Scott v. Griswold Home Care

Decision Date26 May 2020
Docket NumberNo. 3:19-cv-527 (SRU),3:19-cv-527 (SRU)
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
PartiesIONIE SCOTT, on behalf of herself and those similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. GRISWOLD HOME CARE, et al., Defendants.

In substance, this case is about a home health care worker suing her employers on behalf of herself and those similarly situated to recover unpaid overtime wages and unwarranted wage deductions pursuant to both the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA")2 and analogous state-law provisions.3 At this stage, though, the case is entirely about whether the instant dispute should be submitted to arbitration. The defendants have made a motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative, to stay and compel arbitration. For the following reasons, that motion is denied.

I. Standards of Review
A. Motion to Compel Arbitration

Pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act, "[a] party aggrieved by the alleged failure, neglect, or refusal of another to arbitrate under a written agreement for arbitration may petition" the appropriate district court "for an order directing that such arbitration proceed in the manner provided for in such agreement." 9 U.S.C. § 4. To determine whether such an order should issue—in other words, "to determine arbitrability"—a district court "applies a standard similar to that applicable for a motion for summary judgment." Bensadoun v. Jobe-Riat, 316 F.3d 171, 175 (2d Cir. 2003); see also Deleon v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., 2017 WL 396535, at *2 (D. Conn. Jan. 30, 2017). A district court should deny a motion to compel arbitration if "there is an issue of fact as to the making of the agreement for arbitration." Bensadoun, 316 F.3d at 175. The party seeking to compel arbitration "must make a prima facie initial showing that an agreement to arbitrate existed before the burden shifts to the party opposing arbitration to put the making of that agreement 'in issue.'" Hines v., Inc., 380 F. App'x 22, 24 (2d Cir. 2010).

B. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief May Be Granted

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is designed "merely to assess the legal feasibility of a complaint, not to assay the weight of evidence which might be offered in support thereof." Ryder Energy Distribution Corp. v. Merrill Lynch Commodities, Inc., 748 F.2d 774, 779 (2d Cir. 1984) (quoting Geisler v. Petrocelli, 616 F.2d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 1980)).

When deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept the material facts alleged in the complaint as true, draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiffs, and decide whether it is plausible that plaintiffs have a valid claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007); Leeds v. Meltz, 85 F.3d 51, 53 (2d Cir. 1996).

Under Twombly, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and assert a cause of action with enough heft to show entitlement to relief and "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." 550 U.S. at 555, 570; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 ("While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations."). The plausibility standard set forth in Twombly and Iqbal obligates the plaintiff to "provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief" through more than "labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks omitted). Plausibility at the pleading stage is nonetheless distinct from probability, and "a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of [the claims] is improbable, and . . . recovery is very remote and unlikely." Id. at 556 (internal quotation marks omitted).

II. Background
A. Factual Background
1. The Parties

The plaintiff is Ionie Scott ("Scott"), a home health aide. She seeks to represent a class of similarly situated individuals. Scott filed her complaint against four defendants: (1) Griswold Home Care, (2) FMCH, Inc. ("FMCH"), (3) Maria P. Malafronte, in her individual capacity, and (4) Cathy Howard, in her individual capacity. See Compl., Doc. No. 1.

Scott dismissed her claims against Malafronte on October 24, 2019. See Notice, Doc. No. 37. Regarding Griswold Home Care, Scott plainly intended to sue the franchisor Griswold Home Care, which operates through over one hundred franchisees throughout the United States (of which FMCH is one). See Compl., Doc. No. 1, at ¶¶ 12-27.4 Scott attempted to serve Griswold Home Care, but she served the wrong party. Instead of serving Griswold Home Care—the large franchisor—Scott served Berks Care, Inc., a franchisee in Pennsylvania doing business as Griswold Home Care ("Berks"). See Aff. of Service, Doc. No. 14; Berks's Mot. to Dismiss, Doc. No. 38. Realizing her error, Scott voluntarily dismissed Berks from the case. See Notice, Doc. No. 40. The upshot is that Griswold Home Care—the franchisor—has never been served and is not currently a party to this action, even though it is a named defendant.

