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Symczyk v. Genesis Healthcare Corp.

May 19, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baylson, J.


In this action, Plaintiff Laura Symczyk alleges that Defendants Genesis HealthCare Corporation and ElderCare Resources Corporation (collectively, "Defendants") violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. ("FLSA"), and Pennsylvania law, by implementing an automatic meal break deduction policy. (Compl. ¶ 1, Docket No. 1.) Symczyk brought the action as a collective action under 29 U.S.C. § 261(b), on behalf of herself and similarly situated individuals. Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction (Docket No. 12), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). The pending Motion seeks dismissal based on Defendants' offer of judgment, which, according to Defendant, exceeds all damages Symczyk can recover under the FLSA, in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68 ("Rule 68").

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Symczyk worked as a Registered Nurse at Pennypack Center, and was an employee of Defendants from April 2007 to December 2007. Symcyzk commenced this FLSA collective action on December 4, 2009, which identified the class as comprising "all non-exempt employees of Defendants whose pay is subject to an automatic meal break deduction even when they perform compensable work during their meal breaks." (Compl. ¶ 14, Docket No. 1.)*fn1

On February 18, 2010, Defendants filed an Answer to the Complaint. (Docket No. 8.) The same day, Defendants served Symczyk's counsel with an offer of judgment, pursuant to Rule 68, in the amount of "$7,500.00 in alleged unpaid wages, plus attorneys' fees, costs and expenses as determined by the Court." (Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. A, at 2.) Defendants contend, and Symczyk does not contest, that Symczyk "never responded, effectively rejecting the Offer." (Mot. to Dismiss 2; see also Resp. (Docket No. 19).)

On March 11, 2010, this Court entered an Order providing for "an initial ninety--day period of discovery, at the close of which [Symczyk] will move for conditional certification under § 216(b) of the FLSA." (Docket No. 10, ¶1.) On March 23, 2010, Defendants filed the pending Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction. Subsequently, on April 23, 2010, Symczyk filed an Amended Class/Collective Action Complaint (Docket No. 22), which differed from the Complaint by adding allegations pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 on behalf of a class seeking relief under Pennsylvania state law. Symczyk's Amended Complaint provides the same definition of the class as the Complaint (Am. Compl. ¶ 20).

II. The Parties' Contentions

Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is based upon their Rule 68 offer of judgment. In support of their Motion, Defendants assert that they offered Symczyk "compensation that is equal to or greater than the potential relief she could obtain at trial." (Mot. to Dismiss 5.) According to Defendants,"a defendant's offer to pay the full amount of the plaintiff's potential recovery . . . renders the plaintiff's claim moot because she loses a legally cognizable interest in the outcome of the litigation," thereby rendering this case subject to dismissal. (Mot. to Dismiss 3.)

In response, Symczyk contends that courts "heavily disfavor[]" "Defendants' strategic attempt to 'pick--off' the Plaintiff before the Court can meaningfully consider and decide the [§] 216(b) motion." (Resp. 1.) Symczyk argues that "the Third Circuit has considered and rejected the use of such tactic in the context of other representative actions, in particular a Rule 23 class action," and that courts have recognized that there is no distinction between Rule 23 and § 216(b) cases for purposes of "strategic mooting by defendants through the use of a Rule 68 offer of judgment." (Resp. 7.) Symczyk thereby concludes that the Court, rather than dismissing the action as moot, should permit Symyczk to "file a class certification motion, and that motion would 'relate back' to the filing of the complaint, thereby eliminating any concerns that the representative plaintiff lack[s] standing to sue." (Resp. 4--5.)

Defendants reply that dismissal is appropriate even though "this case is an opt--in collective action under § 216(b)," because "the opt--in procedure under § 216(b) is fundamentally different from the opt--out procedure in Rule 23 class actions," and both the "plain language of the FLSA and its legislative history," as well as "the great weight of authority" indicate that Defendants' Offer moots Symczyk's claim. (Mot. to Dismiss 7; see also Reply 2--13 (Docket No. 24).)

III. Discussion

Symczyk does not take issue with Defendants' assertion that the damages offered exceed any amount of unpaid wages sought; thus, the only legal question the Court must address is whether the rejected Rule 68 offer renders this case moot and divests this Court of subject matter jurisdiction over the action.

For a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of persuading the Court that subject matter jurisdiction exists. Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991). The Court "may not presume the truthfulness of [P]laintiff's allegations, but rather, must evaluate for itself the merits of the jurisdictional claims." Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted).

Article III of the United States Constitution limits the jurisdiction of federal courts to "actual cases and controversies." U.S. Const. art. III, ยง 2. "[A] case is moot when the issues presented are no longer 'live' or the ...

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