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Peterson v. Universal Medical Equipment & Resources Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 21, 2017

ANDRE PETERSON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNIVERSAL MEDICAL EQUIPMENT & RESOURCES, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge.

         Named plaintiffs Andre Peterson, John Grant, and Michelle Jones (collectively, “plaintiffs”), on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, have filed a Complaint against defendants Universal Medical Equipment & Resources, Inc. (“UMER”) and Eyibio Adah, UMER's owner, (collectively, “defendants”) alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. (“FLSA”), 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. Specifically, plaintiffs allege that defendants failed to pay plaintiffs minimum wages and overtime compensation in violation of federal and state law.[1] (Counts I and II, ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 68-74.) Defendants have filed an Answer to the Complaint (ECF No. 13), and the parties have undertaken discovery.

         Currently pending before this Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Conditional Certification of a Collective Action under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) of the FLSA (“Plaintiffs' Motion”) (ECF No. 26). The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs' Motion for Conditional Certification (ECF No. 26) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically, it is GRANTED as to the conditional certification of a class consisting of “[a]ll current and former medical transport drivers who worked for Universal Medical Equipment & Resources, Inc. (“Universal”) or Eyibio Adah (“Adah”) from October 11, 2013 to the present.” See ECF No. 32-2 at 1. The Motion is further GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART as to the contents and manner of the proposed Notice. The parties shall be directed to confer and submit a joint proposed notice consistent with the determinations set forth below.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs are Maryland residents who were employed by defendants UMER and Adah for varying terms between March 2013 and June 2015. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 6-8.) Plaintiffs were employed by defendants for approximately three months (Peterson), approximately eight months (Grant), and approximately nine months (Jones). (Id.) Plaintiffs worked as medical transport drivers who transported customers to and from medical appointments throughout Maryland. (Id. at ¶ 16.) In conjunction with their Motion, plaintiffs filed a series of Declarations in which they state that they: were paid the same daily rate regardless of hours worked (ECF No. 26-2 at ¶ 4); used vehicles owned by defendants (Id. at ¶ 5); worked roughly the same number of hours per day (approximately 4:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.) (Id.); and were directed by their supervisor Mr. Adah which routes they would complete (Id. at ¶ 6). See also ECF No. 26-3 at ¶¶ 4-6, ECF No. 26-4 at ¶¶ 4-7. The Complaint alleges that defendants failed to pay their employees the legal minimum wage and failed to pay their employees overtime wages to which they were entitled. (ECF No. 26 at ¶¶ 68-74.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under the FLSA, a plaintiff may bring an action on behalf of himself and other employees so long as the other employees are “similarly situated” to the plaintiff. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b); see also Quinteros v. Sparkle Cleaning, Inc., 532 F.Supp.2d 762, 771 (D. Md. 2008). As this Court has previously noted, Section 216 “establishes an ‘opt-in' scheme, whereby potential plaintiffs must affirmatively notify the court of their intentions to be a party to the suit.” Quinteros, 532 F.Supp.2d at 771 (citing Camper v. Home Quality Mgmt., Inc., 200 F.R.D. 516, 519 (D. Md. 2000)). Section 216(b) provides, in relevant part, that:

An action . . . may be maintained against any employer . . . in any Federal or State court of competent jurisdiction by any one or more employees for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated. No employee shall be a party plaintiff to any such action unless he gives his consent in writing to become such a party and such consent is filed in the court in which such action is brought.

29 U.S.C. § 216(b).

         Furthermore, this Court has employed a two-step inquiry when deciding whether to certify a collective action under the FLSA. Syrja v. Westat, Inc., 756 F.Supp.2d 682, 686 (D. Md. 2010); Banks v. Wet Dog Inc., No. CIV.A. RDB-13-2294, 2015 WL 433631, at *1 (D. Md. Feb. 2, 2015). First, upon a minimal evidentiary showing that a plaintiff can meet the substantive requirements of 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), the plaintiff may proceed with a collective action on a provisional basis. Second, following discovery, the court engages in a more stringent inquiry to determine whether the plaintiff class is “similarly situated” in accordance with the requirements of § 216. Rawls v. Augustine Home Health Care, Inc., 244 F.R.D. 298, 300 (D. Md. 2007) (internal citations omitted). The Court then renders a final decision regarding the propriety of proceeding as a collective action. Id. The second, more “stringent” phase of collective action certification under the FLSA is often prompted by a defendant's filing of a motion to decertify, and thus is referred to as the “decertification stage.” Syrja, 756 F.Supp.2d at 686.

         Whether to grant conditional certification is a matter of the court's discretion. Syrja, 756 F.Supp.2d at 686 (stating that “[d]eterminations of the appropriateness of conditional collective action certification . . . are left to the court's discretion[]”); see also Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 169 (1989). As the Court has explained, the “paramount issue in determining the appropriateness of a conditional class certification is whether plaintiffs have demonstrated that potential class members are ‘similarly situated.'” Williams v. Long, 585 F.Supp.2d 679, 684 (D. Md. 2008).

         Plaintiffs bear the burden of showing that their claims are “similarly situated, ” but courts have ruled that “similarly situated” need not mean “identical.” See, e.g., Hipp v. Liberty Nat. Life Ins. Co., 252 F.3d 1208, 1217 (11th Cir. 2001). This Court has held that a group of FLSA plaintiffs is similarly situated if they can show they were victims of a common policy, scheme, or plan that violated the law. Mancía v. Mayflower Textile Servs. Co., CIV.A. No. CCB- 08-273, 2008 WL 4735344, at *3 (D. Md. Oct. 14, 2008).

         Plaintiffs' allegations thus “must consist of more than ‘vague allegations' with ‘meager factual support, ' but [they] need not enable the court to reach a conclusive determination whether a class of similarly situated plaintiffs exists.” Id. at *2 (quoting D'Anna v. M/A- COM, Inc., 903 F.Supp. 889, 893 (D. Md. 1995). Moreover, “[w]hen sufficient evidence in the record at the initial ‘notice' stage makes it clear that notice is not appropriate, . . . a court can . . . deny certification outright.” Syrja, 756 F.Supp.2d at 686 (quoting Purdham v. Fairfax Cnty. Pub. Sch.,629 F.Supp.2d 544, 547 (E.D.Va. 2009)). Plaintiffs may rely on “affidavits or other means” to make the required showing. Williams, 585 F.Supp.2d at 683; see ...


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