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Lackey v. Mwr Investigations, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 8, 2015

JOSEPH LACKEY,
v.
MWR INVESTIGATIONS, INC., et al.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

WILLIAM M. NICKERSON, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff has been employed as a security guard by Defendant MWR Investigations, Inc. (MWR) since 2008. He filed this action alleging violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. (FLSA) and the Maryland Wage and Hour Law, Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-401 et seq. (MWHL). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that he routinely works in excess of forty hours per week but does not receive any overtime pay. In addition to MWR, Plaintiff names Michael Rice as a Defendant, whom he identifies as "manag[ing], own[ing], and operat[ing]" Defendant MWR. Compl. ¶ 3.

Defendant Rice has moved to dismiss the claims against him on the ground that Plaintiff failed to allege sufficient factual allegations that could create a plausible inference that he can be considered Plaintiff's "employer" under either statute. ECF No. 10. Plaintiff did not oppose the motion within the time permitted under the Local Rules. As the Fourth Circuit recently reminded, however, even when motions to dismiss are unopposed, "the district court nevertheless has an obligation to review the motions to ensure that dismissal is proper." Stevenson v. City of Seat Pleasant, Md., 743 F.3d 411, 416 (4th Cir. 2014). Upon review of Rice's motion and the applicable case law, the Court determines that no hearing is necessary, Local Rule 105.6, and that the motion must be denied.

The FLSA generally requires, inter alia, that employers provide their employees with overtime compensation for all hours worked in excess of a forty-hour workweek. See 29 U.S.C. § 207. The FLSA defines "employer" to include "any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee." Id . § 203(d). To decide whether a particular individual is an "employer" under this definition, "the economic realities of the relationship between the employee and the putative employer" must be examined. Caseres v. S & R Mgt. Co., LLC, No. AW-12-1358, 2012 WL 5250561, at *3 (D. Md. Oct. 24, 2012). The economic realities test looks to a number of factors, including whether the putative employer is someone who "(1) has the authority to hire and fire employees; (2) supervises and controls work schedules or employment conditions; (3) determines the rate and method of payment; and (4) maintains employment records." Khalil v. Subway at Arundel Mills Office Park, Inc., No. CCB-09-158, 2011 WL 231793, at *2 (D. Md. Jan. 24, 2011). Furthermore, "[f]ederal courts almost universally state that this definition [of employer] is to be interpreted broadly to achieve Congress's intent to provide a remedy to employees for their employers' wage and hour violations." Pearson v. Prof'l 50 States Prot., LLC, No. RDB-09-3232, 2010 WL 4225533, at *4 (D. Md. Oct. 26, 2010). The MWHL is "the State parallel" to the FLSA, Friolo v. Frankel, 819 A.2d 354, 361 (Md. 2003), and, therefore, courts assess an individual's liability as an "employer" for overtime violations of the MWHL under the same economic realities test used in the FLSA context. See Caseres, 2012 WL 5250561, at *4.

In addition to alleging that Rice managed, owned, and operated MWR, Plaintiff included in the Complaint several collective allegations against Defendants Rice and MWR. Plaintiff alleges that: "Defendants made all decisions relating to Plaintiff's rate and method of pay, " Compl. ¶ 4; "Defendants routinely scheduled Plaintiff... for hours exceeding forty (40) hours within a single workweek, " id. ¶ 12; "Defendants, acting without good faith, withheld wages owed to Plaintiff, " id. ¶ 16; and, that "Defendants willfully and intentionally failed to compensate Plaintiff for the overtime wages owed to him, " id. ¶¶ 31, 36. Plaintiff also included in the Complaint the somewhat conclusory allegation that "Defendants [] at all times throughout Plaintiff's employment, fell within the purview of the term employer' under the [FLSA] and [MWHL]." Id . ¶ 5.

