Johnson v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, CIVIL ACTION NO. 19-5230

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
Writing for the CourtPadova, District Judge
Citation556 F.Supp.3d 491
Parties Ralph "Trey" JOHNSON, et al., individually and on behalf of all persons similarly situated v. The NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, et al.
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 19-5230
Decision Date25 August 2021

556 F.Supp.3d 491

Ralph "Trey" JOHNSON, et al., individually and on behalf of all persons similarly situated
v.
The NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, et al.

CIVIL ACTION NO. 19-5230

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania.

Filed August 25, 2021


556 F.Supp.3d 494

Paul L. McDonald, P. L. McDonald Law LLC, Philadelphia, PA, Michael J. Willemin, Renan F. Varghese, Taylor J. Crabill, Wigdor LLP, New York, NY, for Ralph "Trey" Johnson, Claudia Ruiz, Jacob Willebeek-Lemair, Nicholas Labella, Alexa Cooke, Stephanie Kerkeles.

Alexandria M. Gilbert, Naveen Kabir, Sarah Kroll-Rosenbaum, Steven B. Katz, Constangy Brooks Smith & Prophete LLP, Los Angeles, CA, Donald S. Prophete, Contangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP, Kansas City, MO, John E. MacDonald, Constangy Brooks & Smith LLP, Lawrenceville, NJ, for The National Collegiate Athletic Association, Bucknell University, Drexel University, Duquesne University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, La Salle University, Lafayette College, Lehigh University, Monmouth University, Princeton University, Rider University, Robert Morris University, Seton Hall University, Saint Francis University, Saint Joseph's University, Saint Peter's University, Villanova University, University of Delaware, Pennsylvania State University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh, Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, Temple University.

Donald S. Prophete, Contangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP, Kansas City, MO, John E. MacDonald, Constangy Brooks & Smith LLP, Lawrenceville, NJ, Naveen Kabir, Sarah Kroll-Rosenbaum, Steven B. Katz, Constangy Brooks Smith & Prophete LLP, Los Angeles, CA, for Cornell University, Sacred Heart University, Fordham University.

MEMORANDUM

Padova, District Judge

556 F.Supp.3d 495

Plaintiffs, student athletes at five of the Defendant colleges and universities, contend that student athletes who engage in interscholastic athletic activity for their colleges and universities are employees who should be paid for the time they spend related to those athletic activities. Plaintiffs, Ralph "Trey" Johnson, Stephanie Kerkeles, Nicholas Labella, Claudia Ruiz, Jacob Willebeek-Lemair, and Alexa Cooke, assert claims on behalf of themselves, a Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") collective, and three state classes against the colleges and universities they attend (or attended) (the "Attended Schools Defendants," or "ASD"), the National Collegiate Athletic Association ("NCAA"), twenty additional named universities that are members of the NCAA Division I ("D1"), and a putative Defendant class made up of 125 NCAA D1 colleges and universities. The First Amended Complaint ("Complaint") asserts claims for violations of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 200 et seq., the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act, 43 Pa. Stat. § 333.101 et seq. (the "PMWA"), the New York Labor Law, N.Y. Lab. Law § 191 et seq. ("NYLL"), and the Connecticut Minimum Wage Act, Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. §§ 31-58 et seq. ("CMWA"). The Complaint also asserts three common law unjust enrichment claims. The ASD have moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on the ground that they do not employ Plaintiffs.1 We held argument on the Motion on April 14, 2021. For the reasons that follow, the Motion is denied.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The Complaint alleges the following facts. The NCAA is an association that regulates intercollegiate sports and has jurisdiction over approximately 1,100 schools and nearly 500,000 student athletes. (Compl. ¶¶ 44-45.) The NCAA has entered into multi-year, multi-billion-dollar contracts with broadcasters ESPN, CBS, and Turner Sports to show athletic competitions between NCAA D1 member schools, and it distributes shares of those broadcasting fees to its member schools. (Id. ¶ 14.) In addition to shares of broadcasting fees, NCAA D1 member schools also receive fees from multi-year, multi-million-dollar agreements with television and radio networks that they have entered into, either individually or as part of an NCAA conference, to broadcast athletic competitions between NCAA D1 member schools. (Id. ¶ 15.)

