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Johnson v. Melton Truck Lines, Inc.

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

September 30, 2016

DAVID M. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,



         The plaintiff, David M. Johnson, has filed suit against his former employer, Melton Truck Lines, Inc. (“Melton”), a number of individuals associated with Melton-Robert Peterson, Michael Dargel, Ramona Williams, and Robert Ragan, [1] Melton Truck Lines, Inc. Occupational Injury Benefit Plan (“the Plan”) (collectively with Melton and the individual defendants, the “Melton defendants”), Melton's insurer Great West Casualty Company (“Great West”), and individuals associated with Great West-Tanya Jensen and Blane Brummond (collectively, the “Great West defendants”). Johnson asserts a variety of federal and state claims, including violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), the Lanham Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), invasion of privacy, breach of contract, wrongful termination, and retaliation, among others. See Sec. Am. Compl. (“SAC”), ECF No. 103. Pending before the Court are the Great West defendants' motion to dismiss, ECF No. 117, and motion for sanctions against Johnson, ECF No. 132, the Melton defendants' motion to dismiss, ECF No. 156, and Johnson's motion for sanctions against Great West, ECF No. 137. For the following reasons, the motions to dismiss are granted in part and denied in part and the sanctions motions are denied.


         Johnson's Second Amended Complaint is no less prolix than his original complaint; in fact, Johnson has expanded his allegations in the SAC, which runs to 48 pages and 265 paragraphs. As in his original complaint, the SAC is replete with misused legal jargon and omits many facts necessary to the formation of a coherent narrative. The Opinion granting Great West's motion to dismiss the original Complaint explains some of the background between the parties. See Johnson v. Great W. Cas. Co., No. 14 C 7858, 2015 WL 4751128, at *1-2 (N.D.Ill. Aug. 11, 2015).[3] To briefly summarize, Johnson claims that he injured his hand on May 3, 2013 while driving for his employer, Melton Truck Lines, in Alabama. Melton subsequently terminated Johnson's employment on or about June 12, 2013. Thereafter, Johnson filed a workers' compensation claim in Ohio with Great West, Melton's workers' compensation insurer, which was disallowed for lack of jurisdiction. See Pet. Conf. Arb. Award Ex. A, ECF No. 62 (disallowance affirmed on appeal to Ohio Industrial Commission). Johnson also filed a workers' compensation claim in Illinois, which was eventually dismissed for failure to appear.[4] See GW Mot. Dismiss 4, ECF No. 117; see also Pet. Conf. Arb. Award Ex. B.

         The Opinion dismissing the original Complaint advised Johnson that claims premised upon the defendants' opposition to his workers' compensation claim “are the province of the [Illinois Workers Compensation Commission], not a federal court.” Johnson, 2015 WL 4751128, at *2 (“the exclusive remedy for ‘unreasonable or vexatious' efforts to avoid and delay payment of workers' compensation benefits is an award of additional compensation under the [Illinois Workers' Compensation Act].”). Nonetheless, a number of Johnson's new allegations continue to assert liability based on the defendants' opposition to his workers compensation claims. See SAC (Counts V-VI, IX-XI, XIV). To these claims against the Great Western defendants, Johnson now asserts claims against the Melton defendants based on his recruitment to, employment with, and termination from, Melton. The defendants have filed motions to dismiss, arguing that Johnson has not stated a claim entitling him to any relief from this Court.[5] Both Johnson and the Great West defendants have filed motions for sanctions pursuant to Rule 11.


         I. Personal Jurisdiction over Individual Melton Defendants

         The individual Melton defendants move to dismiss the SAC under Rule 12(b)(2), arguing that Johnson has failed to establish that this Court has personal jurisdiction over them. Melton Mem. in Supp. 2; Melton Reply 2-5, ECF No. 179. A federal court in Illinois may exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant if the Illinois long-arm statute would allow it. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(k)(1)(A); uBID, Inc. v. GoDaddy Grp., Inc., 623 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2010). Because Illinois' statute contains a catch-all provision that permits personal jurisdiction if it would be authorized by either the Illinois Constitution or the United States Constitution, the state statutory and federal constitutional requirements merge. Id.; see 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/2-209(c).

