Hutchins v. Great Lakes Home Health Services, Inc. et al
OPINION AND ORDER granting 15 defendants' Motion to Dismiss the amended complaint; denying as moot Motion to dismiss 12 and motion to Strike 21 Signed by District Judge George Caram Steeh. (MBea)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
CASE NO. 17-CV-10210
HON. GEORGE CARAM STEEH
GREAT LAKES HOME
HEALTH SERVICES, INC.
and GREAT LAKES
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Sandra Hutchins (“Hutchins”) brought this collective action on
behalf of herself and similarly situated employees for alleged violations of
the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., against
Defendants Great Lakes Home Health Services, Inc. and Great Lakes
Acquisition Corp., d/b/a Great Lakes Caring (collectively “Great Lakes” or
compensation for hours worked in excess of forty hours per week. Now
before the court is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint
(Doc. 12), Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint
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(Doc. 15), and Defendants’ Motion to Strike as Premature “Consent to Join
Collective Action” Form and to Disregard It for Purposes of the Pending
Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 21). The court shall decide the motions without
oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 7.1(f)(2). For the reasons set forth
below, Defendants’ motion to dismiss the original Complaint shall be
denied as moot, Defendants’ motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint
shall be granted, and Defendants’ motion to strike the opt-in form and for
the court to disregard it in deciding the pending motions to dismiss shall be
denied as moot.
Because the court is addressing a motion to dismiss, the court must
accept the allegations of the complaint as true. Accordingly, the facts
summarized here are those alleged in the Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint.
Hutchins was employed as a licensed practical nurse (“LPN”) by Great
Lakes at their Brighton, Michigan office from March, 2012 to July, 2016.
(Doc. 14 at 3). Great Lakes allegedly paid their employees a per-visit flat
fee that was determined by the type of visit and hourly payments for tasks
that were performed in the course of employment. Id. Prior to October,
2014, Hutchins frequently worked between fifty to sixty hours per week. Id.
Moreover, similarly situated employees frequently worked in excess of forty
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hours per week. Id. Hutchins alleges that Great Lakes did not pay their
employees the required overtime premium compensation when they
worked more than forty hours in a week. Id. at 4. Through these allegedly
wrongful practices, Hutchins claims that Great Lakes willfully violated the
Defendants’ original motion to dismiss alleged that Plaintiff’s claims
were time-barred because they were filed more than two-years after the
alleged violations as required under the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 255(a). Plaintiff
responded by filing an Amended Complaint alleging that the violations were
“willful.” If “willful,” a three-year limitations period applies under the FLSA.
Id. Plaintiff alleges that the violations were allegedly willful solely because
of the Sixth Circuit’s holding in Elwell v. Univ. Hosp. Home Care Serv., 276
F.3d 832 (6th Cir. 2002). In that case, the Sixth Circuit held that home
health workers who work on a hybrid basis — receiving a flat fee for some
tasks, such as patient visits, and hourly fees for others, such as attending
training and staff meetings — are not exempt professionals under the FLSA
and are entitled to overtime compensation.
Defendants then filed a second motion to dismiss, this time
addressing the Amended Complaint, and arguing that the allegations were
deficient to support a finding of willfulness. Before the briefing was
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complete, however, Plaintiff filed an opt-in form by Laura Beth Hicks, a
Registered Nurse working in Illinois, who was allegedly denied overtime
pay by Defendants from October, 2015 to February, 2017. Defendants
oppose her opt-in form, and have filed a motion to strike it and to prevent
the court from considering it in its determination of the motion to dismiss.
II. STANDARD OF LAW
Rule 12(b)(6) allows the Court to make an assessment as to whether
the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted. Under the
Supreme Court’s articulation of the Rule 12(b)(6) standard in Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554-56 (2007), the court must construe
the complaint in favor of the plaintiff, accept the allegations of the complaint
as true, and determine whether plaintiff’s factual allegations present
enhancement’” are insufficient to “‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on
its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 557, 570). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss,
Plaintiff’s pleading for relief must provide “‘more than labels and
conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action
will not do.’” D’Ambrosio v. Marino, 747 F.3d 378, 383 (6th Cir. 2014)
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Even though the complaint need not
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contain “detailed” factual allegations, its “‘factual allegations must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the
assumption that all of the allegations in the complaint are true.’” New
Albany Tractor, Inc. v. Louisville Tractor, Inc., 650 F.3d 1046, 1051 (6th Cir.
2011) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
The FLSA has a two-year statute of limitation for non-willful violations
and a three-year statute of limitation for willful violations. 29 U.S.C. §
255(a). The Amended Complaint alleges that Hutchins worked more than
forty hours per week only prior to October, 2014. (Doc. 14 at 3). Great
Lakes argues that Hutchins has not pled sufficient facts to support a
plausible claim that Great Lakes acted willfully, thus calling for a two-year
statute of limitation. (Doc. 15 at 2). Great Lakes asserts that dismissal
under the statute of limitations is warranted because the original complaint
was filed more than two years after October 2014. Id. Generally, the statute
of limitations defense is a matter for summary judgment, but where the
“allegations in the complaint affirmatively show that the claim is timebarred,” dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) may be appropriate. Cataldo v. U.S.
