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Lenford Warren and Doris Warren, Husband v. Twin Islands

February 2, 2012

LENFORD WARREN AND DORIS WARREN, HUSBAND AND WIFE; KATHLEEN HOUGHTON; JIM JAMBOR; JERRY WILLIAMS AND SUE WILLIAMS, HUSBAND AND WIFE,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TWIN ISLANDS, LLC, AN IDAHO LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY, DBA REPUBLIC STORAGE, REPUBLIC STORAGE BROADWAY, REPUBLIC STORAGE BROADWAY II, REPUBLIC STORAGE CALDWELL, REPUBLIC STORAGE CHINDEN, REPUBLIC STORAGE LINDEN, REPUBLIC STORAGE MAPLE GROVE, REPUBLIC STORAGE MERIDIAN, REPUBLIC STORAGE NAMPA, REPUBLIC STORAGE OF IDAHO, REPUBLIC STORAGE OF MOUNTAIN HOME, REPUBLIC STORAGE U-SAVE, AND REPUBLIC STORAGE WILLOWBROOK; CITY DEVELOPMENT, INC. DBA REPUBLIC STORAGE JOPLIN, REPUBLIC STORAGE OF EAGLE, REPUBLIC STORAGE OF STAR AND REPUBLIC STORAGE U-SAVE; REPUBLIC STORAGE OF MOUNTAIN HOME, LLP DBA REPUBLIC STORAGE OF MOUNTAIN HOME; JERRY D. PHILLIPS AND JANE DOE PHILLIPS DBA. REPUBLIC STORAGE OF MOUNTAIN HOME, LLP AND REPUBLIC STORAGE OF MOUNTAIN HOME; REPUBLIC STORAGE OF STAR, LLC DBA. REPUBLIC STORAGE OF STAR; MICHAEL E. MOYLE DBA REPUBLIC STORAGE OF STAR, LLC AND REPUBLIC STORAGE OF STAR; U-SAVE STORAGE, LLC DBA REPUBLIC STORAGE USAVE; ROD BLACKSTEAD AND JANE DOE BLACKSTEAD DBA U-SAVE STORAGE, LLC AND REPUBLIC STORAGE U-SAVE; JASON SMITH AND STACI P. SMITH, HUSBAND AND WIFE; AND RICHARD PHILLIPS AND JANE DOE PHILLIPS, HUSBAND AND WIFE; MARSZ INVESTMENTS, LLC DBA REPUBLIC STORAGE OF EAGLE; AND SHIRLEY ZAKOVICS AND JOHN DOE ZAKOVICS, HUSBAND AND WIFE, DBA. MARSZ INVESTMENTS, LLC AND REPUBLIC STORAGE OF EAGLE; DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable B. Lynn Winmill Chief U. S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

The Court has before it plaintiffs' Motion for Conditional Certification of FLSA Collective Action and Motion to Toll Statute of Limitations (Dkt. No. 32). Having reviewed the briefing submitted by the parties, the Court has determined oral argument is unnecessary. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant the motion to conditionally certify the FLSA collective action, but will deny plaintiffs' motion to equitably toll the statute of limitations.

BACKGROUND

Defendants operate self-storage units under the name Republic Storage of Idaho. Plaintiffs worked as on-site resident managers at different Republic Storage offices. As the name suggests, these employees reside at the storage facility locations.

Plaintiffs allege they were improperly classified as exempt "managers" and, further, that they were instructed to log only 35 hours of work per week though they were required to work more than 40 hours per week. Based on these alleged improper practices, plaintiffs allege violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA" or the "Act"); see 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219; Idaho's Wage Claim Act, see Idaho Code § 45-606 to -610; and Idaho's Minimum Wage Law, see Idaho Code §§ 44-1501 to-1510. Plaintiffs seek to certify a collective action only for the federal wage claim.

ANALYSIS

1. Legal Standard for Certification of Collective Action

Under section 16(b) of the FLSA, employees may sue employers for violations of the Act "for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated." 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). This is known as a collective action, and it proceeds somewhat differently than a Rule 23 class action because an employee who wishes to join an FLSA collective action must affirmatively opt in by filing a written consent. See Hoffman-La Roche Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165 (1989).

District courts have the discretion to facilitate the process by which potential plaintiffs are notified of FLSA collective actions. Id. at 169. More specifically, district courts "may authorize the named plaintiffs in an FLSA collective action to send notice to all potential plaintiffs." Does v. Advanced Textile Corp., 214 F.3d 1058, 1064 (9th Cir. 2000). The Ninth Circuit has not articulated a single standard to guide this inquiry, but a majority of courts adopt a two-step approach. See Goody v. Jefferson County, Case No. 09-cv-437-E-BLW, 2010 WL 1418395, at *1 (citing cases). At the first step, the district court determines whether members of the proposed class are "similarly situated." See, e.g., Leuthold v. Destination Am., Inc., 224 F.R.D. 462, 466 (N.D. Cal. 2004). Plaintiff's burden at this point is minimal; the court is simply deciding whether the potential class should be notified of the pending action. At the second step -- typically initiated by a motion to decertify after discovery is complete -- the court engages in a more searching inquiry. Id. at 467.

The FLSA does not define "similarly situated," and the Ninth Circuit has not spoken on the issue. The Supreme Court did not define the term either, but has indicated that a proper collective action encourages judicial efficiency by addressing in a single proceeding claims of multiple plaintiffs who share "common issues of law and fact arising from the same alleged activity." Hoffman-LaRoche, 493 U.S. at 486. Practically speaking, however, and given the lack of discovery and limited evidence available to the Court at this early stage in the proceedings, the first-step determination "is usually made under a fairly lenient standard and typically results in conditional class certification." Edwards v. City of Long Beach, 467 F. Supp. 2d 986, 990 (C.D. Cal.2006), Indeed, the standard requires "'nothing more than substantial allegations that the putative class members were together the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan.'" Thiessen v. Gen. Elec. Capital Corp., 267 F.3d 1095, 1102 (10th Cir. 2001) (quoting Vaszlavik v. Storage Tech. Corp.,175 F.R.D. 672, 678 (D. Colo.1997)).

2. Plaintiffs Have Satisfied The Lenient Standards Necessary to Certify a Class

Plaintiffs have satisfied the first step of this analysis. Six plaintiffs (working in four separate storage facilities) have submitted affidavits indicating they were required to work more than the 35 hours, and that they were classified as exempt employees. They all had similar duties. Four of these six plaintiffs indicate they have spoken to other employees and that these employees say they were worked under similar conditions and alleged violations. Additionally, all six plaintiffs indicate they signed the same confidentiality agreement, and it appears that all employees were subject to the same set of employee policies, as set forth in Republic Storage's Employee Handbook. See Employee Handbook, Ex. 8 to Mot., Dkt. 32-8.

Defendants concede that on-site Republic Storage managers have similar job responsibilities, but argue against certification. Their lead argument is that the FLSA does not apply because defendants are not engaged in commerce within the meaning of the Act. See Opp., Dkt. 34, at 3-5. Defendants assert that Republic Storage facilities are a strictly local business, operating only in the State of Idaho. Plaintiffs dispute this issue, arguing that (1) their duties included use of the mails and the internet; (2) they accepted credit card payments; and (3) ...


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