Northern District Court, Ohio Denies to Exercise Specific Personal Jurisdiction in FLSA Collective Action Suit

In a recent judgment, the United States District Court Northern District of Ohio Eastern Division passed an interesting judgment in a class action matter. The Court allowed conditional certification of a collective action filed under FLSA, and refused to exercise its specific personal jurisdiction over the matter. The District Courts throughout the States are divided on exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over FLSA collective action where the opt-in plaintiffs neither work nor reside in the forum state, and therefore, this judgment throws a shadow of clarity over this issue. Green v. Verita Telecomms. Corp., No. 1:20 CV 2872 (N.D. Ohio, June 2, 2021)

Plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of himself and other affected individuals, against the defendant, a telecommunications contractor. The defendant is in the business of installing communication lines for cable and internet commercial customers. Plaintiff claimed that defendant had violated overtime violations under the FLSA. Plaintiff was employed by defendant and had been working for approximately seven months, from February to August, 2019. As per the complaint, plaintiff and his similarly situated employees were only paid for work performed between their scheduled start and stop times. However, they were not paid for work performed before and after their scheduled start and stop times or even for work performed during the designated lunch hour. Also, lunch periods were automatically deducted from their pay.  The plaintiff further claimed that as a result of the policy, he was not compensated for all the time he put in his work, including all of the overtime hours that he worked. Plaintiff moved the Court to conditionally certify a class consisting of “all current and former hourly employees who were employed by Defendant in the field who were not paid overtime compensation at a rate of time and a half of their regular rate of pay for the hours they worked over 40 each work for the period of December 31, 2017 to the present”.

The Court initiated the adjudication by first considering 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) and noted that an employee may sue the employer for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) on his or her behalf and as a representative plaintiff on behalf of similarly situated employees. The Court further discussed a “collective action” suit and stated that “similarly situated employees must opt-in by giv[ing] [their] consent in writing to become such …part[ies] and such consent [must be] filed in the court in which such action is brought.”

Further, the Court applied the two-stage approach to determine whether the prospective opt-in plaintiffs are similarly situated. At the first stage, the Court requires only a “modest factual showing” that the plaintiff’s position is similar to that of other employees. During the second stage, the court makes a final determination based upon a thorough review of the record after discovery is completed. The final decision is normally based on a variety of factors, including “factual and employment settings of the individual plaintiffs, the different defenses to which the plaintiff may be subject on an individual basis…” In the present matter, the Court found that the plaintiff passed the first stage as he had done enough to show that he was similarly situated to other members of the proposed class. The court relied on the Sixth Circuit ruling where it recognized that “proposed class members are similarly situated if they can show that “their claims [are] unified by common theories of defendants’ statutory violations, even if the proofs of those theories are individualized and distinct.” O’Brien v. Ed Donnelly Enterprises, Inc., 575 F.3d 567, 585 (6th Cir. 2009).

Another important point of discussion was whether the Court has to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over claims brought by out-of-state plaintiff in a mass tort action. Defendant suggested that the conditional certification must be denied because the Court lacks specific personal jurisdiction over claims brought by opt-in plaintiffs who do not live or work in Ohio. The Court noted that this issue was far from settled and district courts across from country were divided on this issue. Further, it was of the opinion that several district courts have declined to consider this issue at the conditional certification stage, and therefore, denied defendant’s argument.

The issue of exercise of specific personal jurisdiction remains a point of dichotomy as district courts are highly divided on it. In another judgment passed this year, the District of Minnesota joined several other federal courts around the States in holding that only workers with a connection to the forum state may join a collective action under the FLSA. Vallone v. The CJS Solutions Group d/b/a The HCI Group, Civ. No. 19-1532 (PAM/DTS). The Court declined to certify a nationwide collective action and certified only a limited group of individuals whose work for defendant occurred in Minnesota or who were Minnesota residents.

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