Steel Corp., 676 F.3d 542, 547 (6th Cir. 2012).
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District courts within the Sixth Circuit have uniformly held that Iqbal
and Twombly do not impose a heightened pleading requirement in the
context of an FLSA claim. See, e.g., Roberts v. Corr. Corp. of Am., No.
3:14-CV-2009, 2015 WL 3905088, at *4-7 (M.D. Tenn. June 25, 2015)
(collecting cases). Courts within the Sixth Circuit have consistently held that
“detailed factual pleading is not required in the context of a FLSA claim, so
long as a defendant is given sufficient notice of the prima facie claim that it
is being asked to defend.” Id. at *7. A willful violation of the FLSA
encompasses either knowledge or reckless disregard concerning conduct
that was prohibited by the statute. McLaughlin v. Richland Shoe Co., 486
U.S. 128, 133 (1988). It is not enough for an employer to know that the
FLSA “was in the picture” as this standard makes it “virtually impossible” for
an employer to demonstrate a nonwillful state of mind. Id. at 132-33. In
regards to willfulness, Hutchins alleges:
[b]y failing to pay Plaintiff and other home health workers
overtime premium compensation for hours worked over forty
(40) in a week as required by the Sixth Circuit in Elwell,
Defendants have acted willfully and with reckless disregard of
clearly applicable FLSA provisions.
(Doc. 14 at ¶ 17).
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Hutchins further alleges the unlawful compensation system used by
Great Lakes was comprised of: “1) per-visit flat fees that were determined
by the type of visit; and 2) hourly payments made for certain tasks which
were based upon the duration of those tasks.” Id. at 3. Great Lakes argues
that Hutchins’ complaint “merely restates the existence of FLSA law. It
does not even allege Defendants themselves were aware of the specified
Sixth Circuit decision, let alone that they believed that Hutchins was entitled
to overtime as a result of that case yet willfully disregarded it.” (Doc. 15 at
pgID 87). To determine a defendant’s state of mind from the pleadings, the
court “must rely primarily on circumstantial evidence and reasonable
inferences drawn from the defendant’s conduct.” Helwig v. Pennington, 30
F. App'x 516, 518 (6th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). In deciding a motion to
dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court is limited to the allegations of the
complaint and may not resort to matters outside the pleadings. Rondigo
LLC v. Twp. of Richmond, 641 F.3d 673, 680 (6th Cir. 2011).
Here, as to willfulness, the allegations of the Amended Complaint are
deficient and thus, claims outside the two-year window are time-barred.
Hutchins has merely alleged that Defendants’ acted willfully because they
violated the Sixth Circuit’s holding in Elwell. Hutchins has not “extensively
outline[d] the employment policies and practices of [Great Lakes]” nor
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alleged inadequate record keeping, which would “‘corroborate an
employee’s claim that the employer acted willfully in failing to compensate
for overtime’ under the FLSA.” Dowd v. Directv, LLC, No. 14-cv-14018, at
*5, 2016 WL 28866 (E.D. Mich. Jan. 4, 2016) (quoting Elwell, 276 F.3d 832
(6th Cir. 2002)); see also Mabry v. Directv, LLC, No. 3:14CV-00698-JHM,
2015 WL 5554023, at *5 (W.D. Ky. Sept. 21, 2015) (holding that a plausible
FLSA claim requires “more than a formulaic recitation of their claims”). In
Dowd, for example, the court found that plaintiffs had met the pleading
standard for willfulness when they extensively described policies defendant
implemented for the sole purpose of evading their obligations under the
FLSA. 2016 WL 28866, at *5. No such allegations exist in this case.
A standard that requires an employer to merely know that the FLSA
exists renders the distinction between willful and nonwillful violations
unworkable. See McLaughlin, 486 U.S. at 132. Therefore, Hutchins has not
properly pled that Great Lakes’ compensation system existed for the
purpose of willfully avoiding the FLSA. Accordingly, any claims based on a
claim of willfulness shall be denied and the two-year statute of limitations
period applies. Accordingly, the court shall dismiss Hutchins with prejudice
as her claims are time-barred.
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B. Opt-in Form
Having dismissed the only named Plaintiff prior to certification of a
collective action, the court does not consider the opt-in form filed by
putative class member Laura Beth Hicks.
See White v. Baptist Mem.
Health Care Corp., 699 F.3d 869, 878 (6th Cir. 2012) (“a lead plaintiff
cannot be similarly situated and represent opt-in plaintiffs without a viable
claim”); In re Family Dollar FLSA Litigation, 637 F.3d 508, 519 (4th Cir.
For the reasons set forth above, Defendants’ motion to dismiss the
original Complaint (Doc. 12) is DENIED AS MOOT.
Defendants’ motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint (Doc. 15) is
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendants’ motion to strike Hick’s
opt-in form and to disregard it for purposes of deciding the motion to
dismiss the Amended Complaint (Doc. 21) is DENIED AS MOOT.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: August 2, 2017
s/George Caram Steeh
GEORGE CARAM STEEH
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
Copies of this Order were served upon attorneys of record on
August 2, 2017, by electronic and/or ordinary mail.
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