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Weckesser v. Knight Enterprises S.E. LLC

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

July 22, 2019

Patrick Weckesser, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
Knight Enterprises S.E., LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          RICHARD M. GERGET, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Final FLSA Certification (Dkt. No. 99).[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the motion.

         I. Facts

         Plaintiff Patrick Weckesser, a cable installation technician, filed this class and collective action on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated against Defendant Knight Enterprises S.E., LLC, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act.[2] (Dkt. No. 1.) The Court granted conditional class certification on August 27, 2018. (Dkt. No. 36.) Thirty-three individuals have joined the case as opt-in plaintiffs, for a total of thirty-four plaintiffs. (See Dkt. Nos. 5, 8, 14, 46 - 61.)

         Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that they and all other similarly situated cable installation technicians who worked for the Defendant were misclassified as independent contractors and deprived of overtime and minimum wage in violation of federal law. Plaintiffs were all hired as independent contractors to perform cable installation work, and therefore were not paid for any hours worked overtime. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶¶ 26, 32; 6-2; 34-1 at ¶ 5; 99-2 at 3 - 4; 99-3 at 3, 9; 99-8 at 8.) Each Plaintiff allege that they provided the same cable installation services for Time Warner customers, and all performed their work under policies, and a schedule, set by Defendant. (Dkt. Nos. 99-2 at 3; 99-3 at 4.) Each Plaintiff was allegedly required to perform the jobs assigned to them by Defendant Knight, were required to use certain equipment, such as computer programs, provided by Defendant, were required to wear Knight uniform, were required to have a Knight logo on their truck, and were not able to work for other companies. (Dkt. Nos. 99-3 at 3, 11; 99-4 at 8 - 9; 99-5 at 4; 99-6 at 16; 99-11 at 6, 8; 99-12 at 4.) Most notably, each Plaintiff were required to sign the same Independent Contractor Services Agreement, which declared that each Plaintiff was an independent contractor and not an employee. (Dkt. No. 6-2; 34-1 at ¶ 5.)

         Plaintiffs now move for final certification, and Defendant opposes. (Dkt. Nos. 99, 111.)

         II. Legal Standard

         The FLSA allows that a collective action for unpaid minimum wages may be maintained "by any one or more employees for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated." 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). After the district court has conditionally certified the class, the potential class members have been identified and notified, and discovery has been completed, generally, a defendant is permitted to move "to decertify the collective action, pointing to a more developed record to support its contention that the plaintiffs are not similarly situated to the extent that a collective action would be the appropriate vehicle for relief." Pelczynski v. Orange Lake Cntry. Club, Inc., 284 F.R.D. 364, 368 (D.S.C. 2012).

         At this second stage, [3] the district court applies a heightened fact-specific standard to the "similarly situated" analysis. Steinberg v. TQ Logistics, Inc., No. 0:10-cv-2507-JFA, 2011 WL 1335191, at *2 (D.S.C. Apr. 7, 2011); see also Pelczynski, 284 F.R.D. at 368. The plaintiff maintains the burden of proving that he or she is similarly situated to the opt-in plaintiffs. Gionfriddo v. Jason Zink, LLC, 769 F.Supp.2d 880, 886 (D. Md. 2011). If the court determines that the plaintiffs are not, in fact, similarly situated, it may decertify the class, dismiss without prejudice the opt-in plaintiffs' claims, and permit the named plaintiffs to proceed on their individual claims. Curtis v. Time Warner Entm 't.-Advance/Newhouse P'ship., No. 3:12-cv-2370-JFA, 2013 WL 1874848, at *3 (D.S.C. May 3, 2013).

         In this second stage, "similarly situated" means '"similarly situated with respect to the legal and, to a lesser extent, the factual issues to be determined."' Pelczynski, 284 F.R.D. at 368 quoting De Luna-Guerrero v. N.C. Grower's Ass % 338 F.Supp.2d 649, 654 (E.D. N.C. 2004). "In FLSA actions, persons who are similarly situated to the plaintiffs must raise a similar legal issue as to coverage, exemption, or nonpayment or minimum wages or overtime arising from at least a manageably similar factual setting with respect to their job requirements or pay provisions." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted.)

         III. Discussion

         "Courts have identified a number of factors to consider at this [second] stage, including (1) disparate factual and employment settings of the individual plaintiffs; (2) the various defenses available to defendants that appear to be individual to each plaintiff; and (3) fairness and procedural considerations." Curtis, 2013 WL 1874848, at*3 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The Court addresses each in turn:

         A. Disparate Factual or Employment Settings

         "The first factor of the decertification analysis involves an assessment of whether Plaintiffs have provided evidence of a company-wide policy which may violate the FLSA, as well as an assessment of Plaintiffs' job duties, geographic location, supervision, and salary." Regan v. City of Charleston, 2:13-cv-3046-PMD, 2015 WL 6727079, at *4 (D.S.C. Nov. 3, 2015) (citations omitted) (declining to decertify class). MacGregor v. Farmers Ins. Exchange, No. 2:10-cv-03088-DCN, 2011 WL 2981466, at *2 (D.S.C. ...


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