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Carmen Attanasio, Lynn Marie Potoski, and Denise Gaiteri, On v. Community Health Systems

October 20, 2011

CARMEN ATTANASIO, LYNN MARIE POTOSKI, AND DENISE GAITERI, ON THEIR OWN BEHALF AND FOR ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COMMUNITY HEALTH SYSTEMS, INC., WYOMING VALLEY HEALTH CARE SYSTEM AND WILKES-BARRE HOSPITAL CO., LLC, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Collective Action Complaint, (Doc. 13). In their Collective Action Complaint, Plaintiffs allege two categorical violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq. Defendants allege, in essence, that the Plaintiffs' Complaint contains insufficient facts and is therefore improperly pleaded. For the reasons stated below, the Court agrees and will dismiss the Complaint, providing the Plaintiffs an opportunity to amend.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Carmen Attanasio, Lynn Marie Potoski, and Denise Gaiteri ("Plaintiffs") bring this action pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq. They allege that Defendants Community Health Systems, Inc., Wyoming Valley Health Care System, and Wilkes-Barre Hospital Co., LLC ("Defendants"),and all of the Pennsylvania health care systems and hospitals under Defendants' control, violated the Act through failing to compensate their employees for the time they spent working during meal breaks and on required maintenance of their uniforms. (Compl. ¶ 1, Doc. 1).

In regard to the named Plaintiffs, the Complaint merely alleges that, for the relevant period, they were all non-exempt employees as defined by the FLSA, and that all were "routinely damaged by Defendants' failure to provide all proper compensation for time [they] spent engaged in meal break work and uniform maintenance work." (Id. at ¶¶ 5-7). Beyond that, the Complaint does not elaborate as to the positions those Plaintiffs held, nor the exact locations in which they worked.

As for the Defendants, the Complaint avers that Defendant Community Health Systems, Inc. ("CHS") was an employer as defined by the Act,*fn1 and that "on its own or through its affiliates, owns or operates more than 126 hospitals in 29 states, including the Wyoming Valley Health Care System, its component entities and nine other healthcare systems in Pennsylvania." (Id. at ¶ 8). It further states that Defendant Wyoming Valley Health Care System ("WVHCS") is also an employer as envisioned by the Act. (Id. at ¶ 9). Finally, Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges that Defendant Wilkes-Barre Hospital Co., LLC ("WBHC") is "owned, operated and/or controlled by WVHCS and operates Wilkes-Barre General Hospital" and that it too is an employer as defined by the Act. (Id. at ¶ 10). As such, Plaintiffs claim that "Plaintiffs and the Class members, regardless of their job title or location, had shared employers" and that the Defendants "jointly formulated, approved, and controlled the improper practices described in [their] Complaint, and are jointly responsiblefor the improper practices described [in the Complaint]." (Id. at ¶¶ 17(c), 13). As such, Plaintiffs bring two separate classes of claims against the collective Defendants.*fn2

The first proposed class is the "meal break work sub-class."*fn3 There, the Plaintiffs complain that they were wrongfully underpaid for their time spent working "during roughly 95% of their unpaid meal breaks each month." (Id. at ¶ 28). Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants faltered in their "obligat[ion] to ensure that Plaintiffs and the Class members were completely relieved from all work-related duties during each of their unpaid meal breaks." (Id. at ¶ 26). As this time spent working apparently went unrecorded, and that the Defendants allegedly knew as much, the Plaintiffs claim that this was a willing FLSA violation. (Id. at ¶ 35).

The second class, styled as the "uniform maintenance work sub-class,"*fn4 complains that Plaintiffs were left uncompensated for roughly two to three "hours of unpaid uniform maintenance work each week separate and apart from their regular household laundry or clothing maintenance chores." (Id. at ¶ 40). This uncompensated time Plaintiffs allege was a result of Defendants' practices and policies, that the Defendants knew about the existence of this extra labor since they "regularly encouraged, instructed, suffered and permitted Plaintiffs and the Class members to perform this work and observed the results of this work on a regular basis." (Id. at ¶¶ 40-43). As such, Plaintiffs contend that this was also a willful violation of the FLSA. (Id. at ¶ 47).

Plaintiffs are seeking a list of names of potential Class members and the authorization to issue notice to those individuals. Moreover, in seeking judgment in their favor, Plaintiffs request compensatory damages, pre-judgment interest, liquidated damages, attorney's fees and costs as well as equitable and injunctive relief. Plaintiffs claim that all named parties are members of both sub-classes, and that all Plaintiffs and class members were subjected to the same meal break and uniform maintenance policies and systems. Plaintiffs believe the Class of similarly-situated employees could potentially include several hundred members.

Defendants collectively move to dismiss the Complaint on the grounds that it is insufficiently pleaded, and in the alternative, that the requested relief is improper. (Mot. Dismiss, Doc. 13). Specifically, Defendants allege that the named Plaintiffs have failed to properly allege the existence of an employment relationship between any of the parties, and that there are no specific allegations that any of the Plaintiffs ever worked more than forty hours per week or approximate the amount of any unpaid overtime owed. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant the Motion to Dismiss.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of their claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

"A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). The statement required by Rule 8(a)(2) must give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Detailed factual allegations are not required. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). However, mere conclusory statements will not do; "a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211. Instead, a complaint must "show" this entitlement by alleging sufficient facts. Id. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

As such, the inquiry at the motion to dismiss stage is "normally broken into three parts: (1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).

Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), meaning enough factual allegations "'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'" each necessary element, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. "When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents when the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached copies of the documents to the motion to dismiss. Id. The Court need not assume the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit a complaint's "'bald assertions'" or ...


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