Defendant Rice does not argue that these allegations, if directed against him separately, would not suffice to deem him an "employer" for purposes of these statutes. Instead, Rice faults Plaintiff for "improperly grouping together the Defendants in his pleadings." ECF No. 10 at 8. While acknowledging that "a complaint against multiple defendants can be read as making the same allegation against each defendant individually, " id. (citing Crowe v. Coleman, 113 F.3d 1536, 1539 (11th Cir. 1997)), Defendant Rice suggests that the claims against him should be dismissed because Plaintiff fails to identify the facts necessary to allege individual liability specifically against him. Id. at 2.

On numerous occasions, however, this Court has found that collective allegations nearly identical to those asserted here were sufficient to state a claim for personal liability under the FLSA and the MWHL. In Pearson, a case relied upon by Defendant Rice, id. at 4, 8, the plaintiffs brought claims against the company that employed them, Pro 50, as well as against the president of that company, Alphonso Tillman. In their complaint, the plaintiffs did not specifically identify any actions or activities undertaken by Tillman in his individual capacity aside from stating that he was the President of Pro 50. 2010 WL 4225533, at *4. Nevertheless, this Court denied Tillman's motion to dismiss, observing, "Plaintiffs frame all allegations made in their Complaint in the plural, and this Court will construe all alleged facts in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs. In other words, this Court will presume that all allegations made against the Defendants also apply equally to Tillman in his individual capacity." Id . (citing Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999)). Because the plaintiffs had alleged that "Defendants failed to properly compensate Plaintiffs for their hours worked and for overtime..., [and] Defendants maintained and recorded the hours worked by Plaintiffs and were aware Plaintiffs worked in excess of 40 hours per week, " this Court concluded "that under the plausibility standard of Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), [those] allegations [were] sufficient to state a plausible claim." Id.

Similarly, in Caseres, the plaintiff brought an FLSA and MWHL case against the construction company that employed him and an individual that he alleged, "upon information and belief, [was] the founder, director and officer of [that company] and the owner or one of the owners of [that company]." 2012 WL 5250561, at *4. That was the "only one specific, factual allegation regarding the individual Defendant, " id., and yet this Court denied the individual defendant's motion to dismiss. Following Pearson, the Court presumed that all allegations made against the defendants collectively applied equally to the individual defendant and concluded that the plaintiff stated a plausible claim that the individual defendant was an "employer" under the FLSA and the MWHL. Id. at *5.

One month later, this Court reached the same conclusion in another FLSA/MWHL case, Iraheta v. Lam Yuen, LLC, No. DKC-12-1426, 2012 WL 5995689 (D. Md. Nov. 29, 2012). In her complaint, the plaintiff made no specific allegations regarding the individual defendants beyond the allegation that they were "members, directors, officers, and owners" of the company that employed her. Id. at *4. Again, following Pearson and Caseres, this Court presumed that other allegations concerning the Defendants collectively applied equally to the individual defendants and denied their motion to dismiss. See also Smith v. ABC Training Ctr. Of Md., Inc., No. JFM-13-306, 2013 WL 3984630, at *7 (D. Md. Aug. 1, 2013) (concluding that, as the plaintiffs stated plausible FLSA and MWHL claims against the company, the claims against the managers and executives who exerted significant control over the operations of the company were also plausible).

The Court notes that, in Pearson, Caseres, and Smith, the individual defendants, with their motions, submitted affidavits addressing their level of control over the plaintiffs' hours and wages. In Caseres, after concluding that the complaint stated a plausible claim that the individual defendant was an employer, the Court went on to consider the motion as one for summary judgment, considering the defendant's affidavit and the counter-affidavit submitted by the plaintiff. Finding that, under the undisputed facts, the individual defendant could not be considered an employer within the meaning of the statutes, the Court granted summary judgment. 2012 WL 5250561, at *5. In Smith, however, the Court found that the parties' conflicting views as to the scope of the individual defendants' control created a genuine issue of material fact that had to be resolved after discovery. 2013 WL 3984630, at *8. For whatever reason, Defendant Rice elected not to support his motion with any evidence disclaiming his control over Plaintiff's hours and wages.

Accordingly, IT IS this 8th day of January, 2015, by the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, ORDERED:

(1) That Defendant Michael Rice's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 10, is DENIED; and

(2) That the Clerk of the Court shall transmit a copy of this Memorandum and Order to all parties and counsel of record.


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