Fin. Servs., Inc., No. 06-CV-4038 (WJM), 2007 WL 1657392, at *6 (D.N.J. June 7, 2007). Because Mr. Woodard's state law class action allegations are immaterial, FedEx Freight's motion to strike will be granted.

a) Supplemental Jurisdiction

In 1990, Congress enacted 28 U.S.C. § 1367, the supplemental jurisdiction statute, which codified many of the principles enunciated by the Supreme Court in United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715 (1966). Pursuant to § 1367(a), a district court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims "that are so related to claims in the action within [the court's] original [i.e., federal question or diversity] jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy." 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). Mr. Woodard obtained federal jurisdiction by asserting a claim under the FLSA alleging FedEx Freight failed to pay him and other employees overtime compensation. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Supplemental jurisdiction over the MWA and WPCL claims is proper if such claims are part of the same case or controversy as the FLSA claim, that is, they share a "common nucleus of operative fact." Gibbs, 383 U.S. at 725.

Here, Mr. Woodard's FLSA, MWA, and WPCL claims arise from the same controversy and share a common nucleus of operative fact. As with the FLSA claim, Mr. Woodard's MWA and WPCL claims allege FedEx Freight violated those statutes by misclassifying him and others as exempt employees and failing to pay them overtime compensation. Where, as here, a defendant's conduct allegedly "violate[s] parallel federal and state laws, the common nucleus of operative facts is obvious." Lyon v. Whisman, 45 F.3d 758, 761 (3d Cir. 1995); see also De Asencio, 342 F.3d at 308 (common nucleus of operative fact demonstrated where claims under FLSA and WPCL address whether defendant's ...


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