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McFadden v. L&J Waste Recycling, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 10, 2017

L&J WASTE RECYCLING, LLC, et al. Defendants.


          Ellen Lipton Hollander United States District Judge.

         Alphonso McFadden, plaintiff, filed suit against defendants L&J Waste Recycling, LLC (“L&J”); Lenzie M. Johnson, III (“Johnson III”); and Lenzie M. Johnson, Jr. (“Johnson Jr.”), alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq.; the Maryland Wage and Hour Law (“MWHL”), as amended, Md. Code (2016 Repl. Vol.), §§ 3-401 et seq. of the Labor and Employment Article (“L.E.”); and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law, as amended, L.E. §§ 3-501 et seq. ECF 1. McFadden has brought his FLSA claim as a collective action on behalf of all similarly situated employees of the defendants. ECF 1 ¶¶ 32-47.

         L&J and Johnson III filed a “Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment.” ECF 5. It is supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 5-1) and two exhibits. ECF 5-2; ECF 5-3. Plaintiff responded in opposition (ECF 11), supported by exhibits (ECF 11-2 through ECF 11-6), including a Declaration of plaintiff. See ECF 11-4. Defendants replied. ECF 15. In addition, Johnson Jr. filed a “Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment.” ECF 7. It is supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 8) and two exhibits (ECF 8-1; ECF 8-2). Plaintiff opposes the motion (ECF 12), supported by exhibits (ECF 12-2 through ECF 12-4), including his Declaration. ECF 12-3. Defendant replied. ECF 16.

         The motions are fully briefed and no hearing is necessary to resolve them. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I decline to convert ECF 5 and ECF 7 to motions for summary judgment. Instead, I shall construe them as motions to dismiss, and I shall deny both motions.

         I. Factual Background[1]

         Defendant L&J is “a waste management and recycling company, ” with its principal office located in Baltimore, Maryland. ECF 1 ¶ 1. L&J is owned and operated by Johnson Jr. and Johnson III. Id. ¶ 2. McFadden alleges that he was employed by defendants from approximately September 2014 to January 14, 2016, in the capacity of “Plant Foreman.” Id. ¶¶ 6, 7. In that position, plaintiff “perform[ed] various tasks related to waste management and recycling.” Id. ¶¶ 18-19. McFadden's responsibilities included “starting up machines that were used daily for sorting and recycling; hand sorting materials such as wood, paper, stones and putting them in large cans; and working with four (4) laborers.” Id. ¶ 19.

         Defendants “set employee schedules, including those of Plaintiff and other similarly situated employees.” Id. ¶ 8. They also controlled plaintiff's duties, and made all decisions relating to the rates and methods of his pay. Id. ¶¶ 10-14. During plaintiff's employment, he worked as an hourly employee, and received “weekly payments reflecting a pay rate of $15 per hour.” Id. ¶ 21.

         McFadden and others similarly situated were routinely scheduled to work more than forty hours per week. Id. ¶ 22. Plaintiff regularly worked between fifty and sixty hours per week. Id. But, he claims that he received weekly payments reflecting “straight time, ” and was not paid “time and a half for overtime hours worked.” ECF 1 at 2; see also Id. ¶ 23.

         II. Standards of Review

         A. Rule 12(b)(6)

         Defendants' motions to dismiss are predicated on Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). ECF 5; ECF 7. In the alternative, defendants moved for summary judgment under Rule 56. Id.

         A defendant may test the legal sufficiency of a complaint by way of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Goines v. Valley Cmty, Servs, Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016); McBurney v. Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393, 408 (4th Cir. 2010), aff'd sub nom. McBurney v. Young, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1709 (2013); Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion constitutes an assertion by a defendant that, even if the facts alleged by a plaintiff are true, the complaint fails as a matter of law “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Whether a complaint states a claim for relief is assessed by reference to the pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). It provides that a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” The purpose of the rule is to provide the defendants with “fair notice” of the claims and the “grounds” for entitlement to relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007).

         To survive a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) (“Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all civil actions' . . . .” (citation omitted)); see also Simmons v. United Mortg. & Loan Inv., LLC, 634 F.3d 754, 768 (4th Cir. 2011). But, a plaintiff need not include “detailed factual allegations” in order to satisfy Rule 8(a)(2). Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Moreover, federal pleading rules “do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted.” Johnson v. City of Shelby, ___ U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 346, 346 (2014) (per curiam).

