United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division
June 4, 2014
HAROLD SHEEHY, Plaintiff,
SANTA CLARA VALLEY TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, Defendant.
ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS (Re: Docket No. 5)
PAUL S. GREWAL, Magistrate Judge.
Before the court is Defendant Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority's motion to dismiss Plaintiff Harold Sheehy's Fair Labor Standards Act claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Sheehy opposes. The court finds this motion suitable for disposition on the papers pursuant to Civil L.R. 7-1(b). After considering the arguments, the court DENIES SCVTA's motion.
Sheehy's case trails a related FLSA action filed by Baljinder Rai on behalf of himself and other VTA employees similarly-situated by nearly two years: Rai's complaint was filed August 17, 2012; Sheey has not "opted-in." Sheehy instead filed his own complaint on March 21, 2014, also on behalf of himself and other persons similarly situated. Both cases center on FLSA claims. SCVTA now urges that this court should invoke its discretion to dismiss the Sheehy complaint in light of the prior case. The court formally related the cases last week.
I. LEGAL STANDARDS
The first-to-file rule is a "doctrine of federal comity which permits a district court to decline jurisdiction over an action when a complaint involving the same parties and issues has already been filed in another district." This rule "was developed to serve[ ]the purpose of promoting efficiency well and should not be disregarded lightly.'" In addition to judicial efficiency, the rule helps prevent "the risk of inconsistent decisions that would arise from multiple litigations of identical claims." "Under this doctrine, a district court may choose to transfer, stay or dismiss an action where a similar complaint has been filed in another district court."
"The court must consider three threshold factors in deciding whether to apply the first-to-file rule: (1) the chronology of the two actions; (2) the similarity of the parties; and (3) the similarity of the issues." However, the first-to-file rule is "not a rigid or inflexible rule to be mechanically applied, but rather is to be applied with a view to the dictates of sound judicial administration." "Accordingly, a district court is left with the discretion to deviate from the first-to-file rule where equity dictates."
As an initial matter, the court observes that the three threshold first-to-file factors are satisfied in this case. Sheehy's action trails the Rai complaint by nineteen months. Although the parties and issues are not identical, both cases involve similar VTA drivers seeking similar unpaid wages pursuant to FLSA.
Although not raised by either party, the court also must assess "whether or not the first-to-file rule has any applicability where a complaint involving the same parties and issues has been filed in the same district or before the same judge in the same district." Judges of this court have analyzed first-to-file motions notwithstanding "the fact that" two "actions had both been filed in the same" district. The Central District of California has observed, however, "that application of the first-to-file rule is not" appropriate where "the actions at issue" are "pending before the same" judge. The court held that "concerns justifying application of the rule-comity, efficiency, and uniformity-are nonexistent or greatly reduced."
Even though the threshold factors are satisfied, the justifications for application of the first-to-file do not resonate because the undersigned presides over the two parallel actions at issue. The court also remains troubled about abrogating Sheehy's right to due process: Sheehy has his own FLSA claims and should not be compelled by the undersigned against his will to opt into a case and to potentially accept counsel not of his choosing. The court will work with all parties to mitigate any burden engendered by two parallel proceedings and will entertain appropriate requests to that end.
IT IS SO ORDERED.