         Personal jurisdiction may be “general” or “specific.” Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746, 754 (2014); Int'l Shoe Co. v. State of Wash., Office of Unemployment Comp. & Placement, 326 U.S. 310, 318 (1945). General personal jurisdiction exists where the defendant's continuous operations within the forum state are “so substantial and of such a nature as to justify suit against it on causes of action arising from dealings entirely distinct from those activities.” Daimler AG, 134 S.Ct. at 754 (quoting Int'l Shoe Co., 326 U.S. at 318). “For an individual, the paradigm forum for the exercise of general jurisdiction is the individual's domicile.” Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 131 S.Ct. 2846, 2853 (2011).

         Specific personal jurisdiction exists when the plaintiff's claims against the defendant arise out of the defendant's constitutionally sufficient contacts with the forum state. uBID, Inc., 623 F.3d at 425; Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 n.8 (1984). “The key question is therefore whether the defendant [has] sufficient ‘minimum contacts' with Illinois such that the maintenance of the suit ‘does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Tamburo v. Dworkin, 601 F.3d 693, 700-701 (7th Cir. 2010), citing Int'l Shoe Co., 326 U.S. at 316. Specific jurisdiction requires that (1) the defendant has purposely directed his activities at the forum state or purposefully availed himself of the privilege of conducting business in the state, and (2) the alleged injury arises out of the defendant's forum-related activities. Id. at 702, citing Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472 (1985).

         Given that the defendants have moved to dismiss the SAC for a lack of personal jurisdiction, the burden shifts to Johnson to show that such jurisdiction exists. Purdue Research Found. v. Sanofi-Synthelabo, S.A., 338 F.3d 773, 782 (7th Cir. 2003). Johnson alleges that because defendants Peterson, Williams, and Dargel interacted with him by both phone and email on matters related to Johnson's employment with Melton, both specific and general personal jurisdiction exists. See, e.g., SAC ¶¶ 27, 33, 55, 112-13, 248, 250, 256, 262. As to defendant Ragan, Johnson alleges no facts indicating that Ragan had any contacts with Illinois; instead, the complaint merely describes Ragan as the administrator of Melton's Injury Benefit Plan. See SAC ¶¶ 141, 152, 156.

         Here, it is apparent that Johnson's allegations have failed to demonstrate that this Court has personal jurisdiction over any of the individual Melton defendants. In order for a court to exercise general jurisdiction over an individual defendant, that defendant must be a citizen of the forum state or have contacts that are so “continuous and systematic” with the forum state that, for all intents and purposes, they are at home in that state. See, e.g., Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 416 (1984). For the purposes of general jurisdiction, individual defendants are considered citizens of the state in which they reside with the intent to remain indefinitely. Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 923 (2011) (noting that “[f]or an individual, the paradigm forum for the exercise of general jurisdiction is the individual's domicile.”). The complaint makes plain that none of the individual Melton defendants are domiciled in Illinois; all three of these defendants reside in Tulsa, Oklahoma and, although residence does not necessarily equate to domicile, no facts are alleged to suggest that with respect to these defendants their residence and domicile are not one and the same. See SAC ¶¶ 8-10, 12. Nor does the complaint does not allege any facts indicating that the defendants have “systematic and continuous” contacts with Illinois to the extent required for the exercise of general jurisdiction over a non-citizen defendant. See Goodyear, 564 U.S. at 930. Here, the individual Melton defendants' alleged contacts with Illinois are limited to a few phone calls and emails. See SAC ¶¶ 18, 33, 112-13. Such limited, infrequent conduct does not warrant a finding of general personal jurisdiction over any of the individual Melton defendants.

