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Lee v. JLN Construction Services, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 16, 2019

CHRISTOPHER LEE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JLN CONSTRUCTION SERVICES, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINTON

          Richard D. Bennett, United States District judge.

         Plaintiffs Christopher Lee ("Lee") and Ladrian Taylor ("Taylor") (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated employees, brought this three-count Complaint against their former employer, JLN Construction Services, LLC ("JLN") and Nnamdi C. Iwuoha ("Iwuoha") (collectively, "Defendants"). (Compl., ECF No. 1.) Plaintiffs allege failure to pay overtime wages under 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, Md. Code Ann, Lab. & Empl, §§ 3-501, et seq., ("MWPCL"). (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that they routinely worked over forty hours a week, and Defendants failed to properly pay overtime wages. (Id.) On May 14, 2018, this Court granted Plaintiffs' Motion for Conditional Certification of a Collective Class and to Facilitate Identification and Notice to Similarly Situated Employees. (ECF Nos. 16, 17.) A Notice of Collective Action under the FLSA was distributed to potential class members, and 15 additional individuals notified this Court of their consent to be a party plaintiff/class member in this matter, [1] bringing the total number of named plaintiffs to 17 individuals.

         Currently pending is Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification (ECF No. 38). The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons that follow, this Court shall grant Plaintiffs' motion, certify the class for the wage claims alleged in this matter, appoint Plaintiffs' attorneys as class counsel, and designate the named Plaintiffs as class representatives.

         BACKGROUND

         The background of this case has been summarized in a prior opinion of this Court. See Lee v. JLN Constr. Servs., RDB-17-2765, 2018 WL 2193815 at *l-2 (D. Md. May 14, 2018). In brief, JLN is a general contractor that provides construction services for both private and public construction projects throughout Maryland, and Iwuoha is JLN's owner. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 35-36.) JLN employs laborers and foremen to perform masonry, finishing, demolition and installation work. (Id. at ¶ 6.) The laborers and foreman were hourly employees, and it is alleged that they routinely worked more than 40 hours a week primarily due to understaffing. (Id. at 2-3.) However, it is further alleged that Defendants consistently failed to pay correctly for overtime and failed to pay for all of the tasks that employees were required to perform. (Id. at 3-4.)

         On September 18, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a three-count Complaint alleging the failure to pay overtime wages. Plaintiffs then filed a Motion for Conditional Certification of a Collective Class and to Facilitate Identification and Notice to Similarly Situated Employees (ECF No. 9), which this Court granted. (ECF Nos. 16, 17.) The Notice of Rights Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (ECF No. 18) was distributed to the list of all potential collective action members provided by Defendants to Plaintiffs. The potential members were identified as “[all current and former laborers and/or foremen of JLN Construction Services who worked with JLN at any time between September 2014 and May 2018." (ECF No. 19.) Fifteen additional individuals affirmatively opted-in to the lawsuit in a timely manner, consenting to join in the FLSA collective action. (See ECF Nos. 22-37.)

         All 17 Plaintiffs now move this Court to grant class certification for the wage claims alleged under the Maryland Wage and Hour Law ("MWHL"), Md Code Ann, Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-401, et seq., and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law, Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl, §§ 3-501, et seq. ("MWPCL'[2] (ECF No. 38). Plaintiffs request that the named Plaintiffs be designated class representatives and that Plaintiffs' attorneys be appointed as class counsel. (Id.) Defendants oppose class certification. (ECF No. 43.) For the reasons that follow, this Court shall GRANT Plaintiffs' motion for class certification.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To obtain class certification, the Plaintiffs must satisfy all four requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23(a), and at least one of the requirements of Rule 23(b). Gunnells v. Healthplan Servs., Inc., 348 F.3d 417, 423 (4th Cir. 2003). Plaintiffs must first establish all four requirements of Rule 23(a): numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a). With respect to Rule 23(b), the Plaintiffs in this case seek certification of the proposed class under Rule 23(b)(3), which requires a finding that common questions "predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy." Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(3).

         "Plaintiffs bear the burden of showing that a proposed class satisfies the Rule 23 requirements, but they need not make that showing to a degree of absolute certainty. It is sufficient if each disputed requirement has been proven by a preponderance of evidence." Messner v. Nortbsbore Univ. HealthSystem, 669 F.3d 802, 811 (7th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted). "[T]he court should not turn the class certification proceedings into a dress rehearsal for the trial on the merits." Id.

         "The class action is an exception to the usual rule that litigation is conducted by and on behalf of the individual named parties only." Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338, 348 (2011) (citation omitted). "Rule 23 does not set forth a mere pleading standard. A party seeking class certification must affirmatively demonstrate his compliance with the Rule- that is, he must be prepared to prove that there are in fact sufficiently numerous parties, common issues of law or fact, etc." Id. at 350. In ruling on a class certification motion, a court must take a close look at the facts relevant to the certification question, even if those facts "tend to overlap with the merits of the case." Thorn v. Jefferson-Pilot Life Ins. Co., 445 F.3d 311, 319 (4th Cir. 2006); accord Gariety v. Grant Thornton, LLP, 368 F.3d 356, 366 (4th Cir. 2004) ("[W]hile an evaluation of the merits is not part of a Rule 23 analysis, the factors spelled out in Rule 23 must be addressed through findings, even if they overlap with issues on the merits.").

         The Supreme Court has noted that "'sometimes it may be necessary for the court to probe behind the pleadings before coming to rest on the certification question,' and that certification is proper only if 'the trial court is satisfied, after a rigorous analysis, that the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) have been satisfied.'" Wal-Mart, 564 U.S. at 350-51 (quoting Gen. Tel. Co. of the Sw. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 160 (1982)). However, "Rule 23 grants courts no license to engage in free-ranging merits inquiries at the certification stage." Amgen Inc. v. Connecticut Ret. Plans & Trust Funds, 568 U.S. 455, 466 (2013). "Rule 23(b)(3) requires a showing that questions common to the class predominate, not that those questions will be answered, on the merits, in favor of the class." Id. at 459.

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiffs request that their claims against Defendants be certified as a class action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b). (Mot. Mem. 2, ECF No. ...


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