United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
JAMES HECKER, on Behalf of Himself and All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiff,
PETCO ANIMAL SUPPLIES, INC., PETCO ANIMAL SUPPLIES STORES, INC., PETCO HOLDINGS, INC. LLC, and DOES 1 TO 100, inclusive, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Z. LEE United States District Judge.
James Hecker (“Hecker”) filed this action seeking
unpaid overtime compensation under the Illinois Minimum Wage
Law, 820 Ill. Comp. Stat. 105/1 et seq.
(“IMWL”), and the Illinois Wage Payment and
Collection Act, 820 Ill. Comp. Stat. 115/1 et seq.
(“IWPCA”). Defendants Petco Animal Supplies,
Inc., Petco Animal Supplies Stores, Inc., and Petco Holdings,
Inc. LLC (“Defendants”) have moved to dismiss,
transfer, or stay this case in light of related litigation
pending in the Southern District of California. For the
reasons that follow, Defendants' motion  is granted
in part and denied in part. Defendants' motion to dismiss
or stay this action is denied, but the Court will transfer
this action to the Southern District of California pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).
Hecker filed this action on November 23, 2016, on behalf of
himself and similarly situated former Petco assistant store
managers. Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 1. He claims that Petco
improperly classified him and his putative class as exempt
from Illinois's overtime pay requirements. See
Id. ¶¶ 11-26.
to filing this action, Hecker opted in to a collective action
brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §
201 et seq. (“FLSA”), in the Southern
District of California: Kellgren v. Petco Animal
Supplies, Inc., No. 13-cv-00644-L-KSC (S.D. Cal. filed
Mar. 19, 2013) (“Kellgren”). Pl.'s
Resp. 3, ECF No. 23. Like Hecker, Erik Kellgren (the lead
plaintiff in Kellgren) is a former Petco assistant
store manager and worked for Petco in Illinois, and Kellgren
is represented by some of the same counsel as Hecker is in
this case. Id. at 3, 6 n.3; see Defs.'
Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1(B), ECF No. 16-1. Kellgren
similarly asserts that he and assistant store managers across
the country were misclassified as exempt from the FLSA's
overtime pay requirements. Resp. at 1-3. The collective
action has been conditionally certified and involves no state
law claims. Id. at 3. In addition to Hecker,
twenty-one members (i.e., about 20 percent) of the
putative class in this action have opted in to
Kellgren. Approximately 80 percent of the putative
class elected not to opt in or will have no involvement in
Kellgren. Id. at 4.
has been actively litigated for over four years. Resp. at 3.
The parties state that the deadline to complete all discovery
in Kellgren is August 2, 2017. Id.;
see Defs.' Mem., Ex. 1(K) ¶ 1. Other
pretrial motions, including those related to decertification
and final certification of the collective action, are due by
September 15, 2017. Defs.' Mem., Ex. 1(K) ¶ 7.
Defendants have moved to dismiss Hecker's case under the
“first-filed doctrine, ” more commonly referred
to as “the “first-to-file rule.”
Alternatively, Defendants have asked the Court to transfer
the case to the Southern District of California under 28
U.S.C. § 1404(a) or to stay the action. For the reasons
discussed below, the Court concludes that the first-to-file
rule does not provide a basis for dismissal, but that
transfer is appropriate.
The First-to-File Rule
moving to dismiss this action under the first-to-file rule,
Defendants represent that (1) in the Seventh Circuit, there
is a presumption that the first-to-file rule should apply
unless the principles guiding transfer under § 1404(a)
dictate otherwise, and (2) it is generally proper, where the
first-to-file rule applies, to dismiss the second-filed suit.
Defs.' Mem. at 7, 11. Neither representation, however,
correctly characterizes the law. Rather, the interplay of
these doctrines and the proper standards of decision that
apply in this area are somewhat murky, necessitating some
Research Automation, Inc. v. Schrader-Bridgeport
International, Inc., 626 F.3d 973 (7th Cir. 2010), the
Seventh Circuit provided a lengthy discussion of the
relationship between the first-to-file rule and §
1404(a). The case involved parties to a contract that each
party asserted the other had breached. Id. at 975.
Each party filed suit in its respective home venue, the first
in Illinois, and the second in Virginia. Id. The
Illinois district court granted a motion to transfer the
Illinois case to Virginia, despite the fact that the Illinois
case was filed first. Id. at 975-76. On appeal, the
party opposing transfer to Virginia-i.e., the party
who had filed first in Illinois- insisted that its status as
first filer should prevail. Id. at 979. Rejecting
this position, the Seventh Circuit eschewed a rigid rule that
a first-filed suit should proceed where filed. Id.
at 980. In doing so, the Court confronted the position that
Defendants have taken here: namely, that “there is a
rebuttable presumption that the first case should proceed,
‘subject to the principles that govern requests for
transfer to a more convenient forum.'” Id.
(quoting Asset Allocation & Mgmt. Co. v.
Western Emp'rs Ins. Co., 892 F.2d 566, 573 (7th Cir.
1989)). After undertaking a thorough survey of the
first-to-file rule as applied across various circuits,
id. at 981-82, the court concluded that there is
“no such preference” for a first-filed case, and
[w]here a case is filed first should weigh no more heavily in
the district court's analysis than the plaintiff's
choice of forum in a section 1404(a) calculation. We apply
the same standard to a section 1404(a) motion regardless of
whether there is a second-filed case. The statutory language
provides the ultimate touchstone, while the considerations
gleaned from judicial glosses will also be applicable to many
cases of this type in the sound discretion of the district
Id. at 982. The court held that “where a
district court faces one of two identical lawsuits and one
party moves to transfer to the other forum, the court should
do no more than consider the order in which the suits were
filed among the factors it evaluates under 28 U.S.C. §
Automation, therefore, expressly disavows
Defendants' position that there is a rebuttable
presumption that a second-filed case should be dismissed
unless the § 1404(a) factors counsel otherwise. Rather,
Research Automation indicates that the Seventh
Circuit gives no presumptive value to a case's
first-filed status. The first-filed status ...