Most of the cases discussed in this blog related to motion practice over certification issues or summary judgment rulings as they bear on class or collective actions. A recent case from the Western District of Pennsylvania highlights the availability of Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal of the class or collective claims based on run-of-the-mill form complaints.
In Mell v. GNC Corporation.pdf, Case No. 10-945 (W.D. Pa. Nov. 9, 2010), the plaintiffs were store managers employed by the GNC retail chain who sought to recover for unpaid overtime. As is typical in these cases, the plaintiffs contended that they were improperly classified as exempt from overtime, and sought to represent an FLSA collective class of store managers who had worked more than 40 hours per week. They also claimed that the defendant’s violations of the FLSA were “willful,” to take advantage of the longer statute of limitations for such claims.
The complaint in Mell was more or less a form document that stated the legal elements of their claims in yeoman-like fashion, but was generally light on the factual support of their claims. The defendant initially moved to dismiss their claims under Rule 12(b)(6), and then renewed its motion when the plaintiffs filed an amended pleading that provided little additional detail.
Relying on the recent Supreme Court opinions regarding pleading standards in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), the District Court dismissed the claims asserted in the amended complaint. Although the court noted that the plaintiffs had adequately pleaded the legal basis of their claims, the amended complaint did not include “sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is facially plausible.” (Quoting Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 201 (3d Cir. 2009)). The court found that the amended complaint was bereft of details as to the number and dates of overtime hours worked, the specifics of an alleged policy that employees should work off the clock, or the general allegation that the defendant had acted willfully.
The Mell case is notable not only for the result, the dismissal of an alleged nationwide collective action at the pleading stage, but also for its scholarly view of how other courts have addressed the Twombly pleading standards in the class action context. It reviewed competing lines of authority regarding the necessary specificity to support the existence of an overtime claim or class. The District Court’s decision is a helpful roadmap of arguments and authorities both in favor of and against dismissal of class complaints at such an early stage.
The Bottom Line: The Twombly pleading standards present an opportunity to challenge legally complete but factually thin class action complaints.