         Nevertheless, the rule demands more than bald accusations or mere speculation. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013). If a complaint provides no more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” it is insufficient. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Rather, to satisfy the minimal requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), the complaint must set forth “enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest” a cognizable cause of action, “even if . . . [the] actual proof of those facts is improbable and . . . recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (internal quotations omitted).

         In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court “‘must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint'” and must “‘draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff.'” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see Houck v. Substitute Tr. Servs., Inc., 791 F.3d 473, 484 (4th Cir. 2015); Kendall v. Balcerzak, 650 F.3d 515, 522 (4th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 402 (2011); Monroe v. City of Charlottesville, 579 F.3d 380, 385-86 (4th Cir. 2009), cert. denied, 559 U.S. 992 (2010). But, a court is not required to accept legal conclusions drawn from the facts. See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). “A court decides whether [the pleading] standard is met by separating the legal conclusions from the factual allegations, assuming the truth of only the factual allegations, and then determining whether those allegations allow the court to reasonably infer” that the plaintiff is entitled to the legal remedy sought. A Society Without a Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th. Cir. 2011), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 1960 (2012).

         In general, courts do not “resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses” through a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). The purpose of the rule is to ensure that defendants are “given adequate notice of the nature of a claim” made against them. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555- 56 (2007). But, “in the relatively rare circumstances where facts sufficient to rule on an affirmative defense are alleged in the complaint, the defense may be reached by a motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6).” Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007) (en banc); accord Pressley v. Tupperware Long Term Disability Plan, 533 F.3d 334, 336 (4th Cir. 2009); see also U.S. ex rel. Oberg v. Penn. Higher Educ. Assistance Agency, 745 F.3d 131, 148 (4th Cir. 2014). However, because Rule 12(b)(6) “is intended [only] to test the legal adequacy of the complaint, ” Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. Forst, 4 F.3d 244, 250 (4th Cir. 1993), “[t]his principle only applies . . . if all facts necessary to the affirmative defense ‘clearly appear[ ] on the face of the complaint.'” Goodman, 494 F.3d at 464 (quoting Forst, 4 F.3d at 250) (emphasis added in Goodman ).

         Under limited exceptions, a court may consider documents beyond the complaint without converting the motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment. Goldfarb v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 791 F.3d 500, 508 (4th Cir. 2015). A court may properly consider documents that are “explicitly incorporated into the complaint by reference and those attached to the complaint as exhibits . . . .” Goines, 822 F.3d at 166 (citations omitted); see U.S. ex rel. Oberg, 745 F.3d at 136 (quoting Philips v. Pitt Cty Memorial Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009)); Anand v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, 754 F.3d 195, 198 (4th Cir. 2014); Am. Chiropractic Ass'n v. Trigon Healthcare, Inc., 367 F.3d 212, 234 (4th Cir. 2004), cert. denied, 543 U.S. 979 (2004); Phillips v. LCI Int'l Inc., 190 F.3d 609, 618 (4th Cir. 1999). See Goldfarb, 791 F.3d at 511.

         Of relevance here, a court may also “consider a document submitted by the movant that was not attached to or expressly incorporated in a complaint, so long as the document was integral to the complaint and there is no dispute about the document's authenticity.” Goines, 822 F.3d at 166 (citations omitted). To be “integral, ” a document must be one “that by its ‘very existence, and not the mere information it contains, gives rise to the legal rights asserted.'” Chesapeake Bay Found., Inc. v. Severstal Sparrows Point, LLC, 794 F.Supp.2d 602, 611 (D. Md. 2011) (citation omitted) (emphasis in original).

         Both Johnson Jr. (ECF 5-2) and Johnson III (ECF 8-2) submitted affidavits.[2] The affidavits explain, inter alia, the circumstances of plaintiff's employment, but do not by their “‘very existence . . . give[] rise to the legal rights asserted.'” See Chesapeake Bay Found., 794 F.Supp.2d at 611 (citation omitted). Accordingly, these exhibits are not integral to the Complaint and cannot be considered in support of defendants' motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See Goldfarb, 791 F.3d at 511.

         Plaintiff submitted identical declarations as exhibits to both of his oppositions. See ECF 11-4; ECF 12-3. The declarations are consistent with, and also amplify, the facts alleged in the Complaint. See id. However, they are not integral to the ...

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