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Craighead v. Full Citizenship of Maryland, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 16, 2018

TALIA CRAIGHEAD, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
FULL CITIZENSHIP OF MARYLAND, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          PAULA XINIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court in this wage payment action is the Motion for Conditional Certification and Court-Authorized Notice filed by Plaintiffs Talia Craighead, Verenesha Hutchinson, Vernice Headen, and Pamela Ransom. (ECF No. 39.) Plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, have filed an action alleging that Defendant Full Citizenship of Maryland, Inc. (“FCI”), and FCI's Executive Director, Defendant Pansy Stancil-Diaz, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. (“FLSA”) and analogous Maryland law. The matter has been fully briefed, and on February 13, 2018, a hearing was held. For the reasons discussed on the record at the hearing, and for the reasons below, Plaintiffs' Motion is granted.

         I. Background

         FCI, a Maryland Corporation, provides residential, rehabilitative, and vocational training services to adults with cognitive disabilities. Plaintiffs were hourly employees whose job duties involved teaching FCI's clients skills related to “daily living, ” “survival, ” and “self-advocacy.” Plaintiffs assisted FCI's clients with cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, taking medicine, attending medical appointments, and participating in social and recreational activities.[1] See ECF No. 34 at ¶ 29.

         Plaintiffs are residential and vocational staff who perform overlapping duties and are subject to the same compensation policies. Specifically, FCI pays Plaintiffs on an hourly basis. Plaintiffs allege that for one class of Plaintiffs, FCI systematically failed to pay overtime at the appropriate wage, and for another, systematically failed to pay the legal minimum wage.

         Notably, FCI was the defendant in a nearly identical class complaint in this District before the Honorable George J. Hazel. See Anthony v. Full Citizenship of Maryland, No. GJH-15-977, 2015 WL 6773716 (D. Md. Nov. 4, 2015). There, Judge Hazel granted a motion for conditional certification of a collective action involving vocational counselors. Id. at *1, *2. However, the parties voluntarily dismissed that action before it was resolved on the merits.

         Plaintiffs now seek conditional certification of an FLSA collective action in materially identical terms to that which was sought before Judge Hazel. Defendants do not contest many aspects of Plaintiffs' motion. Instead, Defendants principally argue that, in light of the dismissal in Anthony, Plaintiffs are barred from seeking conditional under the doctrine of claim preclusion. Notably, Defendants provide this Court no authority for the proposition that this Court may bar conditional certification of this action because of the stipulated dismissal of a prior case to which Plaintiffs never were made parties. This is because Defendants are deeply misguided as to the application of claim preclusion here.

         I. Discussion

         a. Res Judicata

         The doctrine of res judicata, or claim preclusion, applies where the party seeking preclusion can demonstrate (1) the existence of a prior judgment, which was final, on the merits, “and rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction in accordance with the requirements of due process”; (2) that the parties in the second action are identical to, or in privity with, the parties in the first action; and (3) that “the claims in the second matter are based upon the same cause of action involved in the earlier proceeding.” Covert v. LVNV Funding, LLC, 779 F.3d 242, 246 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting In re Varat Enters., Inc., 81 F.3d 1310, 1315 (4th Cir. 1996)). “Res judicata is ultimately governed by whether the present case has already been decided, and whether the party has previously had a fair shot with respect to the claims raised in the present action.” SAS Inst., Inc. v. World Programming Ltd., 874 F.3d 370, 378 (4th Cir. 2017). The case before Judge Hazel was dismissed pursuant to a settlement and stipulation of dismissal; there was no judgment on the merits. Accordingly, res judicata simply is inapplicable.[2]

         Moreover, even if a judgment had been reached on the merits, only the parties to that action and their privies are precluded from re-litigating the claims. Pueschel v. United States, 369 F.3d 345, 354-55 (4th Cir. 2004). In Anthony, Judge Hazel granted conditional certification of an opt-in class. Accordingly, class members did not become parties to the action unless and until they opted in to the case. Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, 136 S.Ct. 1036, 1043 (2016). Put differently, the mere act of conditional certification does not bind all potential class members to the outcome of the suit. Rather, the “sole consequence of conditional certification [under § 216] is the sending of court-approved written notice to employees . . . who in turn become parties to a collective action only by filing written consent with the court.” Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 569 U.S. 66, 75 (2013) (emphasis added); see also Yates v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 58 F.Supp.2d 1217, 1218 (D. Colo. 1999) (“Unlike Rule 23, the opt-in provision of [the FLSA] provides for no legal effect on those parties who choose not to participate.”); Lindsay v. Gov't Emp. Ins. Co., No. PLF- 04-1213, 2004 WL 4012264, at *1 n.4 (D.D.C. Nov. 9, 2004); Hautur v. Kmart Corp., No. 15-267A, 2015 WL 5567912, at *9 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 22, 2015) (“failure to opt into a collective action has no preclusive effect”).

         b. Conditional Certification

         Section 216(b) of the FLSA provides for an “opt-in” mechanism for collective actions under the statute “whereby potential plaintiffs must affirmatively notify the court of their intentions to be a party to the suit.” Quinteros v. Sparkle Cleaning, Inc., 532 F.Supp.2d 762, 771 (D. Md. 2008). In this initial stage, the Court must determine whether Plaintiffs have demonstrated that potential class members are similarly situated such that court-facilitated notice to the putative class members would be appropriate. If the Court answers in the affirmative, then the class is conditionally certified and dissemination of notice to potential class members occurs. At the second stage, following discovery, the Court determines whether the class indeed is “similarly situated” under section 216 of the FLSA, and renders a “final decision regarding the propriety of proceeding as a collective action.” Gionfriddo v. Jason Zink, LLC, 769 F.Supp.2d 880, 886 (D. Md. 2011) (quoting Rawls v. Augustine Home Health Care, Inc., 244 F.R.D. 298, 300 (D. Md. 2007)).

         Notably, Plaintiffs' burden at the conditional certification stage is minimal. The proposed FLSA plaintiff class is properly considered to be similarly situated for the purposes of conditional certification if the plaintiff can demonstrate that they were “victims of a common policy, scheme, or plan that violated the law.” Butler v. DirectSTAT USA, LLC, 876 F.Supp.2d 560, 566 (D. Md. 2012). Here, Plaintiffs have made an ample showing via sworn declarations and other ...


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