E-Alert Case Updates
Supreme Court Holds That Fair Labor Standards Act Case Is Not Justiciable Once Lone Plaintiff’s Claim Becomes Moot
Genesis Healthcare Corp., et al. v. Laura Symczyk
In this recently issued opinion from the United States Supreme Court, authored by Justice Thomas, the Court held that a Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) case brought by a Plaintiff for herself and others “similarly situated” must be properly dismissed if and when the lone Plaintiff’s case becomes moot. In so doing, the Court reversed the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
The FLSA (29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq.) establishes federal guarantees regarding minimum-wage, maximum hours, and overtime that cannot be modified by employment contracts. The law includes the right of an employee to bring a private cause of action, and such an action can be on their own behalf and on behalf of “other employees similarly situated.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Such a suit on behalf of other employees is known as a “collective action.” Genesis Healthcare at *1 (citing Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 169-170 (1989)).
In 2009, Laura Symczyk (Plaintiff/respondent) filed a Complaint as a former employee of Pennypack Center where she was a Registered Nurse. She alleged that Defendants/petitioners had violated the FLSA by automatically deducting thirty (30) minutes of time for meal breaks from every worker’s shift, even when the employees performed compensable work during those breaks. The Complaint she filed was on behalf of herself and “all other persons similarly situated,” and she sought statutorily prescribed remedies.
Defendants/petitioners answered Plaintiff’s Complaint and also made an offer of judgment to her under FED. R. CIV. P. 68. The offer included $7,500 for alleged unpaid wages, as well as “such reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses . . . as the Court may determine.” Genesis Healthcare at *2. Ms. Symczyk did not respond to the Offer of Judgment within ten (10) days. The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss arguing that because they had offered complete relief on the individual damages claim, Plaintiff no longer possessed a personal stake in the outcome of the suit and the action should be moot. Plaintiff argued that this was an inappropriate attempt to “pick off ” the named plaintiff before the collective-action process got underway.
The District Court agreed that the Offer of Judgment mooted the Plaintiff’s suit, and dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Third Circuit reversed holding that allowing Defendants to offer complete satisfaction to a single Plaintiff would frustrate the goals of collective actions. The Defendants appealed, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the question.
The Supreme Court reversed the Third Circuit’s decision and dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. It held that Ms. Symczyk's suit was not justiciable after her individual claim became moot. Justice Thomas wrote: "While the FLSA authorizes an aggrieved employee to bring an action on behalf of himself and 'other employees similarly situated’ . . . the mere presence of collective-action allegations in the complaint cannot save the suit from mootness once the individual claim is satisfied." Genesis Healthcare at *6.
The Court drew a distinction between FLSA collective actions and Rule 23 class action suits. It stated further that Ms. Symczyk had “no personal interest in representing putative, unnamed claimants, nor any other continuing interest that would preserve her suit from mootness,” and that therefore it was properly dismissed by the District Court. Genesis Healthcare at *11.
Justice Kagan issued a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor.
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