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Amador-Stewart v. Snooze HIC LLC

United States District Court, S.D. California

September 20, 2019

TRINITY AMADOR-STEWART Plaintiff,
v.
SNOOZE HIC LLC and DOES 1 through 100, inclusive, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART MOTION TO DISMISS

          Honorable Larry Alan Burns, Chief United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Trinity Amador-Stewart brought this putative class action against Defendant Snooze HiC, LLC for unpaid overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and California Labor Code, seeking unpaid overtime, unpaid compensation for interrupted and/or missed meal and rest periods, and failure to pay minimum wage. She also seeks interest, penalties, costs, and attorney's fees. She amended her complaint once, so the amended complaint ("FAC") is the operative pleading.

         Snooze moved to dismiss. (Docket no. 6.) Amador-Stewart filed an opposition (Docket no.9), and Snooze filed a reply brief. (Docket no. 11.) Then Amador-Stewart filed a second opposition (Docket no. 12) and withdrew her earlier opposition. The motion is now fully briefed and ready for decision.

         Legal Standards

         A motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . ." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "[S]ome threshold of plausibility must be crossed at the outset" before a case is permitted to proceed. Id. at 558 (citation omitted). To meet the ordinary pleading standard and avoid dismissal, a complaint must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. The well-pleaded facts must do more than permit the Court to infer "the mere possibility of misconduct"; they must show that the pleader is entitled to relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" the defendant's liability, it "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility." Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         When determining whether a complaint states a claim, the Court accepts all allegations of material fact in the complaint as true and construes them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center v. National League of Postmasters of U.S., 497 F.3d 972, 975 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). The Court does not weigh evidence or make credibility determinations. Acosta v. City of Costa Mesa, 718 F.3d 800, 828 (9th Cir. 2013). At the same time, the Court is "not required to accept as true conclusory allegations which are contradicted by documents referred to in the complaint, " and does "not. . . necessarily assume the truth of legal conclusions merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations." Warren v. Fox Family Worldwide, Inc., 328 F.3d 1136, 1139 (9th Cir. 2003) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

         Normally class allegations are tested by a motion for class certification, although "[s]ometimes the issues are plain enough from the pleadings to determine whether the interests of the absent parties are fairly encompassed within the named plaintiff's claim." Gen. Tel. Co. of Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 160 (1982). Some courts have struck class allegations where it is clear from the pleadings that class claims cannot be maintained. See, e.g., Sanders v. Apple Inc., 672 F.Supp.2d 978, 990 (N.D. Cal. 2009).

         The pleading standard for FLSA claims is set forth in Landers v. Quality Communications Inc., 771 F.3d 638 (9th Cir. 2014), which also provides guidance for wage and hour claims more generally. Under this standard, "detailed factual allegations regarding the number of [hours or] overtime hours worked are not required to state a plausible claim"; neither is an estimate of "how much uncompensated time was [worked], how often, and at what rate." Id. at 644. But she must plead facts sufficient to demonstrate the plausibility, rather than the mere possibility, of her minimum wage and overtime wages claims. Id. at 646. One way to establish a plausible claim is by estimating the length of her average workweek during the applicable period, the average rate at which she was paid, and the amount of wages she believes she is owed. Id. at 645. The same pleading standards apply to state law claims. Haralson v. United Airlines, Inc., 224 F.Supp. 3d 928, 940-942 (N.D. Cal. 2016) (applying the Landers standard to California minimum wage law, overtime wage and meal and rest break claims).

         The FLSA averages all hours worked in any work week to compute an employer's minimum wage obligation. Douglas v. Xerox Bus. Servs., LLC, 875 F.3d 884, 890 (9thCir. 2017). Therefore, "If an employee works less than 40 hours per week, there is no [FLSA] minimum wage violation if the employee's number of hours worked divided by wages received is above the FLSA's minimum wage requirements." Perez v. Wells Fargo & Co., 75 F.Supp. 3d 1184');">75 F.Supp. 3d 1184, 1192 (N.D. Cal. 2014).

         Factual Allegations

         Amador-Stewart was a server in one of Snooze's San Diego restaurants. The FAC does not say which restaurant, when she was employed, [1] her usual schedule, or whether her compensation included tips, nor does it provide any other details of her employment.

         Amador-Stewart points out that she has not had an opportunity for discovery. She is not entitled to discovery until she has pled a claim, however. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 686 (holding that where a complaint failed to state a cognizable federal claim, the plaintiff was "not entitled to discovery, cabined or otherwise"). But even if she were, she knows or should easily be able to find out basic facts about her employment. To the extent the pleading standard may require her to allege facts such as these, there is no need to wait until the discovery phase before requiring her to plead them. Nor is it appropriate to relax the pleading standard until discovery, given that she already has (or has had) access to this information. See Gavaldon v. StanChart Securities Intl., 2019 WL 764031, slip op. at *2 (S.D. Cal., Feb. 20, 2019) (citing Ebeid ex rel. U.S. v. Lungwitz, 616 F.3d 993, 999 (9th Cir. 2010)) (holding that a relaxed pleading standard is inappropriate where information needed to plead a claim is or has been within the plaintiffs control).

         Amador-Stewart cites Landers, 771 F.3d at 645 for the proposition that most or all of the relevant information is likely to be in a defendant's control. But Landers concerns itself with "detailed information concerning a plaintiff-employee's compensation and schedule, " such as records that would allow her to estimate her average workweek and the average rates of pay. Id. Ordinary facts of employment such as her ordinary hourly pay rate are the type of thing most workers know. Workers have access to some information in the form of W-2's, their own bank records, and the like. And if a plaintiff knows enough to allege that her employer engaged in certain practices, she would also ordinarily know whether those things ever happened to her. For example, if she can allege in good faith that workers were permitted, encouraged, or required to work unpaid overtime (FAC, ¶¶ 5-6), she should also know whether she herself ever performed unpaid overtime. She would likely also know general facts such as her typical schedule, the number of hours in a typical work period, how and when she was permitted or required to work overtime without extra pay, and what work she did during those times. See Avalos v. Amazon.com LLC, 2018 WL 3917970, at *4(E.D. Cal., Aug. 14, 2018) (suggesting that plaintiff could and should have alleged facts such as these in support of her conclusory overtime allegations). See also Boon v. Canon Bus. Solutions, Inc., 592 Fed.Appx. 631, 632 ("Boon identified tasks for which he was not paid . . . .")

         To be clear, there is no checklist of facts that must be pled in a wage and hour action. See Landers, 771 F.3d at 645 (plausibility of a claim is "context-specific"). But facts such as these can help make a claim plausible rather than merely conclusory. For example, numerous cases have examined whether particular activities amount to compensable work, and have come to different conclusions based on the facts and law of the cases. Depending on what other facts are pled, a plaintiffs assertion that she performed "compensable" overtime work may not be ...


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