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Johnson v. Helion Technologies, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 17, 2019

TYLER JOHNSON, et al., Individually and on behalf of similarly situated employees
v.
HELION TECHNOLOGIES, INC.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DEBORAH K. CHASANOW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Presently pending in this Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) case are: (1) a motion for conditional certification and court-authorized notice filed by Plaintiffs Tyler Johnson, James Phelan, William Toomey, and Matthew Willis (“Plaintiffs”) (ECF No. 11); (2) a motion for leave to file an amended complaint filed by Plaintiffs (ECF No. 19); and (3) a motion to consolidate filed by Plaintiffs (ECF No. 22). The issues have been briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' motion to amend will be denied in part and granted in part; Plaintiffs' motion for conditional certification and court-authorized notice will be granted; and Plaintiffs' motion to consolidate will be denied as moot.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Tyler Johnson (“Plaintiff Johnson”) and Plaintiff James Phelan (“Plaintiff Phelan”) filed a complaint on behalf of themselves and those that are similarly situated on October 23, 2018. (ECF No. 1). The complaint alleges that Defendant improperly classified them as exempt employees and failed to pay them overtime wages in violation of the 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. & Emp. § 3-501 et seq. Plaintiff Matt Willis (“Plaintiff Willis”) filed a notice of consent to become a party-plaintiff on October 24, 2018. (ECF No. 3). Plaintiff William Toomey (“Plaintiff Toomey”) filed a notice of consent to become a party-plaintiff on November 8, 2018. (ECF No. 5).

         On December 6, 2018, Defendant filed lawsuits against Plaintiff Johnson and Plaintiff Toomey in Maryland state court. As defendants in those state cases, Johnson and Toomey filed Notices of Removal and removed the state court cases to this court. When the removed actions reached this court, they were filed as separate actions before different judges. A motion to consolidate was filed and one of the judges granted the motion, directing that all future filings be made in the FLSA case. The cases were then all assigned to this member of the bench. The order consolidating the cases was vacated and the lawsuit against Plaintiff Johnson, Civil Action No. 19-0036, was severed from the FLSA case and remanded to the Circuit Court. (ECF No. 33). The lawsuit against Plaintiff Toomey, Civil Action No. 19-0037, remains pending despite Defendant's filing of its first amended answer and counterclaim. (ECF No. 41). The parties submitted supplemental briefing to address the effect of Defendant's counterclaim against Plaintiff Toomey on the pending motion for conditional certification. (ECF No. 42; ECF No. 44).

         Defendant “provides information technology (“IT”) support for automobile dealerships. . . across the United States, providing for [its dealership clients] a reliable, efficient, and secure IT network and all troubleshooting assistance necessary to diagnose and resolve problems that arise within that network.” (ECF No. 21-1, at 2 ¶ 2). Defendant employed Plaintiff Johnson as a Desktop Support Technician and an Outsource Field Specialist. (ECF No. 11-3). Defendant employed Plaintiff Phelan as a Systems Support Technician. (ECF No. 11-5). Defendant employed Plaintiff Toomey as a Field Technician. (ECF No. 11-6). Defendant employed Plaintiff Willis as a Desktop Support Technician. (ECF No. 11-4).[1]

         On April 26, 2019, Plaintiff Willis and Defendant jointly moved for approval of acceptance of offer of judgment and entry of judgment. (ECF No. 34). On May 9, 2019, the court granted the joint motion and entered judgment in favor of Plaintiff Willis and against Defendant “in the amount of $2, 850.00 in wages, $2, 850.00 in liquidated damages, and $6, 112.00 in attorneys' fees and costs[.]” (ECF No. 36, at 1-2). The parties' supplemental briefing also addressed the effect of Plaintiff Willis's acceptance of the offer of judgment on the pending motion for conditional certification. (ECF No. 42; ECF No. 44).

         On August 20, 2019, Plaintiff Johnson and Defendant jointly moved for approval of acceptance of offer of judgment and entry of judgment. (ECF No. 45). The parties requested that the court approve Plaintiff Johnson's acceptance of Defendant's offer of judgment and enter judgment in favor of Plaintiff Johnson and against Defendant “in the amount of $5, 250.00 in wages, $5, 250.00 in liquidated damages, and $21, 000.00 in attorneys' fees and costs.” (ECF No. 45-1, at 1). The parties also indicated that Plaintiff Johnson's acceptance was “conditioned on [Defendant] dismissing with prejudice the action which [Defendant] has initiated against [Plaintiff Johnson] in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. . . and [Defendant] has agreed to that condition.” (Id., at 2). The court denied the motion without prejudice because the parties failed to provide any information to support the requested attorneys' fees and costs. (ECF No. 46, at 7-8). Nevertheless, the court decided the presently pending motions with the expectation that the parties will address the joint motion's deficiencies and that Plaintiff Johnson will no longer proceed as a plaintiff in this action.

         II. Motion to Amend

         Plaintiffs filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint on January 28, 2019. (ECF No. 19). A party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within 21 days after serving it or within 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b), whichever is earlier. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1). When the right to amend as a matter of course expires, “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Rule 15(a)(2) provides that courts should “freely give leave [to amend] when justice so requires, ” and commits the matter to the discretion of the district court. See Simmons v. United Mortg. & Loan Inv., LLC, 634 F.3d 754, 769 (4th Cir. 2011). Denial of leave to amend is appropriate “only when the amendment would be prejudicial to the opposing party, there has been bad faith on the part of the moving party, or the amendment would be futile.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 242 (4th Cir. 1999) (emphasis in original) (quoting Johnson v. Oroweat Foods Co., 785 F.2d 503, 509 (4th Cir. 1986)).

         Leave to amend may be denied as futile “if the proposed amended complaint fails to satisfy the requirements of the federal rules[, ]” including federal pleading standards. Katyle v. Perm Nat. Gaming, Inc., 637 F.3d 462, 471 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting United States ex rel. Wilson v. Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., 525 F.3d 370, 376 (4th Cir. 2008); Oroweat Foods Co., 785 F.2d at 510 (“Leave to amend, however, should only be denied on the ground of futility when the proposed amendment is clearly insufficient or frivolous on its face.” (citations omitted)). A pleading need not contain detailed factual allegations, but the plaintiff must allege enough facts to make the claim appear “plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” (citation omitted)). Accordingly, denial of leave to amend is appropriate if the court, taking as true the allegations of the proposed amended pleading, would be compelled to dismiss the action. See Kellogg Brown & Root, 525 F.3d at 376.

         In the motion for leave to amend, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant filed lawsuits against Plaintiffs Johnson and Toomey in Maryland state court “for a retaliatory purpose.”[2] (ECF No. 19, at 1 ¶ 5). Plaintiffs' motion attaches a Proposed Amended Complaint (“PAC”) that alleges Defendant's “claims against Plaintiffs Johnson and Toomey are baseless.” (Id. at 2, ¶ 9). The PAC also attaches affidavits from Plaintiffs Johnson and Toomey. (ECF No. 19-3; ECF No. 19-4).

         Defendant challenges Plaintiff's motion on two grounds: (1) amendment would be futile; and, (2) amendment would be duplicative of the counterclaims raised by Plaintiffs Johnson and Toomey in the state court cases. (ECF No. 23, at 3-11).

         Plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint to include allegations that Defendant filed the lawsuit against Plaintiff Johnson for a retaliatory purpose will be denied. The parties represented to the court that Plaintiff Johnson accepted an offer of judgment and that Defendant agreed to dismiss its action against Plaintiff Johnson. (ECF No. 45-1, at 1-2). ...


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