Only two defendants remain: FMCH and Cathy Howard (the "Defendants"). FMCH is an entity that, at all relevant times,5 did business in Connecticut under the fictitious name Griswold Home Care. See Decl. of C. Howard, Ex. 2 to Defs.' Mem. of Law ("C. Howard's 1st Decl."), Doc. No. 15-2, at ¶ 3; Decl. of R. Wheeler, Ex. 3 to Pl.'s Opp'n ("Wheeler Decl."), Doc. No. 21-1, at ¶ 2. Cathy Howard co-founded FMCH (Scott alleges that her initials are the "CH" in "FMCH") and maintained control over it during the period relevant to this Complaint. See Compl., Doc. No. 1, at ¶¶ 29-34; C. Howard's 1st Decl., Doc. No. 15-2; Decl. of C. Howard, Ex. A to Defs.' Supp. Mot. to Dismiss, Doc. No. 49 ("C. Howard's 2d Decl."), at ¶ 3 ("FMCH, Inc. is owned by me.").

There is another party relevant to this action: CKJH, LLC ("CKJH"). CKJH is another entity that, at all relevant times, did business in Connecticut under the fictitious name Griswold Home Care. See License Lookup, Ex. 4 to Pl.'s Opp'n, Doc. No. 21-1, at 14-15; License Lookup, STATE OF CONN., (last visited May 26, 2020) (enter either CKJH for "Business Name" or HCA.0001165 for "License Number").6 Jessica Howard—who is Cathy Howard's daughter—is a partial owner and a principal of CKJH. (Although Scott does not allege it, it seems likely that she is the "JH" in "CKJH.") See C. Howard's 2d Decl., Doc. No. 49, at ¶ 2; Wheeler Decl., Doc. No. 21-1, at ¶ 4; Bus. Inquiry, Ex. 6 to Pl.'s Opp'n, Doc. No. 21-1; Bus. Inquiry, STATE OF CONN., (last visited May 26, 2020) (enter "CKJH" into "Search by Name" field). Jessica Howard also works as an employee at FMCH. See Decl. of J. Howard, Ex. A to Defs.' Reply ("J. Howard Decl."), Doc. No. 27-1, at ¶ 2.

CKJH and FMCH are similar in several ways. Cathy Howard and Jessica Howard are involved with both. Both operated under the fictitious name Griswold Home Care. Both concern the work of home health aides. But there are (at least) two crucially important differences between CKJH and FMCH. First, FMCH is a party to this action, and CKJH is not. Second, CKJH operates as a referral service: it refers home health aides to clients, and the clients pay the aides. In contrast, FMCH is not a referral service: it pays its home health aides directly. See C. Howard's 2d Decl., Doc. No. 49, at ¶ 2 ("During some of the times relevant to this case, Ionie Scott received referrals for homecare services from CKJH, Inc."); id. at ¶ 6 (" . . . FMCH, Inc. is not a referral service . . . .").

2. Scott's Claims on the Merits

Scott alleges that she began working for the Defendants around February 2017 and continued until about October 2018. See Compl., Doc. No. 1, at ¶ 4. Scott alleges that the Defendants employed her. See id. at ¶ 40. Scott explains that the Defendants provide home health care services to elderly and infirm individuals in Connecticut through home health care aides. See id. at ¶ 42-43. The Defendants determine their aides' specific work assignments and hours of operation and then assign them to work fixed schedules based on their clients' needs. See id. at ¶¶ 44-45. Further, the Defendants require aides to obtain the Defendants' approval for schedule alterations and to lodge complaints about clients. See id. at ¶¶ 46-48. While Scott worked for the Defendants, she "was not entitled to earn any incentive, bonus, commission or profit share other than the compensation paid to her by Defendants as wages for hours worked." Id. at ¶ 52.

The Defendants required Scott to perform both typical home health care duties—such as bathing, grooming, and toileting—and general housekeeping duties, such as meal planning, vacuuming, doing laundry, running errands, and caring for pets. See id. at ¶¶ 55-58. The Defendants typically scheduled aides for 24-hour shifts—which included both home health care duties and general housekeeping duties—and paid Scott a wage of $158 for each 24-hour shift. See id. at ¶ 61. For any work she performed outside of her normal duties, Scott would be paid an hourly rate. See id. at ¶ 62. Scott routinely worked seven days per week and often worked in excess of 13 hours per 24-hour shift. See id. at ¶ 65. Scott thus consistently worked well over 40 hours per workweek. See id. No matter how many hours she worked, though, Scott was "paid only straight time pay by way of twenty-four (24) hour shift pay and/or hourly pay." Id. at ¶ 67. In other words, the Defendants did not pay overtime to any home health care aides. See id. at ¶ 68. Scott alleges that the Defendants deprived over 400 other home health care aides in that way. See id. at ¶ 69. Scott explains that she was "never provided with information, either written...

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