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Wass v. Dolgencorp, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division

October 16, 2014

JUDITH WASS, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
DOLGENCORP, LLC, Defendant.

ORDER

DOUGLAS HARPOOL, District Judge.

Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Conditional Class Certification (Doc. 34), Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 63), and Defendant's motions to strike certain information contained in Plaintiff's Suggestions in Support of Conditional Class Certification (Docs. 65, 80). After full briefing and careful consideration of the motions, the Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 63) is GRANTED. The Court DENIES AS MOOT the motions related to conditional class certification (Docs. 34, 65, 80).

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed this action on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, alleging Defendant Dolgencorp, LLC violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Plaintiff claims that Defendant, her former employer, failed to compensate certain employees the required minimum wage in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 206(a). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant failed to compensate Plaintiff for work she performed during her meal breaks. According to Plaintiff, Defendant's policy required Plaintiff to clock out during meal breaks, which were either one-half hour or one hour long; however, during such meal breaks, Defendant required Plaintiff to remain in the store and perform certain functions such as answering telephones, assisting customers, and performing certain register tasks only allowed by managers. Plaintiff asserts that approximately 80% of her unpaid meal breaks were interrupted. Accordingly, Plaintiff claims that Defendant failed to pay Plaintiff and similarly situated employees the minimum hourly wage for all hours worked within a given workweek.

On March 28, 2014, after the close of preliminary discovery, Plaintiff filed a motion to conditionally certify the class under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff requested leave to file a supplemental brief, stating that additional discovery was necessary to adequately present her motion. The Court granted leave and Plaintiff filed supplemental suggestions in support of her motion on June 20, 2014. In response, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, a motion to strike certain information from Plaintiff's suggestions, and Defendant's suggestions in opposition to conditional class certification. The motions are now fully briefed and ripe for review.

ANALYSIS

The Court will address the dispositive summary judgment motion before determining whether to conditionally certify the class. See, e.g., Burdine v. Covidien, Inc., No. 1:10-CV-194, 2011 WL 2976929 (E.D. Tenn. June 22, 2011), report and recommendation adopted in part, 10-CV-194, 2011 WL 2971186 (E.D. Tenn. July 21, 2011) ("Where the parties file dispositive motions alongside a motion for conditional certification, the court may address those issues in either order."). This Court previously indicated that "certain plaintiffs' claims in some cases may be so deficient on the merits that conditional certification of a class is inappropriate." Marshall v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., No. 07-0227-CV-W-RED, 2007 WL 7209940 (W.D. Mo. Dec. 7, 2007). The proper method to consider such merit-based arguments is through a dispositive motion rather than through a pending motion for conditional class certification. See id. at *1.

Courts agree that an FLSA plaintiff who fails to state a viable claim cannot represent others who are similarly situated. See, e.g., White v. Baptist Mem'l Health Care Corp., 699 F.3d 869, 877-78 (6th Cir. 2012) cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 296 (2013); In re Family Dollar FLSA Litig., 637 F.3d 508, 518-19 (4th Cir. 2011); Ellis v. J.R.'s Country Stores, Inc., No. 12-CV-01916-CMA-KLM, 2012 WL 6153513 (D. Colo. Dec. 11, 2012); Lance v. Scotts Co., No. 045270, 2005 WL 1785315 (N.D. Ill. July 21, 2005). Thus, where a motion for summary judgment against plaintiff is granted in full, a pending motion for conditional class certification becomes moot. See Smith v. Johnson & Johnson, 593 F.3d 280, 283 (3d Cir. 2010); Taylor v. Waddell & Reed, Inc., No. 09CV2909 AJB WVG, 2012 WL 10669 (S.D. Cal. Jan. 3, 2012). Even where an FLSA class has already been conditionally certified, if putative class members have not yet been notified or opted in, courts will dismiss the entire action upon granting a defendant's summary judgment against the named plaintiff. See Thomas v. Speedway SuperAmerica, LLC, 506 F.3d 496, 501 (6th Cir. 2007); see also Cameron-Grant v. Maxim Healthcare Servs., Inc., 347 F.3d 1240, 1249 (11th Cir. 2003).[1] The resolution binds only the plaintiff and has no preclusive effect on any members of the conditionally certified class. Id.

Here, the Court grants Defendant's motion for summary judgment; therefore, the conditional class certification issue becomes moot, as do the related motions.

A. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is proper if, viewing the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see generally Van Wyhe v. Reisch, 581 F.3d 639, 648 (8th Cir. 2009). "Where there is no dispute of material fact and reasonable fact finders could not find in favor of the nonmoving party, summary judgment is appropriate." Quinn v. St. Louis County, 653 F.3d 745, 750 (8th Cir. 2011). Initially, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Kayser v. Sw Bell Tel. Co., 912 F.Supp.2d 803, 807 (E.D. Mo. 2012); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets the initial step, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

B. Undisputed Facts

Plaintiff was employed by Dollar General from May 2004 until June 15, 2012. During the relevant time period, May 31, 2010 to June 15, 2012, Plaintiff worked as an Assistant Store Manager and was paid between $10.25 and $10.75 per hour. At that time, the FLSA minimum wage was $7.25 per hour. Under Dollar General's policy, employees who were scheduled to work six or more hours per shift were entitled to a thirty minute break and those who were scheduled to work eight or more hours per shift were entitled to a one hour break. At most, Plaintiff was entitled to take five hours of meal break time per week. Plaintiff "clocked out" during some, but not all, of her meal breaks. She was not paid for the time that she was clocked out.

Plaintiff was a "key carrier" and was therefore responsible for a number of specific job duties that only key carriers could perform; she was sometimes required to perform these duties on her meal breaks because Plaintiff was routinely the only key carrier on duty. For purposes of this motion, Defendant agrees with Plaintiff that she was required to perform compensable work during approximately 60-70% of the time that she was "clocked out" for meal breaks. It is undisputed that Defendant appropriately ...


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