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Hecker v. Petco Animal Supplies, Inc.

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

June 7, 2017

JAMES HECKER, on Behalf of Himself and All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiff,


          JOHN Z. LEE United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff 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 [15] 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.

         Prior 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.[1]

         Kellgren 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.[2]

         I. The First-to-File Rule

         In 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 discussion here.

         In 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 that

[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 judge.

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. § 1404(a).” Id.

         Research 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 ...

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