Vallone v. CJS Solutions Grp., LLC, Civ. No. 19-1532 (PAM/DTS)

Decision Date05 February 2020
Docket NumberCiv. No. 19-1532 (PAM/DTS)
Citation437 F.Supp.3d 687
Parties Joyce VALLONE and Erasmus Igokor, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. The CJS SOLUTIONS GROUP, LLC d/b/a The HCI Group, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Minnesota

Kelly A. Lelo, T. Joseph Snodgrass, Larson King, LLP, St. Paul, MN, for Plaintiffs.

Claire B. Deason, Corey Christensen, Grant Daniel Goerke, Jacqueline E. Kalk, Littler Mendelson, PC, Minneapolis, MN, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Paul A. Magnuson, United States District Court Judge

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Conditional Certification. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Joyce Vallone and Erasmus Ikogor worked for Defendant The CJS Solutions Group d/b/a The HCI Group ("HCI"). In late April and May 2018, Vallone worked at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, assisting physicians, nurses, and others with the transition

to a new computerized patient-management system. (Lelo Aff. (Docket No. 30) Ex. C (Vallone Decl.).) Ikogor also worked for HCI at Mayo during this time. (Id. Ex. D (Ikogor Decl.) ¶ 9.) In addition, Ikogor worked for HCI at hospitals in St. Louis and New York City. (Id. )

Plaintiffs contend that they were not paid for the time they spent traveling from remote locations—usually their homes—to the worksites and back to the remote location at the end of their assignments. They assert that the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") requires such payment. Plaintiffs also contend that they traveled to Rochester on April 29, 2018, at HCI's direction, only to have the training scheduled for April 30, 2018, cancelled abruptly late in the evening of April 29. HCI did not compensate them for April 30, despite that they were in Rochester waiting to work.

Plaintiffs seek conditional certification of a FLSA class consisting of:

all hourly paid, non-exempt, W-2 employees of The CJS Solutions Group, LLC, d/b/a The HCI Group ("HCI"), whose time was neither paid under the federal minimum wage or overtime laws: (1) while engaging in out-of-town travel (with a corresponding overnight stay), wherein the travel was undertaken during the employee's normal working hours; or (2) on April 30, 2018, at the Mayo Clinic location, for workers who did not live in the Rochester, Minnesota area.

The class period is from June 10, 2016, through the date of any order granting certification of the collective action. Plaintiffs also ask the Court to appoint them as collective action representatives and their counsel as class counsel, directing HCI to provide Plaintiffs with the names of all putative class members, directing that notice be provided to all these individuals in specific ways, and tolling the statute of limitations as of the date Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion.

DISCUSSION

FLSA contemplates collective actions when it states that "[a]n action to recover the liability prescribed in either of the preceding sentences may be maintained against any employer ... by any one or more employees for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated." 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Yet "[n]o employee shall be a party plaintiff to any such action unless he gives his consent in writing ...." Id. Thus, a "class" under FLSA is not the same as a class certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. See Parker v. Rowland Express, Inc., 492 F. Supp. 2d 1159, 1163 (D. Minn. 2007) (Kyle, J.).

Because FLSA requires putative class members to affirmatively "opt-in," the Court may not only authorize but also facilitate the transmission of notice. But the Court may only do so if plaintiffs "first show that they are ‘similarly situated to the employees whom they seek to represent.’ " Id. (quoting Mares v. Caesars Entm't, Inc., No. 4:06-cv-0060, 2007 WL 118877, at *2 (S.D. Ind. Jan. 10, 2007) ). Courts have adopted a two-stage process for determining whether a collective action is appropriate under that standard:

At the initial stage, the court determines whether the class should be conditionally certified for notification and discovery purposes. At this conditional certification stage, the plaintiffs need only come forward with evidence establishing a colorable basis for their claim that the putative class members were together the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan.... At the second stage ... the court uses a stricter standard for determining whether the putative class members are similarly situated and reconsiders whether the trial should proceed collectively or if it should be severed.

Frank v. Gold'n Plump Poultry, Inc., No. 14-1018, 2005 WL 2240336, at *2 (D. Minn. Sept. 14, 2005) (Ericksen, J.) (internal citations omitted). "[T]he second stage occurs after discovery, usually when the defendant moves to decertify the class." Lyons v. Ameriprise Fin., Inc., No. 10-503, 2010 WL 3733565, at *2 (D. Minn. Sept. 20, 2010) (Kyle, J.) (citation omitted). The plaintiffs' burden at the first stage is a light one. Smith v. Heartland Auto. Servs., Inc., 404 F. Supp. 2d 1144, 1149 (D. Minn. 2005) (Kyle, J.)

