United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
LATONYA LEE, Individually and on Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiff,
THE CHILDREN'S PLACE RETAIL STORES, INC. Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ROBERT W. GETTLEMAN, District Judge.
Plaintiff LaTonya Lee filed a five-count putative class action complaint alleging that her former employer, defendant The Children's Place Retail Store, Inc. ("TCP"), failed to pay actual and overtime compensation to her and other employees (non-exempt, store-level employees) in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. (Count I, II, & III), the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, 820 ILCS § 105, et seq. (Count IV), and the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, 820 § 115/1, et seq. (Count V). Defendant has filed the instant motion to strike class allegations pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(1)(A) and (d)(1)(D) and 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), contending that plaintiff cannot establish typicality and adequacy of representation, Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a)(3)-(4). For the following reasons, defendant's motion is granted.
Plaintiff, an hourly employee, was employed by defendant TCP as an assistant manager. Plaintiff alleges that defendant withheld actual and overtime pay from her and other employees by requiring them to perform work off-the-clock, without compensation. Specifically, plaintiff complains that she and other members of the class were required to work off-the-clock in the morning prior to the start of their shifts, were regularly interrupted to perform work during unpaid meal breaks, and that defendant frequently initiated telephone conversations with them during scheduled time off.
I. Motion to Strike Class Allegations
Defendant brings its motion to strike class allegations pursuant to Rule 23(c)(1)(A) and (d)(1)(D). Rule 23(c)(1)(A) provides that the court, "[a]t an early practicable time after a person sues or is sued as a class representative, the court must determine by order whether to certify the action as a class action." Rule 23(d)(1)(D) provides that, "[i]n conducting an action under this rule, the court may issue orders that... require that the pleadings be amended to eliminate allegations about representation of absent persons and that the action proceed accordingly." Contrary to plaintiff's contention that such motions are disfavored, courts in this district and others have held that a motion to strike class allegations, made pursuant to these provisions, is an appropriate device to determine whether the case will proceed as a class action. E.g., Muehlbauer v. General Motors Corp. , 431 F.Supp.2d 847, 870 (N.D. Ill. 2006); Valentine v. WideOpen West Finance, LLC , 288 F.R.D. 407, 414 (N.D. Ill. 2012); Buonomo v. Optimum Outcomes, Inc., No. 13-CV-5274, 2014 WL 1013841, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 17, 2014); Cornette v. Jenny Garton Ins. Agency, Inc., No. 2:10-CV-60, 2010 WL 2196533, at *2 (N.D. W.Va. May 27, 2010).
Although it will often not be "practicable" for the court to determine whether to certify the case as a class action at the pleading stage, "sometimes the complaint will make it clear that class certification is inappropriate." Hill v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. , 946 F.Supp.2d 817, 829 (N.D. Ill. 2013); see also Kasalo v. Harris & Harris, Ltd. , 656 F.3d 557, 563 (7th Cir. 2011) ("Consistent with [Rule 23(c)(1)(A)'s] language, a court may deny class certification even before the plaintiff files a motion requesting certification."). The Supreme Court has recognized as much, noting that "[s]ometimes the issues are plain enough from the pleadings to determine whether the interests of the absent parties are fairly encompassed within the named plaintiff's claim." Gen. Tel. Co. of Sw. v. Falcon , 457 U.S. 147, 160 (1982). In such circumstances, a court may determine that class certification is inappropriate prior to the parties conducting class discovery. Buonomo, 2014 WL 1013841, at *2.
Plaintiff argues that defendant's motion to strike should be denied because it is not evident from her complaint, standing alone, that a class action cannot be maintained. Plaintiff cites this court's decision in Wright v. Family Dollar, Inc., No. 10-C-4410 , 2010 WL 4962838 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 30, 2010), arguing that in order for a district court to strike class allegations prior to discovery, it is an essential requirement that the complaint expose class conflicts on its face. Plaintiff contends that in Family Dollar, class conflicts were evident from the complaint alone, and that this court did not have to "delve into the defendant's... facts within its motion" to conclude that class certification was inappropriate. Plaintiff misconstrues the court's opinion in Family Dollar.
Unlike a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) that limits the court to considering only the plaintiff's complaint, when considering class certification under Rule 23, a district court may look beneath the surface of a complaint. Szabo v. Bridgeport Machs., Inc. , 249 F.3d 672, 677 (7th Cir. 2001); see also Hamilton v. O'Connor Chevrolet, Inc., No. 2-C-1897 , 2006 WL 1697171, at *3 (N.D. Ill. June 12, 2006) ("[A] district court often probes behind a plaintiff's allegations or assertions because it is necessary to determine whether, if the class were certified, the issues presented could fairly and confidently be resolved with respect to all the absent class members...."). Because defendant's motion to strike class allegations is a vehicle for analyzing the appropriateness of class certification, contrary to plaintiff's contentions, the court is not limited to the face of plaintiff's complaint when considering the motion. This court looked beyond the complaint in Family Dollar, finding that a conflict existed between associates who were promoted to managers and associates who worked for those managers. As evidenced by the opinion's only footnote, the court identified this conflict from an affidavit supplied by the defendant. Moreover, in holding that the plaintiff could not establish typicality, the court relied on the fact that the defendant had unique defenses against the plaintiff and other class members. These unique defenses, of course, were articulated in the defendant's pleadings.
Other courts in this district have similarly looked outside the complaint when presented with a motion to strike class allegations. In Bohn v. Boiron, Inc., the court struck plaintiff's class allegations, concluding that a previous class action barred plaintiff from representing the putative class. No. 11-C-08704, 2013 WL 3975126 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 1, 2013); In re Yasmin & Yaz (Drospirenone) Mktg. , 275 F.R.D. 270, 274 (S.D. Ill. 2011) ("After reviewing the parties' briefs... it is obvious from the pleadings that no class action can be maintained.").
II. IWPCA Class Action
A. Legal Standard
Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 requires a two-step analysis to determine whether class certification is appropriate. First, plaintiffs must satisfy all four requirements of Rule 23(a): (1) numerosity; (2) commonality; (3) typicality; and (4) adequacy of representation. Failure to meet any one of these four requirements precludes class certification. Oshana v. Coca-Cola Co. , 472 F.3d 506, 513 (7th Cir. 2006). Second, plaintiffs must satisfy at least one provision of Rule 23(b). Here, plaintiff seeks monetary damages, and therefore must satisfy Rule 23(b)(3), which requires ...