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Jones v. San Diego Metropolitan Transit System

United States District Court, S.D. California

July 22, 2016



          HONORABLE LARRY ALAN BURNS, United States District Judge.

         Maurice Jones and Leonel R. León filed this putative collective and class action against San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (“MTS”) and San Diego Trolley, Inc. (“SDTI”), alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and California labor laws. Defendants move for summary judgment on res judicata grounds.

         I. Factual Background

         MTS is a public agency that the California legislature created to oversee public transportation in San Diego County. Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 120050(a) and (b). It has two wholly-owned subsidiaries: San Diego Transit Corporation (“SDTC”), which provides public transportation through bus operations, and SDTI, which provides light-rail passenger transit service. (Docket no. 23 at ¶ 1.) MTS previously employed both named plaintiffs: León was a train operator for SDTI until his termination on November 19, 2013; Jones was a bus operator for SDTC until his termination on March 7, 2014. (Id. at ¶¶ 2 and 3.)

         On September 13, 2013, on behalf of SDTC bus operator John Wilson, Plaintiffs’ counsel filed a class action complaint in San Diego County Superior Court against MTS (“Wilson”). (Id. at ¶ 4.) Wilson alleged violations of the FLSA and the California Labor Code, claiming that MTS was not, but should have been, paying its operators for “routinely late time, ” “medical examination time, ” and “meeting time.” (Id. at ¶ 6.) SDTC and SDTI were not named defendants. (Id. at ¶ 5.) MTS filed a demurrer arguing, among other things, that Wilson’s FLSA claim was barred by state sovereign immunity and the Eleventh Amendment. (Docket no. 20 at 4.) The Superior Court did not certify the class. (Docket no. 24 at 4.)

         While MTS’s demurrer was pending, León signed a “Consent to Become Party Plaintiff” and filed it in Wilson. (Docket no. 23 at ¶ 7.) It stated, “I hereby consent to be a party plaintiff in [this] action.” (Id.) Jones signed an identical consent form, but did not file it. ( Id. at ¶ 8.) On May 23, 2014, the Superior Court sustained MTS’s demurrer without leave to amend. (Id. at ¶ 9.) The court entered judgment on July 11, and the plaintiffs did not file an appeal. (Id.)

         On July 29, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit. (Id. at ¶ 10.) They allege violations of the FLSA and the California Labor Code on the grounds that MTS and its operating entities were not (but should have been) paying their operators for “routinely late time, ” medical and physical “examination time, ” “meeting time, ” “document review time, ” and document “turn-in time.” (Id.) This Court previously denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss on res judicata and collateral estoppel grounds, finding an issue of fact as to whether Plaintiffs were parties or privies of parties in Wilson. (Docket no. 11 at 2.)

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where the evidence shows “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion, and of identifying those portions of the pleadings and discovery responses that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). All reasonable inferences from the evidence are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

         If the moving party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party opposing the motion, who must “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 256. Summary judgment is warranted if a party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. A genuine issue of fact exists if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id.

         III. Discussion

         A. Res Judicata Standard

         Under the doctrine of res judicata, a final judgment on the merits precludes the parties or their privies from re-litigating issues that were or could have been raised in the first action. Tahoe-Sierra Pres. Council, Inc. v. Tahoe Reg’l Planning Agency, 322 F.3d 1064, 1077 (9th Cir. 2003).

         Res judicata applies when: (1) the claim raised in the present action is identical to a claim litigated in a prior proceeding; (2) the prior proceeding resulted in a final judgment on the merits; and (3) the party to be precluded was a party, or in privity with a party, to the first lawsuit. San Diego Police Officers’ Ass’n v. San Diego City Employees’ Ret. Sys., 568 F.3d 725, 734 (9th Cir. 2009). A federal court must give a state-court judgment the same preclusive effect as would be given under the law of the State in which the judgment was rendered. See Takahashi v. Bd. of Trustees of Livingston Union Sch. Dist., 783 F.2d 848, 850 (9th Cir. 1986)(citing 28 U.S.C. § 1738).

         B. Whether the ...

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