United States District Court, D. Maryland
J. FREDERICK MOTZ, District Judge.
Plaintiffs, a group of bus drivers and bus attendants, brought this class-action lawsuit against several bus companies alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq; the Maryland Wage and Hour Law ("MWHL"), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. § 3-401, et seq; and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law ("MWPCL"), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. § 3-501, et seq.  After plaintiffs failed to timely file a response in opposition to defendants' motion to dismiss, I granted that motion. Now pending is plaintiffs' combined motion for reconsideration and motion to accept their response in opposition filed late.
The motion is fully briefed, and no oral argument is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, I grant plaintiffs' motion to reconsider. After consulting plaintiffs' response brief, however, I reach the same conclusion that I did previously-Maryland state court is the proper venue for this action where the School Board can be joined as a necessary and indispensable party. Accordingly, defendants' motion to dismiss is once again granted.
The following is a brief summary of this case's lengthy procedural history. Plaintiffs filed a complaint on October 28, 2011 against the Board of Education of Charles County, Maryland ("the School Board") and several bus companies that contracted with it. (ECF No. 1). The complaint alleged, among other claims, that two classes of plaintiffs (later expanded to three in subsequent amended complaints) were denied overtime pay in violation of the FLSA, MWHL, and the MWPCL. After the plaintiffs' third amended complaint, the School Board and its constituent members filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that they were immune under the Eleventh Amendment. After I denied that motion, (ECF No. 98), the School Board filed an interlocutory appeal and the Fourth Circuit reversed. Gilliland v. Bd. of Educ. of Charles Cnty., 526 F.Appx. 243 (4th Cir. 2013). The plaintiffs then removed the School Board and its members in the fourth amended complaint.
Plaintiffs most recently filed a fifth amended complaint ("FAC") on November 10, 2014. (ECF No. 178). Defendant Keller Bus Service, Inc. filed a motion to dismiss plaintiffs' FAC pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(7) on December 12, 2014, which all other remaining defendants joined. (ECF No. 191). The Rule 12(b)(7) motion argued that dismissal was required because the School Board was a necessary party under Rule 19. Pursuant to the Local Rules, plaintiffs' response in opposition was due by December 29, 2014. Plaintiffs did not timely respond, and contacted defense counsel directly after that deadline on two occasions to ask for an extension of time. (ECF No. 227 at pp. 3-4, ¶¶ 10-11). Defendants consented to both extensions, and plaintiffs filed a consent motion for an extension of time to respond on January 19, 2015. (ECF No. 216). In his communications with defendants and this court plaintiffs' counsel alluded to health complications facing him and his family. I granted the motion for an extension of time, agreeing to the requested deadline of January 28, 2015. (ECF No. 217).
Plaintiffs' counsel missed that deadline and did not contact defendants or this court. On February 18, 2015 I granted defendants' motion to dismiss the FAC without prejudice. (ECF No. 222). I noted that plaintiffs had not filed their response in opposition, and their omission "seem[ed] to imply that they agree[d]" with my analysis that "it is in the public interest" that plaintiffs refile their complaint in state court. (ECF No. 221). About two weeks later, on March 4, plaintiffs filed the pending motion for reconsideration and to accept their late response in opposition. (ECF No. 225). Plaintiffs appear to seek relief under both Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) and 60(b). That motion is fully briefed, as is now the original Rule 12(b)(7) motion to dismiss.
I. Motion to Reconsider.
A party may seek to alter or amend a judgment under Rule 59(e) if it demonstrates any of the following three criteria: (1) "an intervening change of controlling law"; (2) new evidence becomes available; or (3) "there is a need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice." Robinson v. Wix Filtration Corp. LLC, 599 F.3d 403, 411 (4th Cir. 2010). Relief is not appropriate for a party who simple disagrees with a court's ruling, "the proper venue [for that party] is with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit." Bey v. Shapiro Brown & Alt, LLP, 997 F.Supp.2d 310, 322 (D. Md. 2014). A Rule 59(e) motion must be filed within 28 days of the judgment, and deciding whether to grant the motion is within the discretion of the district judge. Robinson, 599 F.3d at 407.
A party may also seek relief from a judgment or order under Rule 60(b) if it can satisfy one of six enumerated criteria after demonstrating "timeliness, a meritorious defense, a lack of unfair prejudice to the opposing party, and exceptional circumstances." Almy v. Sebelius, 749 F.Supp.2d 315, 338 (D. Md. 2010) (quoting Dowell v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Auto. Ins. Co., 993 F.2d 46, 48 (4th Cir. 1993)). A motion under Rule 60(b) is not appropriate when a party seeks to re-litigate the merits of a motion or ask the district court to "change its mind." Classen Immunotherapies, Inc. v. King Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 981 F.Supp.2d 415, 419 (D. Md. 2013). The first set of factors that could warrant relief under Rule 60(b) is a showing of "mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect." Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1). As with Rule 59(e), a 60(b) ruling is within the discretion of the district judge. Aikins v. Ingram, 652 F.3d 496, 501 (4th Cir. 2011) (en banc).
II. Motion to Dismiss.
Fed. R. Civ. P. (12)(b)(7) permits a party to file a motion to dismiss for failure to join a necessary party under Fed.R.Civ.P. 19. There is a two-step inquiry under a Rule 12(b)(7) motion. See Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. Meade, 186 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 1999). First, the court must determine whether the party is "necessary" to the action under Rule 19(a). Under subsection (1)(B), a party is necessary if it "claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and... disposing of the action in the [party's] absence may... (ii) leave an existing party subject to a substantial risk of incurring double, multiple, or otherwise inconsistent obligations by reason of the interest." Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(a)(1)(B)(ii). This inquiry is "made pragmatically, in the context of the substance of each case, rather than by procedural formula." Teamsters Local Union No. 171 v. Keal Driveaway Co., 173 F.3d 915, 918 (4th Cir. 1999).
If the court concludes that the absent party is necessary but cannot be joined, the next step is to determine whether the party is indispensable under Rule 19(b). See Owens-Illinois, Inc., 186 F.3d at 440. Four factors guide that analysis-(1) the extent that a judgment rendered would be prejudicial to the absent or existing parties; (2) whether relief can be shaped to lessen or avoid any prejudice; (3) whether a judgment will be adequate; and (4) whether the plaintiff will have an adequate remedy if the action is dismissed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(b). A court should consider the equities of the particular factual setting presented. See Schlumberger Indus. Inc. v. Nat'l Sur. Corp., 36 F.3d 1274, 1286 (4th Cir. 1994). Although dismissal of a case may be warranted when a necessary and indispensable party cannot be joined and "the resulting defect cannot be remedied and prejudice or inefficiency will certainly result, " Owens, 186 F.3d at 441, it is "a ...