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Cisneros v. Taco Burrito King 4, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 14, 2014

JOSE E. CISNEROS, Plaintiff,
v.
TACO BURRITO KING 4, INC., TACO BURRITO KING 5, INC., TACO BURRITO KING 7, INC., TACO BURRITO KING 12, INC., TACO BURRITO KING 14, INC., and URIEL LAMAS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES B. ZAGEL, District Judge.

On September 27, 2013, Plaintiff Jose E. Cisneros filed a complaint against Defendants Taco Burrito King 4, Inc., Taco Burrito King 5, Inc., Taco Burrito King 7, Inc., Taco Burrito King 12, Inc., Taco Burrito King 14, Inc., and Uriel Lamas alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201 et seq. and the Illinois Minimum Wage law, 820 ILCS 105/12(a) and seeking overtime wages. Before the court is Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

I. BACKGROUND

Uriel Lamas is the President of Taco Burrito King 4, Inc., Taco Burrito King 5, Inc., Taco Burrito King 7, Inc., Taco Burrito King 12, Inc., and Taco Burrito King 14, Inc., an enterprise of Illinois corporations engaged in the production of goods for commerce and operation of a chain of Mexican restaurants. At all relevant times, Defendants employed Plaintiff Jose E. Cisneros as a cook. Plaintiff worked in excess of forty hours per week, but was not paid overtime wages.

On September 27, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Complaint alleging that Defendants failure to compensate him for overtime wages was in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 USC 201 et seq. and the Illinois Minimum Wage law, 820 ILCS 105/12(a) for overtime wages. Plaintiff seeks a judgment in the amount of one and one-half times the greater of the State mandated minimum wage rate or Plaintiff's regular rate for overtime hours, damages, reasonable attorneys' fees, and any other relief this Court deems appropriate and just.

On November 14, 2013, Defendants sent Plaintiff a letter ("Offer Letter") to "fully satisfy Mr. Cisneros' claims" pursuant to applicable laws for full relief of claims alleged in his Complaint, including liquidated damages, costs, and reasonable attorneys' fees. Def. Mem. Ex. C. On the same day, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that Plaintiff's claims had become moot subsequent to Defendants' offer of complete relief. On December 13, 2013, Plaintiff filed a motion for conditional certification and issuance of notice to similarly situated persons, as well as a response to Defendants' motion to dismiss contesting the completeness of Defendants' offer.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Article III of the United States Constitution confers on the federal courts jurisdiction over cases and controversies. Both litigants must have a personal interest in the case at the beginning of the litigation, and their interests must persist throughout its entirety. Holstein v. City of Chi., 29 F.3d 1145, 1147 (7th Cir. 1994). A case becomes moot when one of the parties loses his personal interest in the outcome of the suit. Id. Therefore, once a defendant offers to satisfy the plaintiff's entire demand, a plaintiff loses the controversy necessary to support jurisdiction. Rand v. Monsanto Co., 926 F.2d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 1991). The plaintiff that refuses to acknowledge that there remains no dispute over which to litigate loses outright because he has no remaining stake. Id.

Where a plaintiff seeks to represent a class of individuals with similar claims, the application of this doctrine is more complicated. Holstein, 29 F.3d at 1147. In such a case, mootness is avoided "if the district court has certified the class before the expiration of the plaintiff's claims." Id.

III. DISCUSSION

Defendants move to dismiss the action on the grounds that Defendants' offer to satisfy Plaintiff's entire demand moots Plaintiff's claim. Defendants further contend that because Plaintiff's claims became moot before a class was conditionally certified and before any additional class members opted-in, no justiciable dispute exists and this action must be dismissed. Plaintiff advances three arguments in his favor. First, Plaintiff argues that Defendants did not offer complete relief because Defendants' offer failed to correctly calculate overtime wages, improperly deducted a meal credit, and did not provide punitive damages. Second, Plaintiff contends that Defendants failed to make an offer in adherence with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 68. Third, Plaintiff argues that his Motion for Conditional Certification saves his claim from mootness.

1. Defendants' offer afforded complete relief

Plaintiff's first argument is that Defendant failed to make an offer affording complete relief. A complete offer, by giving the plaintiff the equivalent of a default judgment, eliminates a legal dispute upon which federal jurisdiction can be based. Id. at 1147 (court found plaintiff's claim satisfied where it was uncontested that defendant's offer adequately reimbursed him and was sincere); Rand, 926 F.2d at 597-98. While a plaintiff may not refuse a defendant's valid offer providing complete relief merely to preserve his interest, rejection of an offer of less than the complete relief sought will not make a claim moot. Greisz v. Household Bank (Illinois), 176 F.3d 1012, 1015 (7th Cir. 1999). To that end, an offer is not complete simply because a defendant tenders everything he admits is due based on the assumption that his legal position is sound. Gates v. Towery, 430 F.3d 429, 432 (7th Cir.2005). Such an offer that fails to satisfy the plaintiff's demands does not eliminate the controversy to make a suit moot. Id. at 432. Rather, mootness occurs when no more relief is possible. Id. at 431-32.

Defendants' offer, submitted on November 14, 2013, provided that it would pay Plaintiff's overtime wages for the past three years and liquidated damages in the amount of $4, 233.42, and reasonable attorneys' fees and costs incurred by Plaintiff in connection with this case, to be determined, if necessary, by a court. Defendants provided a summary of estimated hours and wages owed Plaintiff, and additionally reserved that "if upon review of the records, [Plaintiff] establishes that additional sums are owed to Mr. Cisneros for time worked or overtime, [Defendants] will adjust [their] offer accordingly." Def. Mem. Ex. C, Offer Letter. Plaintiff first disputed that Defendants' offer was complete on December 13, 2013 in his Response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. Specifically, Plaintiff contended that ...


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