         Nor do the few phone calls or business solicitation emails establish specific jurisdiction. To establish specific jurisdiction, a plaintiff must show that (1) the defendant purposefully availed himself of the privilege of conducting business in the forum state; (2) the alleged injury must have arisen from the defendant's activities within the forum; and (3) the exercise of jurisdiction comports with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. Felland v. Clifton, 682 F.3d 665, 673 (7th Cir. 2012). Here, it is apparent the individual defendants did not purposely avail themselves to the benefits of Illinois; their alleged contacts with Illinois are limited to Peterson's emails to Johnson advertising Melton, Williams' phone calls to Johnson regarding his scheduling, and Dargel's email regarding Johnson's termination. SAC ¶¶ 18, 33, 112-13. These allegations only connect Peterson, Williams, and Dargel to Johnson, who happens to live in Illinois.[6] And they provide no connection at all between Illinois and Ragan, who merely administered Melton's Personal Benefit Plan. The Seventh Circuit has made clear that “‘the plaintiff cannot be the only link between the defendant and the forum.'” Advanced Tactical Ordnance Sys., LLC v. Real Action Paintball, Inc., 751 F.3d 796, 802 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Walden v. Fiore, 134 S.Ct. 1115, 1122 (2014)). Thus, the connection between the individual Melton defendants and Johnson is not sufficient to connect those defendants to Illinois for the purposes of specific jurisdiction.

         Even if the few interactions Peterson, Williams, and Dargel had were sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction in Illinois, the individual defendants argue that because their alleged interactions with Johnson were on behalf of their employer, they are protected by the fiduciary shield doctrine. Illinois recognizes the fiduciary shield doctrine, which “denies personal jurisdiction over an individual whose presence and activity in the state in which the suit is brought were solely on behalf of his employer or other principal.” Fletcher v. Doig, 125 F.Supp.3d 697, 716 (N.D.Ill. 2014) (quoting Rice v. Nova Biomedical Corp., 38 F.3d 909, 912 (7th Cir. 1994)); see also ISI Int'l, Inc. v. Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, 256 F.3d 548, 550 (7th Cir. 2001) (“Illinois employs the fiduciary-shield doctrine . . . under which a person who enters the state solely as fiduciary for another may not be sued in Illinois.” (citing Rollins v. Ellwood, 565 N.E.2d 1302, 1314 (Ill. 1990)). Here, the individual defendants contacted Johnson on behalf of Melton-thus, because the individual defendants' contacts with an Illinois resident were solely in the interests of their employer and not to serve their personal interests, the defendants are protected by the fiduciary shield doctrine.

         Accordingly, the individual Melton defendants' Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss is granted.[7]

         II. Claim I: Violations of the FLSA, Lanham Act, and Sherman Act

         Johnson alleges that Melton did not compensate him for the hours he spent doing tasks other than driving for Melton-such as responding to emails and checking and cleaning his truck-which he asserts is a violation of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 206. He alleges that he worked 70 hours per week, including driving and non-drive time, but was only compensated for the hours he spent driving (although Johnson acknowledges that Melton paid drivers for a number of non-driving activities, including layovers, stop-offs, tarping, and crossing into Canada). See SAC ¶¶ 31, 116; Ex. A. Melton argues that the non-drive time portion of Johnson's claim is a request for gap-time payment, which is not recognized under the FLSA. Melton Mem. in Supp. 4 (citing Brown v. Lululemon Athletica, Inc., No. 10 C 05672, 2011 WL 741254, at *4 (N.D.Ill. Feb. 24, 2011) (collecting cases which hold that “the FLSA does not provide a remedy for workers who have received at least the minimum wage for a pay period in which they have not worked overtime”).[8] To determine whether non-compensated time violates the FLSA, the courts that have addressed this question have included gap-time in total hours worked and divided by the employee's weekly compensation to reach an average hourly wage; so long as the average hourly wage exceeds the federal minimum wage, courts have held that the compensation scheme does not violate the FLSA. See, e.g., Lundy v. Catholic Health Sys. of Long Island Inc., 711 F.3d 106, 116 (2d Cir. 2013) (“[T]he text of FLSA requires only payment of minimum wages and overtime wages. [citation omitted] It simply does not consider or afford a recovery for gap-time hours.”); Franks v. MKM Oil, Inc., No. 10 C 00013, 2012 WL 3903782, at *10 n.9 (N.D.Ill. Sept. 7, 2012) (“‘[G]ap time'-‘time that is not covered by the overtime provisions because it does not exceed the overtime limit, and . . . time that is not covered by the minimum wage provisions because, even though the work is uncompensated, the employees are still being paid a minimum wage when their salaries are averaged across their actual time worked, ' Adair v. City of Kirkland, 185 F.3d 1055, 1062 n. 6 (9th Cir. 1999), is not covered by the FLSA.”). Thus, this Court follows the weight of authority and agrees that Johnson cannot state a pure gap-time claim under the FLSA.[9]

