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Nicholson v. UTI Worldwide

February 12, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge J. Phil Gilbert United States District Court


This cause has come before the Court upon the motion of defendants UTi Worldwide, Inc. and UTi Integrated Logistics, Inc. (collectively "UTi") seeking dismissal of plaintiff Edward Earl Nicholson's Amended Complaint with prejudice (Doc. 22) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Nicholson has responded to the motion (Doc. 28), and UTi has replied to that response (Doc. 31).

I. Dismissal Standard

When reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all allegations in the complaint. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To avoid dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, a complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This requirement is satisfied if the complaint (1) describes the claim in sufficient detail to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests and (2) plausibly suggests that the plaintiff has a right to relief above a speculative level. Bell Atl., 550 U.S. at 555; see EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atl., 550 U.S. at 556). The complaint must contain "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl., 550 U.S. at 555. It must plead facts that "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id.

II. Factual Allegations

Beginning in November 2008, Nicholson began working for UTi as a forklift operator in one of its warehouses in Madison County, Illinois. As such, he was an hourly worker protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law ("IMWL"), 820 ILCS § 105/1 et seq. During his employment, UTi required its forklift operators to "work before their paid shifts donning special clothing and protective gear, locating forklifts, inspecting forklifts, completing inspection documents, changing forklift batteries, logging into computer systems and applications, obtaining supplies, and driving or walking to assigned work areas." Am. Compl. ¶ 1. He and other forklift operators were sometimes required to replace pallets and arrange work areas before their paid shifts began, and were required to work during unpaid lunch breaks. Id. He does not plead any more specifics, giving no estimate of the magnitude or frequency of time he worked outside his paid shift or his wage rate at the relevant times.

Nicholson filed this lawsuit in September 2009. His amended complaint alleges five causes of action: a claim for failure to pay overtime wages in violation of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1) (Count I); a claim for failure to pay regular and overtime wages in violation of the IMWL, 820 ILCS § 105/4(a)(1) (Count II); and state common law claims for breach of contract (Count III), quantum meruit (Count IV) and unjust enrichment (Count V), all three of which seek unpaid regular and overtime wages. He also asserts he should be allowed to file a collective action in Count I under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) and a class action in Counts II through V under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 on behalf of those similarly situated to him.

UTi asks the Court to dismiss Nicholson's claims on the grounds that he has not pled sufficient facts under Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) to state a cause of action. It further claims that he is not entitled to bring a private cause of action for a record-keeping violation under the FLSA or the IMWL, that his quantum meruit (Count IV) and unjust enrichment (Count V) claims are preempted by the FLSA, and that he has pled insufficient facts to justify a collective or class action. On the other side, Nicholson asserts he has satisfied the liberal federal notice pleading standard even in light of Bell Atlantic and Iqbal, that he has not alleged a claim for a record-keeping violation, that his quantum meruit and unjust enrichment claims are proper because they were intended to be pled in the alternative, and that his class allegations are sufficient.

III. Analysis

A. Sufficiency of Pleading Individual Claims

The FLSA and the IMWL require employers to pay employees one and one-half times his regular hourly wage for hours worked beyond forty hours in one week. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1); 820 ILCS § 105/4a(1). The IMWL also provides that, for the time period relevant to this case, employers must pay employees at least an average wage of $7.75 per hour on or before June 30, 2009, and $8.00 per hour on or after July 1, 2009. 820 ILCS § 105/4(a)(1). UTi argues Nicholson has not sufficiently pled these statutory claims and related common law claims under the revised pleading standards set forth in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009).

While Bell Atlantic, and Iqbal modified federal pleading requirements, they did not do away with the liberal federal notice pleading standard. Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2007). A complaint still need not contain detailed factual allegations, Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555, and it remains true that "[a]ny district judge (for that matter, any defendant) tempted to write 'this complaint is deficient because it does not contain...' should stop and think: What rule of law requires a complaint to contain that allegation?" Doe v. Smith, 429 F.3d 706, 708 (7th Cir. 2005) (emphasis in original); accord Vincent v. City Colleges of Chi., 485 F.3d 919, 924 (7th Cir. 2007).

UTi argues that Nicholson's claims should be dismissed because he failed to allege the amount of unpaid wages allegedly due to him. Specifically, UTi argues Nicholson must allege the number and approximate dates of the unpaid hours he worked, his hourly wage and sufficient information for the Court to be able to calculate the damages. It also faults Nicholson for failing to allege sufficient facts to establish the overtime was not subject to the de minimis exception to the FLSA's wage requirements. See Gonzalez v. Farmington Foods, Inc., 296 F. Supp. 2d 912, 927 (N.D. Ill. 2003). In support of this argument, it points to a handful of cases holding that an FLSA plaintiff must plead details of their wage claims. See, e.g., Zhong v. August August Corp., 498 F. Supp. 2d 625 (S.D.N.Y. 2007); Villegas v. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., No. C 09-00261 SBA, 2009 WL 605833 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 9, 2009); Bailey ex rel. v. Border Foods, Inc., No. 09-1230 (RHK/AJB), 2009 WL 3248305 (D. Minn. Oct. 6, 2009); Jones v. Casey's Gen. Stores, 538 F. Supp. 2d 1094 (S.D. Iowa 2008).

For example, in Zhong, a plaintiff sued on behalf of himself and others similarly situated alleging their employer withheld overtime compensation and minimum wages required by the FLSA. Zhong, 498 F. Supp. 2d at 627. The Zhong court noted that an unpaid minimum or overtime wage complaint "should indicate the applicable rate of pay and the amount of unpaid minimum or overtime wages due," and that, while the plaintiff had not specifically made such allegations with respect to his minimum wage claim, he alleged ...

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