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Lucas v. JJ'S of Macomb, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

June 28, 2018

SEBASTIAN LUCAS, Plaintiff,
v.
JJ'S OF MACOMB, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION

          SUE E. MYERSCOUGH, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This cause is before the Court on Plaintiff Sebastian Lucas's Motion for Equitable Tolling of the Statute of Limitations (d/e 12). For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint (d/e 1) on December 20, 2016 and his Amended Complaint (d/e 26) on May 30, 2018. Plaintiff brings claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant JJ's of Macomb, Inc., a Jimmy John's franchisee, misclassified him and other assistant managers as exempt from the FLSA's overtime provisions. Plaintiff intends to file a motion to certify a collective action under § 216(b) of the FLSA and to obtain court authorization to notify all similarly situated current and former assistant managers of Defendant of the opportunity to join this case. See Motion at 2.

         In July 2014, over two years before Plaintiff brought this action, another assistant manager employed at a different franchisee than Defendant brought an FLSA collective action in the Northern District of Illinois. That plaintiff sued her franchisee and the Jimmy John's corporate franchisor for unpaid overtime wages. The Court certified the collective action, and 660 plaintiffs opted-in, including Mr. Lucas. Mr. Lucas [hereinafter Plaintiff] then brought this action against Defendant, who was his franchisee employer. Defendant is different from the franchisee defendant in the Northern District-the Northern District did not have personal jurisdiction over Defendant. Over a dozen Northern District opt-in plaintiffs have filed similar suits across the country. See e.g., Ruder v. CWL Invs. LLC, No. 16-cv-4460, 2017 WL 3834783 (D. Ariz.); Coyne v. Four Leaf Clover Invs. LLC, No. 16-cv-1937 (E.D. Mo.); Beck v. Savory Sandwiches, Inc., 265 F.Supp.3d 1209, No. 17-cv-1009 (D. Col. 2017). Plaintiff brings the same claims against Defendant as those alleged in the Northern District against the corporate franchisor.

         On March 9, 2017, the Northern District enjoined Plaintiff and the other collective action members who had brought similar cases from pursuing the proceedings in this and the other District Courts. See In re Jimmy John's Overtime Litigation, No. 14-cv-5509 (N.D. Ill.). On April 3, 2017, pursuant to a joint motion by both parties, and in light of the injunction, this Court stayed the proceedings in this matter pending further order of the Northern District. On December 14, 2017, the Seventh Circuit reversed the Northern District's injunction against the proceedings in other courts against other franchisees. See In re Jimmy John's Overtime Litigation, 877 F.3d 756 (7th Cir. 2017). On February 28, 2018, this Court lifted the stay on these proceedings pursuant to Plaintiff's motion.

         On April 6, 2017, three days after this Court stayed this case, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Equitable Tolling of the Statute of Limitations (d/e 12) asking the Court to toll the statute of limitations from March 9, 2017, the date on which the Northern District issued the injunction, to December 14, 2017, when the Seventh Circuit reversed the injunction. On September 20, 2017, Plaintiff supplemented his motion with an order in Beck v. Savory Sandwiches, Inc., a case similar to this one in which the Court tolled the statute of limitations on the plaintiff's claims with respect to the defendant's (another Jimmy Johns franchise operator) current and former employees who were eligible to opt-in to that case. (d/e 15-1).

         II. LEGAL BACKGROUND

         Under the FLSA, employees may bring a collective action against an employer to recover unpaid overtime compensation on behalf of themselves and on behalf of other similarly situated employees. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Unlike class actions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b), where potential plaintiffs are included in the class unless they opt out, potential plaintiffs in FLSA collective actions must affirmatively opt in to the suit. Alvarez v. City of Chi., 605 F.3d 445, 448 (7th Cir. 2010).

         Moreover, under the FLSA, the statute of limitations continues to run for each potential plaintiff until he or she opts in to the lawsuit. The FLSA requires that an action “be commenced within two years after the cause of action accrued, ” unless the violation was willful, in which case a three-year statute of limitations applies. 29 U.S.C. § 255(a). An FLSA lawsuit commences as to an individual claimant on: (1) the date the complaint was filed if the claimant is specifically named as a party in the complaint and he files his written consent to become a party plaintiff on such date; or (2) the date on which written consent is filed. 29 U.S.C. § 256. Therefore, the filing of the lawsuit does not toll the statute of limitations for potential class members until they file their own consents.

         The statute of limitations in FLSA suits is not jurisdictional and equitable tolling can be applied. Bergman v. Kindred Healthcare, Inc., 949 F.Supp.2d 852, 860 (N.D. Ill. 2013). Equitable tolling is warranted if the litigant establishes (1) that he has been pursuing his rights diligently; and (2) that some extraordinary circumstance prevented timely filing. Knauf Insulation, Inc. v. Southern Brands, Inc., 820 F.3d 904, 908 (7th Cir. 2016).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff argues that the Court should equitably toll the statute of limitations for the nine-month period that the injunction was in place to avoid the possibility that putative plaintiffs will lose the potential benefits of the lawsuit.

         A. Plaintiff diligently pursued this action and ...


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