         As to his minimum wage claim, Johnson specifies four weeks where his total compensation divided by the 70 hours he claims to have worked in those weeks fell below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, in violation of the FLSA. SAC ¶ 118. Johnson lists his compensation for six specific weeks in the SAC; in two of those six examples, however, his total compensation divided by the 70 hours he claims to have worked is above the federal minimum wage: “the net earnings of $569.87 for the payroll ending January 21, 2013 equaling $8 per hour [and] . . . the net earnings of $512.73 for the payroll ending March 27, 2013 equaling $[7.32] per hour.”[10] SAC ¶ 118. Melton acknowledges that Johnson has stated a FLSA claim for the four weeks Johnson has identified in which his average hourly wage was less $7.25 per hour. Melton Resp. at 4, ECF 157. Accordingly, Melton's motion to dismiss the FLSA claim as to these four weeks is denied.[11]

         Johnson also invokes the Lanham Act to attack Melton's compensation; Johnson asserts that Melton's email advertisements that it offered “high pay” to its drivers were false in violation of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)(1). SAC ¶ 123; see also Obj. Melton Mot. Dismiss Ex. ECF No. 163. To invoke the Lanham Act's protections, however, a “plaintiff must allege an injury to a commercial interest in reputation or sales.” Lexmark Int'l, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 1377, 1390 (2014). “A consumer who is hoodwinked into purchasing a disappointing product may well have an injury-in-fact cognizable under Article III, but he cannot invoke the protection of the Lanham Act.” Id. Because Johnson has not alleged an injury to his commercial interest, his Lanham Act claim must be dismissed.

         III. Counts II-IV: ERISA claims

         Johnson has alleged that Melton and Great West committed a number of violations of the ERISA, including failure to provide benefits and breaches of fiduciary duty by plan administrators. It is clear from the SAC, however, that Johnson has mistakenly equated Melton's workers' compensation plan with an ERISA plan, but ERISA does not apply to any employee benefit plan “maintained solely for the purpose of complying with applicable workmen's compensation laws or unemployment compensation or disability insurance laws.” 29 U.S.C. § 1003. Johnson quotes at length from Melton's Injury Benefit Plan (none of the parties have attached any benefit plan documents), which provides various accident compensation rates for injured employees. See SAC ¶ 131. Johnson identifies the plan as policy number WC21114I, which is an insurance policy under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act.[12] SAC ¶ 48. Johnson's confusion is further evidenced by his explanation that he exhausted the alleged “ERISA” plan's administrative appeals process via the workers' compensation proceedings in Ohio. SAC ¶ 135; see also SAC ¶ 150 (“the Plan defined Employee by reference to the IWCA, which purportedly excluded Plaintiff because the contract for hire allegedly occurred in Ohio.” (emphasis added)). Johnson has not identified an employee benefit plan apart from the workers' compensation plan, under which he is entitled to benefits. Accordingly, his claims alleging violations of ERISA are dismissed.[13]

         IV. Counts V-VIII: ADA Claims and Illinois Human ...

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