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Babcock v. Butler County

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

February 21, 2014

SANDRA J. BABCOCK Individually and on behalf of all those similarly situated, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
BUTLER COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ARTHUR J. SCHWAB, District Judge.

In this putative class action lawsuit, the purported class (Plaintiffs), who are employees at a Butler County prison, allege that Defendants, Plaintiffs' employers, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). Specifically, Plaintiffs, in their Amended Complaint, allege that Defendants required them to take a one-hour meal break, during which time Plaintiffs were "on call" (requiring them to remain within the prison and in their uniforms), and they were not paid for fifteen minutes of their one-hour meal break.

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint. Doc. no. 63. Plaintiffs filed a Brief in Opposition (doc. no. 65) and Defendants filed a Reply Brief. Doc. no. 66. After careful consideration of the arguments presented, and a thorough analysis of the FLSA law specifically related to meal periods, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for the reasons discussed in greater detail below. In so doing, the Motion for Collective Action Certification filed by Plaintiffs (doc. no. 53) will be denied as moot.

I. Standard of Review

Defendants filed the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint predicated upon Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Federal Courts require notice pleading, as opposed to the heightened standard of fact pleading. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds on which it rests.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).

Building upon the landmark United States Supreme Court decisions in Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit explained that a District Court must undertake the following three steps to determine the sufficiency of a complaint:

First, the court must take note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.

Connelly v. Steel Valley Sch. Dist. , 706 F.3d 209, 212 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).

The third step of the sequential evaluation requires this Court to consider the specific nature of the claims presented and to determine whether the facts pled to substantiate the claims are sufficient to show a "plausible claim for relief." Covington v. Int'l Ass'n of Approved Basketball Officials , 710 F.3d 114, 118 (3d Cir. 2013). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a Complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 664.

This Court may not dismiss a complaint merely because it appears unlikely or improbable that Plaintiff can prove the facts alleged or will ultimately prevail on the merits. Twombly , 550 U.S. at 563 n.8. Instead, this Court must ask whether the facts alleged raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements. Id. at 556. Generally speaking, a complaint that provides adequate facts to establish "how, when, and where" will survive a Motion to Dismiss. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 212 (3d Cir. 2009).

In short, a Motion to Dismiss should not be granted if a party alleges facts, which could, if established at trial, entitle him/her to relief. Twombly , 550 U.S. at 563 n.8.

II. Background

A. Procedural History Plaintiffs filed their initial Complaint in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on February 23, 2012. Doc. no. 1. The case was transferred to this Court on March 29, 2012. Doc. no. 4. On April 5, 2012, Plaintiffs filed their Motion to Certify the Class (doc. no. 14) and a Brief in Support of same.[1] Doc. no. 16. On April 11, 2012, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint and Brief in Support. Doc. nos. 19-20. In response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint. Doc. no. 25.

On April 30, 2012, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint or, alternatively, a Motion to Stay Proceedings. Doc. no. 30. On May 10, 2012, the Court granted Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint because a jurisdictional issue arose. Accordingly, the Court stayed these proceedings until Plaintiffs exhausted their administrative remedies-proceeding through the grievance process of the collective bargaining agreement, which concluded with an arbitration ruling in favor of Defendants. See Court's Opinion and Order at doc. nos. 41-42.

On August 17, 2012, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Reopen this Case and Lift the Stay. Doc. no. 44. On September 6, 2012, after receiving Defendants' Brief in Opposition to this Motion (doc. no. 46), the Court issued an Opinion and Order denying Plaintiffs' Motion to Reopen this Case and Lift the Stay. This case remained closed until Plaintiffs filed an Unopposed Motion to Lift the Stay on January 22, 2014. Doc. no. 49. The Court granted that Motion on January 24, 2014. Doc. no. 51. Later that same day, on January 24, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Conditional Collective Action Certification Pursuant to the FLSA and a Brief in Support of Same. Doc. nos. 53 and 53-1.

On February 5, 2014, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint and Brief in Support. Doc. nos. 63-64. Plaintiffs filed a Brief in Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss their Amended Complaint (doc. no. 65), and Defendants filed a Reply Brief. Doc no. 66. This matter is now ripe for adjudication.

B. Relevant Facts

The following facts, which are set forth in the First Amended Complaint, are accepted as true solely for the purposes of deciding this Motion to Dismiss.

In the First Amended Complaint, the Named Plaintiff essentially claims that Defendants failed to properly compensate her (and all the corrections officers formerly and presently employed by Defendants) for overtime in violation of Section 16(b) of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Doc. no. 25, ¶ 13. Plaintiffs describe themselves as current and former employees of Defendant Butler County, a prison located in Butler, Pennsylvania, who, "within the last three years[, ] have been employed by Defendant Butler County as correction officers." Id . at ¶¶ 14, 21.

Plaintiffs allege that Defendants failed to pay them for "on-call time." Id . at ¶¶ 24-50. Plaintiffs describe this claim as follows: Defendants require Plaintiffs to work eight and one-quarter hour shifts (which include a meal period), but only pay them for eight hours of work.[2] Id . at ¶ 26. Defendants require Plaintiffs to take a one-hour meal break during their eight and one-quarter hour shift. Id at ¶¶ 26-27. Defendants also require that during the one-hour meal break, Plaintiffs remain within the prison, in their uniforms, and "on call to respond to emergencies." Id . at ¶¶ 27-28. Plaintiffs are paid for 45 minutes of the one-hour meal break- the other 15 minutes are not paid. Id . at ¶ 28. Plaintiffs aver that because of the "substantial limitations" that are placed upon them during their one-hour meal break period, the meal break period predominantly benefits Defendants and is not a "non-compensable bona fide meal period" as defined by 29 CFR § 785.19(a). Id . at ¶¶ 35, 41, 50.

III. Discussion

A. Case Management

Defendants argue in their Brief in Support of its Motion to Dismiss that it would be inappropriate for this Court to address the pending Motion for Conditional Collective Action Certification (doc. no. 53) before considering the dispositive arguments set forth in their Motion to Dismiss (doc. no. 63). Doc. no. 62, p. 2. Plaintiffs did not disagree with this premise in their Brief in Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss. See doc. no. 65. Rather, Plaintiffs' Brief in Opposition focuses solely whether their Amended Complaint provided enough factual allegations to support a claim for unpaid wages under the FLSA.

In addition, this Court finds that deciding the Motion to Dismiss prior to the Motion for Conditional Class Certification is both judicially fair and efficient. Accordingly, the Court will consider the Motion to Dismiss before ...


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