Harris v. Old Navy, LLC

Decision Date15 November 2022
Docket Number21 Civ. 9946 (GHW) (GWG)
PartiesJONELLE HARRIS, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff, v. OLD NAVY, LLC, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of New York

REPORT & RECOMMENDATION

GABRIEL W. GORENSTEIN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

Plaintiff Jonelle Harris, suing individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, brings this case against defendant Old Navy, LLC (Old Navy), alleging violations of the New York Labor Law, Article 6, §§ 190 et seq. (“NYLL”). See Complaint filed Nov. 24, 2021 (Docket # 1); Amended Complaint, filed Mar. 5, 2022 (Docket # 7) (“Compl.”). Old Navy has moved to dismiss the complaint.[1]For the following reasons Old Navy's motion should be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

According to the complaint, Old Navy hired Harris as an hourly worker. Compl. ¶ 9. While the complaint is not clear as to Harris's job title, it appears she was a “sales representative.” Id. ¶ 1. Over twenty-five percent of her job duties consisted of “physical tasks,” such as “stocking shelves and clothing racks,” “cleaning and organizing fitting rooms.” “folding clothes,” “sorting clothing racks,” “hanging clothes,” “opening, moving, stacking and lifting boxes,” and “standing for long periods of time.” Id. ¶ 31. Based on her performance of these tasks, Harris asserts that she was a “manual worker.” Id. ¶ 3. While New York law requires manual workers to be paid on a weekly basis, NYLL § 191(1)(a), Old Navy paid Harris on a biweekly basis, Compl. ¶¶ 32-33.

Harris's employment began in 2018 and ended in January 2021. Compl. ¶ 9. She purports to bring claims on behalf of herself and [a]ll persons who work or have worked as Hourly Workers for Old Navy, LLC between April 10, 2015 and the date of final judgment in this matter.” Compl. ¶ 20.

Old Navy raises three arguments in support of its motion to dismiss the complaint. First, Old Navy argues that Harris does not have Article III standing, and thus that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, because the complaint fails to allege that she suffered an actual injury. See Def. Mem. at 4-8. Second, Old Navy argues that Harris cannot serve as the named plaintiff for the putative class because she did not work for Old Navy during the entire class period. See id. at 8-9. Third, Old Navy argues that NYLL §191(1)(a) cannot be enforced through a lawsuit by a private party. See id. at 10-22.

II. LEGAL STANDARD
A. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1)

“Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). A case must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) “when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it.” Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1)). The plaintiff carries “the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that [subject matter jurisdiction] exists.” Id. When deciding a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based exclusively on the face of the complaint, “the district court must take all uncontroverted facts in the complaint (or petition) as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party asserting jurisdiction.” Tandon v. Captain's Cove Marina of Bridgeport, Inc., 752 F.3d 239, 243 (2d Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). If the parties dispute jurisdictional facts, “the court has the power and obligation to decide issues of fact by reference to evidence outside the pleadings, such as affidavits.” APWU v. Potter, 343 F.3d 619, 627 (2d Cir. 2003) (punctuation omitted) (quoting LeBlanc v. Cleveland, 198 F.3d 353, 356 (2d Cir. 1999)).

“Where, as here, the defendant moves for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1), as well as on other grounds, the court should consider the Rule 12(b)(1) challenge first since if it must dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the accompanying defenses and objections become moot and do not need to be determined.” Rhulen Agency, Inc. v. Alabama Ins. Guar. Ass'n, 896 F.2d 674, 678 (2d Cir. 1990) (citation and punctuation omitted).

B. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)

A party may move to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) when the opposing party's complaint “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” While a court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in a complaint, that principle does not apply to legal conclusions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) ([A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.”) (punctuation omitted). In other words, [t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice,” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, and a court's first task is to disregard any conclusory statements in a complaint, id. at 679.

Next, a court must determine if the complaint contains “sufficient factual matter” which, if accepted as true, states a claim that is “plausible on its face.” Id. at 678 (punctuation omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. 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.” Id. (punctuation omitted). [W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct,” a complaint is insufficient under Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) because it has merely “alleged” but not ‘show[n]' . . . that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

III. DISCUSSION
A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Old Navy maintains that the Court must dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) because Harris “does not (and cannot) show that Old Navy's alleged violation of the NYLL actually caused her concrete harm.” Id. at 4.

Article III of the Constitution grants the Judicial Branch authority to adjudicate Cases' and ‘Controversies.' Already, LLC v. Nike, Inc., 568 U.S. 85, 90 (2013). To establish Article III standing, and thus to establish subject matter jurisdiction, “a plaintiff must show (1) an injury in fact, (2) a sufficient causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of, and (3) a likelihood that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.” Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 573 U.S. 149, 157-58 (2014) (punctuation omitted). “The ‘case or controversy' requirement is not satisfied by a ‘difference or dispute of a hypothetical or abstract character.' Nike, Inc. v. Already, LLC, 663 F.3d 89, 94 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Haworth, 300 U.S. 227, 240 (1937)), aff'd, 568 U.S. 85 (2013). Harris, “as the party invoking federal jurisdiction, bears the burden of establishing these elements.” Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 578 U.S. 330, 338 (2016).

Of the three standing requirements, Old Navy argues that Harris's claim fails the first element: that is, that Harris did not suffer “an injury in fact” when Old Navy paid her wages on a biweekly rather than on a weekly basis. See Def. Mem. at 4-6.

[T]he injury-in-fact requirement . . . helps to ensure that the plaintiff has a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy.” Susan B. Anthony List, 573 U.S. at 158 (punctuation omitted). “To demonstrate injury in fact, a plaintiff must show the invasion of a [1] legally protected interest that is [2] concrete and [3] particularized and [4] actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” Strubel v. Comenity Bank, 842 F.3d 181, 188 (2d Cir. 2016) (punctuation omitted). [I]n suits for damages plaintiffs cannot establish Article III standing by relying entirely on a statutory violation or risk of future harm.” Maddox v. Bank of N.Y. Mellon Tr. Co., 19 F.4th 58, 64 (2d Cir. 2021); see TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez, 141 S.Ct. 2190, 2205 (2021) (“an important difference exists between (i) a plaintiff's statutory cause of action to sue a defendant over the defendant's violation of federal law, and (ii) a plaintiff's suffering concrete harm because of the defendant's violation of federal law.”). [H]istory and tradition offer a meaningful guide to the types of cases that Article III empowers federal courts to consider.” Sprint Commc'ns Co. v. APCC Servs., Inc., 554 U.S. 269, 274 (2008). Accordingly, courts should assess whether the alleged injury to the plaintiff has a ‘close relationship' to a harm ‘traditionally' recognized as providing a basis for a lawsuit in American courts.” TransUnion LLC, 141 S.Ct. at 2204.

The amended complaint alleges that Old Navy, by paying Harris biweekly rather than weekly, effectively denied her the timely payment of her wages every other week. See Compl. ¶¶ 36-39. Harris alleges that she “was denied the time value of her money” because she was “unable to invest, save, or purchase utilizing the wages she earned and was owed” for each of these weeks without timely pay. Id. ¶ 40.

In Old Navy's view, these allegations are insufficient to satisfy the standing requirement because they do not show the late payments “actually and concretely harmed her.” Def. Mem. at 5. Old Navy suggests that Harris' allegations lack “a specific plan for her money (e.g., how she would have invested her wages, what she would have invested in, or in what way her investments would have increased the value of her funds).” Id....

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