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Catherine Copello and Annette Allen, On Behalf of Themselves and Other Plaintiffs Similarly Situated v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc

August 2, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Feinerman


Plaintiff Catherine Copello filed this lawsuit against her former employer, Defendant Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc., alleging that it wrongfully deprived her of overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law ("IMWL"), 820 ILCS 105 et seq. For the IMWL claim, the complaint alleged that Copello could represent a class, to be certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, consisting of similarly situated Boehringer pharmaceutical sales representatives ("PSRs") in Illinois. For the FLSA claims, the complaint alleged that Copello could lead a collective action under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) on behalf of similarly situated Boehringer PSRs nationwide.

Boehringer filed an answer denying that it violated the law and a counterclaim seeking a declaration that its separation agreement with Copello prohibits her from participating in an IMWL class action or an FLSA collective action against the company. Copello's answer to the counterclaim denies that her separation agreement imposes that prohibition. However, in an effort to hedge her (and/or her counsel's) bets on that issue, Copello simultaneously moved for leave to file an amended complaint naming Annette Allen, another Illinois-based Boehringer PSR, as an additional plaintiff. The court allowed the amended complaint to be filed.

Three motions followed. First, Boehringer moved to dismiss Allen's FLSA claims on the ground, among others, that Allen previously opted into Ruggeri v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc.,No. 3:06-CV-1985 (D. Conn.), a pending FLSA collective action brought by Boehringer PSRs in the District of Connecticut. Second, Plaintiffs moved for conditional certification of an FLSA collective action under § 216(b). Third, Boehringer moved for partial summary judgment on its counterclaim against Copello. Boehringer's motions are granted and Plaintiffs' motion is denied.


I. Boehringer's Motion To Dismiss Allen's FLSA Claims

The Ruggeri action was filed in December 2006 by Boehringer PSRs from Illinois and elsewhere. See generally Ruggeri v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharms., Inc.,2009 WL 1505580 (D. Conn. May 26, 2009); Ruggeri v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharms., Inc.,585 F. Supp. 2d 308 (D. Conn. 2008); Ruggeri v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharms., Inc.,585 F. Supp. 2d 254 (D. Conn. 2008). Represented by Plaintiffs' counsel in this lawsuit, the Ruggeri plaintiffs brought claims under FLSA, IMWL, and other state wage laws materially identical to the claims brought here. In February 2008, the Ruggeri court entered an order declining supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims and conditionally certifying a nationwide FLSA collective action under § 216(b). Ruggeri v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharms., Inc.,No. 3:06-CV-1985, Rulings on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Rule 23 Class Allegations and Plaintiffs' Motion for Conditional Certification (D. Conn. Feb. 26, 2008) (reproduced here at Doc. 57-20). Allen filed a written consent (reproduced here at Doc. 28-1 at 3-4) in November 2008 opting in to the Ruggeri collective action. Copello did not opt in.

Boehringer contends that Allen's FLSA claims here should be dismissed as duplicative of her FLSA claims in Ruggeri. "As a general rule, a federal suit may be dismissed for reasons of wise judicial administration . whenever it is duplicative of a parallel action already pending in another federal court." Serlin v. Arthur Andersen & Co., 3 F.3d 221, 223 (7th Cir. 1993) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 817 (1976) ("[a]s between federal district courts . the general principle is to avoid duplicative litigation"); Trippe Mfg. Co. v. Am. Power Conversion Corp., 46 F.3d 624, 629 (7th Cir. 1995) ("Federal district courts have the inherent power to administer their dockets so as to conserve scarce judicial resources. . A district court has an ample degree of discretion in deferring to another federal proceeding involving the same parties and issues to avoid duplicative litigation.") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Allen concedes that her FLSA claims here duplicate those in Ruggeri, but she cites Calvert Fire Insurance Co. v. American Mutual Reinsurance Co., 600 F.2d 1228, 1234 (7th Cir. 1979), for the proposition that a district court presented with a duplicative case "should consider any special factors counseling for or against the exercise of jurisdiction." Allen notes that if her FLSA claims are dismissed, she still will pursue her IMWL claim here and Boehringer still will have to defend FLSA claims both here and in Ruggeri. From this premise, Allen maintains that dismissing her FLSA claims "will produce no gains in judicial efficiency, nor reduce the burden on Defendant of litigating this case." Doc. 53 at 3.

