United States District Court, S.D. Iowa, Central Division
For Barbara Judkins, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff: Harley C Erbe, ERBE LAW FIRM, DES MOINES, IA.
For SouthernCare, Inc., Defendant: Kevin J Visser, LEAD ATTORNEY, Lisa Stephenson, Thomas D Wolle, SIMMONS PERRINE MOYER & BERGMAN PLC, CEDAR RAPIDS, IA.
ROBERTS W. PRATT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Before the Court is Southerncare, Inc.'s (" Southerncare" or " Defendant" ) Motion to Decertify the class in this FLSA collective action, filed November 17, 2014 (" Motion" ). Clerk's No. 64. Barbara Judkins (" Judkins" ) filed a timely response on November 20, 2014. Clerk's No. 66. Southerncare replied on December 1, 2014. Clerk's No. 68. The matter is fully submitted.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Southerncare owns and operates hospice centers in approximately fifteen states. See Clerk's No. 1-1 ¶ 3. Judkins was employed by Southerncare as a Community Relations Specialist (" CRS" ) from 2009 to 2012. Id. ¶ 5; Clerk's No. 15 at 3. Judkins
filed this lawsuit on behalf of herself and all 311 CRSs employed by Southerncare in the three years preceding the lawsuit. See Clerk's Nos. 1-1 ¶ 7, 11-1 at 4. Judkins alleges that Southerncare improperly classified the CRS position as exempt from the overtime pay provisions of the FSLA, and routinely required employees in the position to work more than forty hours a week. Clerk's No. 1-1 ¶ 13-20. The Court granted Judkin's Motion for Conditional Class Certification on June 24, 2013. See Clerk's No. 20. Following that Order, twenty-eight individuals opted in to the lawsuit, and the parties engaged in discovery. See Clerk's No. 50 ¶ ¶ 2-4. Twenty-three of the opt-in Plaintiffs failed to comply with the Court's discovery order and were dismissed from the lawsuit. See Clerk's No. 67. Two additional opt-in Plaintiffs were scheduled to attend depositions, but did not appear. See Clerk's No. 65. On October 6, 2014, Southerncare filed a Motion to Compel and for Sanctions, requesting that the two Plaintiffs be ordered to attend depositions. See Clerk's No. 58. The Court granted the motion on November 19, 2014; the two Plaintiffs were ordered to attend depositions by December 5, 2014, or face sanctions, including dismissal of their claims. See Clerk's No. 65. One of the Plaintiffs appeared for a deposition on December 5, 2014, but the other Plaintiff failed to appear. The Plaintiff who failed to appear was, accordingly, dismissed from the case on January 6, 2015. Thus, the case proceeds with Judkins and four opt-in Plaintiffs (collectively " Plaintiffs" ).
II. LAW AND ANALYSIS
A. Final Certification Standard
To avoid decertification of the conditionally certified class, Plaintiffs must demonstrate that they are similarly situated, which is proved if they " 'suffer from a single, FLSA-violating policy, and when proof of that policy or of conduct in conformity with that policy proves a violation as to all the plaintiffs.'" Bouaphakeo v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 765 F.3d 791, 796 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting O'Brien v. Ed Donnelly Enters., Inc., 575 F.3d 567, 585 (6th Cir. 2009)). Even though Plaintiffs' burden at this final stage is more onerous than at the notice stage, there is no requirement that Plaintiffs be " identically situated." See Fast v. Applebee's Int'l, Inc., 243 F.R.D. 360, 363 (W.D. Mo. 2007). In deciding whether they are similarly situated, this Court considers: " '(1) disparate factual and employment settings of the individual plaintiffs; (2) the various defenses available to defendant which appear to be individual to each plaintiff; [and] (3) fairness and procedural considerations.'" Bouaphakeo, 765 F.3d at 796 (quoting Thiessen v. GE Capital Corp., 267 F.3d 1095, 1103 (10th Cir. 2001)).
Importantly, the Court should evaluate these factors in light of " the fundamental purpose[s] of 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) . . . to lower costs to the plaintiffs through the pooling of resources and . . . to limit the controversy to one proceeding which efficiently resolves common issues of law and fact that arose from the same alleged activity." Kautsch v. Premier Commc'ns, No. 06-cv-04035-NKL, 2008 WL 294271, at *2 (W.D. Mo. Jan. 31, 2008) (internal quotation omitted); see also Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 170, 110 S.Ct. 482, 107 L.Ed.2d 480 (1989) (explaining that § 216(b) grants the court " the requisite procedural authority to manage the process of joining multiple parties in a manner that is orderly, sensible, and not otherwise contrary to statutory commands or the provisions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure." ). Additionally, the Court should be mindful that the FLSA " is a remedial statute that has been construed liberally to apply to the furthest reaches consistent with congressional direction." See Kelley v. Alamo, 964 F.2d 747, 749-50 (8th Cir. 1992) (internal citation
and quotation marks omitted). A district court's decertification decision will not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion. Bouaphakeo, 765 F.3d at 796. In other words, the district court's decision will stand, so long as the court did not apply an incorrect legal standard, make clearly erroneous findings of fact, or misapply law to fact. See Zavala v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 691 F.3d 527, 534 (3d Cir. 2012).
At issue here is whether the CRS position has been properly classified as " administrative" and, therefore, exempt from overtime pay under the FLSA. See 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1) (setting out the categories of employees exempt from overtime pay). Although the Court does not determine the merits of the Plaintiffs' case at this stage, it is useful for the Court to consider the " salient factors in an exemption analysis" to determine whether members of the class are similarly situated. See Pendlebury v. Starbucks Coffee ...