HCI argues that conditional certification is inappropriate because the Court lacks jurisdiction over any dispute that does not involve a Minnesota plaintiff or work performed in Minnesota and because many members of the putative class signed arbitration agreements that prohibit them from bringing lawsuits such as this. HCI also contends that there are too many other individualized inquiries at play, such as whether the putative plaintiff's travel occurred during their "normal working hours" as the regulations require.1 See 29 C.F.R. § 785.39 ("Travel away from home is clearly worktime when it cuts across the employee's workday.").

A. Jurisdiction

HCI argues that the Court lacks specific personal jurisdiction over HCI for any putative Plaintiff who worked outside the state of Minnesota.2 Plaintiffs assert that HCI has waived this defense by not raising it in its answer and affirmative defenses. HCI responds that its answer stated that any collective action would constitute a denial of HCI's rights under the Due Process Clause. (Answer ¶ 10.) While the Court would prefer that parties more explicitly raise jurisdiction as a defense in their pleadings, the Court is reluctant to deprive a party of its constitutional rights on the basis of inartful pleadings. HCI has not waived its right to assert lack of jurisdiction as a defense to this collective action.

Due process requires that a court has specific jurisdiction over a defendant in a mass action only if the action arises out of or relates to that defendant's contacts with the forum. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Sup. Ct. of Cal., San Francisco Cty., ––– U.S. ––––, 137 S. Ct. 1773, 1780, 198 L.Ed.2d 395 (2017) (" BMS"). In BMS, more than 600 plaintiffs brought eight separate lawsuits in California state court claiming that the drug Plavix

injured them. Id. at 1777. But only 86 of the plaintiffs were California residents; the remaining 592 plaintiffs were from states other than California. Id. at 1778. BMS contested the California courts' jurisdiction, and the California Supreme Court ultimately determined that California could constitutionally exercise specific jurisdiction over BMS using the "sliding-scale" approach. Id. Under this approach, "a greater degree of contacts with the state compensates for a lesser degree of relation between those contacts and the allegedly illegal conduct." Knotts v. Nissan N. Am., Inc., 346 F. Supp. 3d 1310, 1329 (D. Minn. 2018) (Nelson, J.). The California Supreme Court found that BMS's extensive contacts with the state and the similarities between the claims of non-residents and residents allowed California to exercise specific jurisdiction over BMS, even though there was little direct connection between BMS's contacts and the non-resident plaintiffs' claims. BMS, 137 S. Ct. at 1779.

The United States Supreme Court reversed, emphasizing that the exercise of specific jurisdiction requires that the lawsuit itself "aris[e] out of or relat[e] to the defendant's contacts with the forum." Id. at 1780 (quotation omitted) (emphasis omitted). "In other words, there must be ‘an affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally, [an] activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum State and is therefore subject to the State's regulation.’ " Id. (quoting Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919, 131 S.Ct. 2846, 180 L.Ed.2d 796 (2011) ).

Plaintiffs point out that no federal Court of Appeals has extended BMS's holding to federal class actions or collective actions. In fact, another Judge in this District explicitly declined to extend BMS to Rule 23 class actions. Knotts, 346 F. Supp. 3d at 1332. That decision, however, rested in large part on the difference between certified class actions, with the added due-process safeguards of Rule 23's requirements, and the mass action before the Supreme Court in BMS. Id. at 1333-34.

The instant matter is a FLSA collective action, not a Rule 23 class action. The due-process safeguards of Rule 23 are not yet applicable. And while it is true that very few federal courts have extended BMS to federal class actions, several have found that BMS applies to FLSA collective actions. E.g., Roy v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., Inc., 353 F. Supp. 3d 43, 55 (D. Mass. 2018) ; Maclin v. Reliable Reports of Tex., Inc., 314 F. Supp. 3d 845, 850 (N.D. Ohio 2018). A FLSA collective action, which requires potential plaintiffs to opt in, is more analogous to the individual plaintiffs at issue in the BMS litigation than to members of a certified Rule 23 class who must affirmatively opt out of the litigation. Roy, 353 F. Supp. 3d at 59-60. Thus, there are "meaningful differences" between Rule 23 class actions and a FLSA collective action or a mass action such as BMS. Knotts, 346 F. Supp. 3d at 1333. Because named plaintiffs i...

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