Allen is right that dismissing her FLSA claims would leave FLSA claims pending here (on behalf of Copello) and in Ruggeri (on behalf of the opt-in plaintiffs there), and would leave Allen litigating both here (under IMWL) and in Ruggeri (under FLSA). But Allen identifies nothing by way of wise judicial administration or judicial efficiency that would be gained by allowing her to pursue her FLSA claims here. She does mention the convenience to her of litigating her FLSA and IMWL claims in the same forum. Allen's submission rings hollow; if Boehringer's answer and counterclaim had not challenged Copello's ability to participate in a class or collective action, Allen almost certainly would not have appeared here as a second plaintiff. Also, if Allen were truly concerned about pursuing her IMWL claims, she would have filed an IMWL suit in Illinois in or shortly after November 2008, when she opted into Ruggeri and became aware (either personally or through counsel) that the Ruggeri court in February 2008 had declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the IMWL claims filed there. Instead, Allen waited until January 2011, over two years later, to seek redress under IMWL, and then only because counsel feared that a class or collective action might not be possible with Copello as the lone plaintiff.

Even if Allen's personal interests carried any weight, they would matter little in the context of the putative IMWL class action here and the FLSA collective action in Ruggeri. To the contrary, because (as shown below) Copello cannot lead an FLSA collective action, dismissing Allen's FLSA claims will ensure that materially identical FLSA collective actions seeking overtime pay on behalf of Boehringer PSRs will not proceed simultaneously in two separate forums, thus avoiding duplicative efforts by two federal district courts and the potential for inconsistent results. It follows that preventing Allen from pursuing duplicative FLSA claims here would advance, not detract from, wise judicial administration. See Romine v. Compuserve Corp., 160 F.3d 337, 340 (6th Cir. 1998) (disapproving duplicative class actions); Goff v. Menke, 672 F.2d 702, 704-05 (8th Cir. 1982) (same); Becker v. Schenley Indus., Inc., 557 F.2d 346, 348 (2d Cir. 1977) (same); Alvarez v. Gold Belt, LLC, 2011 WL 1337457, at *1-2 (D.N.J. Apr. 7, 2011) (disapproving duplicative FLSA collective actions); Abushalieh v. Am. Eagle Express, Inc., 716 F. Supp. 2d 361, 365-66 (D.N.J. 2010) (same, where the first action was filed almost a year before the second, duplicative action); Benavides v. Home Depot USA, Inc., 2006 WL 1406722, at *1-2 (S.D. Tex. May 19, 2006) (same, where the first action was filed over a year before the second, duplicative action). Accordingly, Allen's FLSA claims are dismissed. See Central States, Se. & Sw. Pension Fund v. Paramount Liquor Co., 203 F.3d 442, 445 (7th Cir. 2000) ("Outright dismissal [rather than a stay] is most likely to be appropriate when, as in Serlin v. Arthur Andersen & Co., . the same party has filed all of the suits.").

II. Boehringer's Motion For Partial Summary Judgment Against Copello

When Copello left Boehringer's employ in late October 2009, the parties entered into a Separation Agreement and General Release ("Agreement"). Doc. 11-1. Paragraph 4 of the Agreement entitled Copello to outplacement services and a severance payment of nearly $15,000. Paragraph 5 provides that Copello "understands and agrees that [she] would not receive the severance benefits specified in Paragraph 4 above, without [her] execution of this Agreement and the fulfillment of the promises contained herein." Id. at 3. Paragraph 6, entitled "General Release of All Claims and Covenant Not to Sue," provides in pertinent part:

Employee knowingly and voluntarily waives, releases and forever discharges the Company . of and from any and all claims . which Employee has or may have against Releasees as of the date of the Employee's execution of this Agreement . .

Employee further waives and gives up any right to become, and promises not to consent to become, a member of any class in a case in which claims are asserted against the Company that are related in any way to Employee's employment or the termination of Employee's employment with the Company. If, without Employee's prior knowledge and consent, Employee is made a member ...

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