United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
R. ALEXANDER ACOSTA, SECRETARY OF LABOR, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Plaintiff,
ROBERT GAUDIN, Individually and as Chief Executive Officer of Holland Acquisitions, Inc. Defendant.
R. Hornak United States District Judge
before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiffs Complaint pursuant to both the claim-splitting
doctrine and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF
No. 7 ("Motion").) For the reasons that follow, the
Motion is granted on the terms set forth in this Opinion.
Secretary of Labor ("Secretary") filed this case
against Robert Gaudin ("Defendant") in his
individual capacity and as Chief Executive Officer of Holland
Acquisitions, Inc., ("Holland") under the Fair
Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). (Compl., ECF No. 1.)
The Secretary seeks to recover purported unpaid back wages
from Defendant, alleging that he was a responsible officer of
Holland and is thus individually liable for any wages owed.
(Id.) The Secretary is simultaneously maintaining
just such an action with this same Court against Holland
itself and another senior officer, Bryan Gaudin, at
Acosta v. Holland Acquisitions, Inc., No. 2:15-
cv-1094 (W.D. Pa.). In both of his pending cases, the
Secretary specifically alleges that Holland misclassified
certain employees as independent contractors, and that
alleged misclassification resulted in Holland's failure
to compensate such individuals for overtime worked, in
violation of §§ 7, 11(c), 15(a)(2), and 15(a)(5) of
the FLSA. The Secretary also seeks identical relief in both
cases: injunctive relief and monetary damages.
relationship between this case and Holland
Acquisitions is at the heart of Defendant's Motion,
so some facts surrounding Holland Acquisitions are
relevant here. The Secretary filed a complaint against
Holland and its Chief Operating Officer, Bryan Gaudin, on
August 20, 2015. (Holland Acquisitions, ECF No. 1.)
The Secretary amended that complaint on November 13, 2015,
but he did not add or replace any named defendant.
(Id., ECF No. 21.) After filing a motion to amend,
followed by full briefing and oral argument by the parties,
the Court granted the Secretary leave to file his Second
Amended Complaint. (Id., ECF Nos. 44, 46, 51, 54,
55.) The Secretary filed the Second Amended Complaint on July
18, 2016, but the Secretary did not add or replace any named
defendant. (Id., ECF No. 57.) On July 7, 2017, the
Secretary filed a Motion to Amend/Correct "Schedule
A," which is a list attached to the original and both
amended complaints that provides names of individuals
allegedly affected by the purported FLSA violations.
(Id., ECF No. 105.) Again, the Secretary did not
seek to add or replace any named defendant. The Court granted
that motion as well. (Id., ECF No. 132.) Thus, the
Secretary has been granted three (3) opportunities to amend
in his first filed case with nary a mention of claims against
Robert Gaudin. Nor has the Secretary provided any indication
in his prior four (4) Complaints, including the one at issue
here, of unlawful conduct by Robert Gaudin, as we will see
Complaint in this case is nearly identical to the Second
Amended Complaint in Holland Acquisitions. (Compare
ECF No. 1, with Holland Acquisitions, ECF No. 57.)
Most importantly, both refer to the same alleged violations,
during the same time frame, at and by the same company. To
boil it down, this is a separate action that comes two years
later against a company's CEO for the very same FLSA
overtime compensation violations that the Secretary is
already litigating against the company's COO and the
Defendant in this case has moved to dismiss the Complaint on
two grounds. First, he asks the Court to dismiss this case
asserting that the Secretary has impermissibly sought to
"split" what is really a single case into two
cases. In the alternative, he asks the Court to dismiss the
Complaint without prejudice for the Secretary's failure
to plead with sufficient detail to state a plausible claim
for relief. The Secretary opposes the Motion asserting that
this case can stand on its own two feet since Defendant has
individual liability under the FLSA, and, in any event, the
Complaint sufficiently pleads the FLSA claims asserted.
plausibility standard governing motions to dismiss pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) requires courts
to "accept all factual allegations [in the complaint] as
true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to
the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable
reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to
relief." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d
203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. Cty. of
Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)). A
complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement
of the claim." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). While a
plaintiff is not required to plead detailed factual
allegations, a complaint must nevertheless plead "enough
facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555, 570 (2007). While "[f]he plausibility standard
is not akin to a probability requirement," it "asks
for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009). A complaint containing only "naked
assertions devoid of further factual enhancements" will
not survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Id. Thus,
"labels and conclusions" are not enough to survive
a motion to dismiss, and the "courts are not bound to
accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual
allegation." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
claim-splitting doctrine prohibits plaintiffs from
"maintaining] two separate actions involving the same
subject matter at the same time in the same court and against
the same defendant." Walton v. Eaton Corp., 563
F.2d 66, 70 (3d Cir. 1977) (citing United States
v. Haytian Republic, 154 U.S. 118, 123-24 (1894)).
"The long-standing rule against improper claim splitting
prohibits a plaintiff from prosecuting his case piecemeal and
requires that all claims arising out of a single alleged
wrong be presented in one action." Prewitt v.
Walgreens Co., No. 12-6967, 2013 WL 6284166, at *5 (E.D.
Pa. Dec. 2, 2013). The claim-splitting doctrine is widely
considered derivative of the res judicata doctrine. See
Hartsel Springs Ranch of Colo., Inc. v. Bluegreen Corp.,
296 F.3d 982, 986 (10th Cir. 2002) (noting "more recent
cases analyze claim-splitting as an aspect of res
judicata"); Davis v. Sun Oil Co., 148 F.3d 606,
613 (6th Cir. 1998) (per curiam) (describing claim-splitting
as "the 'other action pending' facet of the res
judicata doctrine"); Shaver v. F.W. Woolworth
Co., 840 F.2d 1361, 1365 (7th Cir. 1988) ("This
application of the doctrine of res judicata prevents the
splitting of a single cause of action and the use of several
theories of recovery as the basis for separate suits.").
must "carefully insure [sic] that the plaintiff does
not use the tactic of filing two substantially identical
complaints to expand the procedural rights he would have
otherwise enjoyed." Walton, 563 F.2d at 71.
Specifically, this Court must be wary of the Secretary
seeking to "use the incorrect procedure of filing
duplicative complaints for the purpose of circumventing the
rules pertaining to the amendment of complaints."
Id. at 71 (referencing Fed. R. Civ. P. 15). A
court's decision to dismiss a new complaint under the
claim-splitting doctrine is subject to the abuse of
discretion standard of review. Schneider v. United
States, 301 F. App'x 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2008).
claim-splitting doctrine in this Circuit "applies when
two cases: (1) take place in the same court; (2) with the
same defendants; (3) involving the same subject matter."
McKenna v. City of Philadelphia, 304 F. App'x
89, 92 (3d Cir. 2008); Walton, 563 F.2d at 70. The
cases need not be actually identical to involve the same
subject matter. McKenna, 304 F. App'x at 92.
When the difference between the two cases is "purely
semantic" and both cases rely ...