Plaintiff Johnson was a student athlete on the Villanova University NCAA football team from June 2013 until November 18,

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2017. (Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff Kerkeles has been a student athlete on Fordham University's NCAA swimming and diving team since 2016. (Id. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff Labella was a student athlete on Fordham University's NCAA baseball team during the 2018 and 2019 baseball practice and competition seasons. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff Ruiz was a student athlete on Sacred Heart University's NCAA tennis team from 2014 to 2018. (Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff Willebeek-Lemair was a student athlete on Cornell University's NCAA soccer team during the 2017 and 2018 practice and playing seasons. (Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff Cooke has been a student athlete on Lafayette College's NCAA tennis team since 2017. (Id. ¶ 24.)

The Defendants are the NCAA and 25 NCAA D1 member schools (the "University Defendants"). (Id. ¶ 25.) The ASD are: Villanova University, Fordham University, Sacred Heart University, Cornell University, and Lafayette College. (Id. ¶¶ 19-24.) The remaining University Defendants, none of which were attended by the named Plaintiffs, are: Bucknell University, Drexel University, Duquesne University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, La Salle University, Lehigh University, Monmouth University, Princeton University, Rider University, Robert Morris University, Seton Hall University, Saint Francis University, Saint Joseph's University, Saint Peter's University, the University of Delaware, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh, Rutgers State University of New Jersey, and Temple University. The Complaint also alleges claims against a putative Defendant class made up of the named University Defendants and 100 additional universities that are members of the NCAA D1. (Id. ¶¶ 360-6, Ex. C.) According to the Complaint, these Defendants jointly employed Plaintiffs and similarly situated persons who are members of the putative FLSA Collective. (Id. ¶ 26.)

Student athletes do not have the option to play NCAA sports for wages at any NCAA D1 school. (Id. ¶ 43.) All member schools in the NCAA have agreed not to pay students to participate in intercollegiate varsity sports. (Id. ¶ 51.) The NCAA's Bylaws prohibit schools from offering wages and prohibit student athletes from accepting wages. (Id. (citations omitted).) A student athlete who participates in NCAA sports can only receive payment based on athletic performance through the U.S. Olympic Committee's ("USOC") Operation Gold program, which pays NCAA-eligible student athletes for winning medals. (Id. ¶¶ 56-57 (citations omitted).) The USOC Operation Gold program also permits NCAA-eligible student athletes to receive additional pay through USA sport governing bodies and organizations, such as USA Swimming and US Wrestling. (Id. ¶ 58 (citation omitted).)

Student athletes at NCAA D1 schools must schedule classes around their required NCAA athletic activities and cannot reschedule their NCAA athletic activities around their academic programs. (Id. ¶ 90.) As a result, Villanova University only excuses a student athlete from participating in required athletic activities if there is a conflict between practice and a mandatory core class. (Id. ¶ 91 (citation omitted).) For example, when Plaintiff Johnson played football at Villanova University he was required to participate in NCAA athletically related activities on weekdays between 5:45 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. and could not enroll in a non-core class during that time, including classes that were prerequisites for academic degree programs. (Id. ¶ 92 (citations omitted).) In addition, NCAA D1 member schools require student athletes to participate in Countable Athletically Related Activities

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("CARA"),2 which are recorded on timesheets under an NCAA D1 Bylaw. (Id. ¶ 93 (citation omitted).) NCAA Bylaws also require student athletes to participate in Required Athletically Related Activities like fundraising and community service. (Id. ¶ 94.) A student athlete who fails to attend meetings, participate in practice, or participate in scheduled competitions can be disciplined, including suspension or dismissal from the team. (Id. ¶ 95 (citation omitted).) Because student athletes have to schedule their classes around their required athletic activities, many student athletes have reported that participation in NCAA D1 sports have prevented them from taking classes that they wanted to take. (Id. ¶ 96 (citation omitted).) Many student athletes have also reported that their participation in NCAA D1 sports has prevented them from majoring in their preferred major. (Id. ¶ 97 (citations omitted).) Student athletes at Villanova University are also required to participate in activities like meals, physical rehabilitation, dressing, showering, and travel that are not considered CARA. (Id. ¶ 98 (citation omitted).) They are also encouraged to engage in additional workouts and consultations with coaches that are not counted in CARA. (Id. ¶ 99 (citation omitted).) Student athletes have reported spending more...

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