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Jones v. Giant Eagle, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 30, 2019

JORDAN JONES, ROBERT LEMUS, JASON REED, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
GIANT EAGLE, INC., Defendant. ANDREW FITCH, RICHARD D'ALESSANDRO, MICHAELLE HUTCHINSON, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
GIANT EAGLE, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION

          David Stewart Cercone Senior United States District Judge.

         Jordan Jones (“Jones”), Andrew Fitch (“Fitch”) and others (collectively “plaintiffs”) have commenced these separate collective actions against Giant Eagle, Inc. (“Giant Eagle” or “defendant”), seeking to recover unpaid overtime for themselves and, under § 216(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. (“FLSA”), on behalf of all others similarly situated. Plaintiffs also advance claims under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act of 1968, 43 P.S. §§ 333.101, et seq. (“PMWA”) and the Ohio Minimum Fair Wage Standards Act, O.R.C §§ 4111.01, et seq. (“OMFWSA”). Jones’ collective action ("Jones v. Giant Eagle, " 2:18-cv-282 or "the Jones action") seeks overtime pay on behalf of current and former Team Leaders and Team Leader Trainees employed in defendant’s Giant Eagle stores. Fitch’s collective action ("Fitch v. Giant Eagle, " 2:18-cv-1534 or “the Fitch action”) seeks overtime pay on behalf of current and former Senior Team Leaders and Senior Team Leader Trainees employed in defendant’s GetGo retail convenience stores/gas stations. Presently before the court are defendant’s "objections" to Magistrate Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy’s January 2, 2019, orders granting plaintiffs’ motions for equitable tolling of the statute of limitations for potential opt-in plaintiffs. Defendant's objections are in effect motions for reconsideration of those orders and the court has examined them in each posture and determined that the outcome is the same under either approach. In light of this and for the reasons set forth below, Judge Eddy's January 2, 2019, orders will be affirmed on appeal and/or reimposed after reconsideration and the statute of limitations for any putative opt-in plaintiffs in each action will be tolled until fourteen (14) days following this court’s decision on defendant’s motion to dismiss the amended complaint in each action.

         The Jones action was commenced in this court on March 6, 2018. Andrew Fitch filed a notice opting into the Jones action on April 3, 2018. He thereafter filed a notice withdrawing his consent and filed the Fitch action in the Southern District of Indiana on April 23, 2018. That action remained pending there until it was transferred to this court on November 9, 2018. Fitch v. Giant Eagle, Inc., 2:18-cv-1534 (Doc. No.s 1, 50). Both actions have been pending now for approximately a year and a half.

         During the pendency of these actions a significant amount of time has been consumed through extended motions practice. In both actions, plaintiffs' original complaints were met with motions to dismiss (in this court and in the Southern District of Indiana), which were followed by the filing of amended complaints and then motions to dismiss the amended complaints.

         On May 15, 2018, defendant filed a motion with the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation seeking to coordinate and consolidate the Fitch action with the Jones action for pretrial proceedings and concomitantly transfer the Fitch action to this court. On August 1, 2018, defendant filed a notice of the denial of its motion to transfer pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407.

         On June 5, 2018, defendant filed a motion to transfer pursuant 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) in the Fitch action. Upon notice of doing so the Jones action was stayed and statistically closed pending a decision on the motion to transfer. The § 1404(a) transfer motion remained pending for over six months. The parties then entered into a joint stipulation to transfer, which was granted on November 9, 2018. The transfer noted above followed.

         Highlighting the deleterious effect of the continued running of the statute of limitations as to potential opt-in plaintiffs and the concomitant need to provide them with timely notice of their claims, plaintiffs sought equitable tolling in Jones on September 14, 2018. On October 10, 2018, Judge Eddy granted the request for tolling “from May 15, 2018 until fourteen (14) days after the Southern District of Indiana decides Defendant’s pending motion to transfer venue.” (Order of October 10, 2018, in 2:18cv282 (Doc. No. 49)). Defendant filed "objections" to that order and this member of the court affirmed Judge Eddy's order on November 23, 2018.

         Judge Eddy held a status conference with counsel on December 4, 2018. See Doc. No. 57 in 2:18cv282. At the conference the procedure for further development of the parties' competing interests – that being the filing and briefing on defendant's motions to dismiss and plaintiffs obtaining equitable tolling in both cases – was formulated. The procedural deadlines indicated time would be consumed through March 8, 2019, before the court would be in a position to even consider defendant's motions to dismiss.

         On December 7, 2018, plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint in each action. On December 28, 2018, they filed a motion to lift the stay and extend the period of equitable tolling in Jones and a motion for equitable tolling in Fitch.

         On January 2, 2019, Judge Eddy granted continued tolling in Jones and initial equitable tolling in Fitch. The tolling was continued/imposed "until fourteen (14) days following [this court’s] decision on Defendants’ anticipated motion[s] to dismiss [in both actions]." 2:18cv282 at Doc. No. 60; 2:18cv1534 at Doc. No. 56. Defendant’s pending objections/motions for reconsideration followed.

         Defendant’s arguments against equitable tolling essentially are twofold. First, it contends that the predicate underlying the initial period of tolling in Jonesi.e., defendant’s then-pending § 1404(a) motion to transfer – no longer exists. Second, from its perspective the requisite showing of “extraordinary” circumstances needed for equitable tolling has not been made. Plaintiffs maintain that ample grounds for tolling are present and Judge Eddy reached the correct resolution.

         Defendant's arguments seeking to undo Judge Eddy's decision to grant equitable tolling are unavailing. As an initial matter, Judge Eddy’s memorandum order ("the order") applying equitable tolling was founded on much more than the mere pendency of the transfer motion. It was predicated on "the procedural posture of this case." The procedural posture of the case presented and Judge Eddy’s order identified sufficient grounds for equitable tolling. The basic rationale of the order was that “it is within the interests of justice to apply the doctrine of equitable tolling in this matter.” (Doc. No. 49 at 1-2). At the time the order was entered “the procedural posture of [the] case” presented significant circumstances to be considered in reaching that conclusion. Id. Among other things they included: (1) the prior entry of an indefinite stay of the proceedings pending resolution of the transfer motion by another district court; (2) the fact that at that juncture the proceedings had not even addressed, much less determined, the issue of providing notice to putative members of the collective; and (3) the potential (indeed the likelihood) that defendant would renew its motion to dismiss, thereby "further prolonging the time by which notice of this action will be given to the putative collective." Id. at 2.[1]

         Against this background, Judge Eddy weighed the equities presented by these circumstances. In doing so she determined that by granting equitable tolling the putative opt-in claimants would be protected and defendant would not be prejudiced. Her rationale drew support from and relied on numerous authorities, including the Supreme Court's decision in Hoffmann-LaRoche Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165 (1989). It was for all of these reasons that Judge Eddy found tolling to be “within the interests of justice.” Id.

         And those principles and reasons continued with sufficient force on January 2, 2019. Nothing within the balancing of the equitable principles had ...


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