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Melgar v. O.K. Foods, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

March 31, 2015

ANA MELGAR, PHAYTHOUNE PHENGSOUVANAVONG, and RUBEN IRABURO, individually and on behalf of all other similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
O.K. FOODS, INC. and O.K. INDUSTRIES, INC., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ROBERT T. DAWSON, District Judge.

Before the Court are Plaintiffs Ana Melgar, Phaythoune Phengsouvanavong, and Ruben Iraburo's (collectively "Plaintiffs") Motion for Conditional Certification and Court-Authorized Notice (doc. 73) and supporting brief (doc. 74), Defendants O.K. Foods, Inc. and O.K. Industries, Inc.'s (collectively "Defendants") response (doc. 78) and Plaintiffs' reply (doc. 83).

Also before the Court are Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Plaintiffs' Meal Break Claims (doc. 75) and supporting documents (docs. 76-77), Plaintiffs' response (doc. 79) and supporting document (doc. 80), Defendants' reply (doc. 85), Plaintiffs' sur-reply (doc. 89) and Defendants' response (doc. 90).

For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs' Motion for Conditional Certification and Court-Authorized Notice (doc. 73) is GRANTED, and Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Plaintiffs' Meal Break Claims (doc. 75) is DENIED.

I. Background

On May 30, 2013, Plaintiffs filed their Class Action Complaint in the Circuit Court of Sebastian County, Fort Smith District. The Complaint alleged Defendants failed to pay Plaintiffs for time spent donning and doffing protective gear, traveling to and from workstations, and time spent waiting for the production line to start.[1] Plaintiffs alleged three causes of action: (1) violations of the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act ("AMWA"), Ark. Code Ann. §§ 11-4-201, et seq.; (2) unjust enrichment; and (3) breach of implied contract.

On June 28, 2013, Defendants removed the matter pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 ("CAFA"). (Docs. 1 & 4). On March 27, 2014, the Court denied Defendants' motion seeking to dismiss the breach of implied contract claim and also denied Plaintiffs' motion to remand the case to state court. (Doc. 33).

On April 24, 2014, with permission from the Court, Plaintiffs filed their First Amended Class-and-Collective Action Complaint (doc. 53). In the amended complaint, Plaintiffs added a collective action claim pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq. Plaintiffs now seek conditional certification of a collective action under the FLSA, and Defendants request summary judgment on Plaintiffs' AMWA and FLSA claims to the extent they seek recovery for donning-and doffing-related time during Plaintiffs' unpaid meal periods.

II. Plaintiffs' Motion for Conditional Class Certification and Court-Authorized Notice

Plaintiffs seek conditional certification of a collective action with the following definition:

All current and former hourly production employees of OK Foods, Inc. and OK Industries, Inc. who worked at any time (3 years from date of mailing) at the Fort Smith, Heavener, and Muldrow facilities and who were paid on a "line time" basis, and continuing thereafter through the date on which final judgment is entered in this action pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).

Section 216(b) of the FLSA provides that any one or more employees may maintain an action to recover the liability prescribed in the section against any employer on "behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated." 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). The district courts have discretion, in appropriate cases, to facilitate notice to potential members of the class on whose behalf the collective action has been brought. Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 169 (1989). The prevailing approach among federal courts for determining what "similarly situated" means is the two-stage certification process described in Mooney v. Aramco Services Co., 54 F.3d 1207, 1212 (5th Cir. 1995). The Court must determine whether the named Plaintiffs, through their pleadings and affidavits, have demonstrated that they are "similarly situated" to the potential collective action members. See 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Plaintiffs must show that they and potential class members were victims of a common decision, policy, or plan of the employer that affected all class members in a similar fashion. Thiessen v. Gen. Electric Capital Corp., 267 F.3d 1095, 1106-08 (10th Cir. 2001). Further, the "similarly situated" determination requires only a modest factual showing; it does not require the plaintiff and the potential class members to show that they are identically situated. Kautsch v. Premier Commc'ns, 504 F.Supp.2d 685, 689-90 (W.D. Mo. 2007).

The Court is only concerned with the first or notice stage of the certification process at this point during the litigation, not the later opt-in merits stage. The more stringent factual inquiry as to whether Plaintiffs are similarly situated is made only after a more substantial record has been amassed. Robinson v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 254 F.R.D. 97, 99 (S.D. Iowa 2008)(citation omitted). The second stage comes after discovery is largely completed and is usually prompted by the defendant's motion to decertify the class. Frank v. Gold'n Plump Poultry, Inc., 2005 WL 2240336, at *3 (D. Minn. Sept. 14, 2005).

Plaintiffs contend all of OK Foods' hourly production employees who were paid on a "line time" compensation basis are similarly situated and should be invited to join this action. According to Plaintiffs, all hourly production employees are paid only for time spent on the production line and are ...


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