Authored by Kristin G. McGurn
Following the lead of Judges O’Toole (see 09-cv-11466; 09-cv-11722) and Saylor (see 09-cv-40152; 09-cv-40181) in the District of Massachusetts and Judge Seybert in the Eastern District of New York (see 10-CV-1326), on January 28, 2011, the Honorable Paul A. Crotty in the Southern District of New York dismissed in their entirety four complaints against New York area hospital systems alleging off-the-clock work. The nearly identical Second Amended Complaints sought to recover unpaid wages allegedly owed to hourly-paid employees for unspecified meal periods and breaks during which they allegedly worked, and for allegedly compensable training time and pre-shift and post-shift work. Each of the mirror-image complaints alleged claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), New York Labor Law and state common law. Megginson v. Westchester Medical Center, et al.; Yarus, et al. v. New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., et al.; Alamu v. The Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, Inc., et al. and Nakahata, et al. v. New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System, Inc., et al..
Judge Crotty’s Opinion and Order referred to the complaints’ “strikingly similar allegations and deficiencies,” and described their “generic quality” as lacking “foundation for the legal claims alleged.” Frowning on “copy-cat” methods of pleading and therefore confirming the propriety of Twombly/Iqbal dismissals in each these companion cases, Judge Crotty pointedly noted that “the very fact that this boilerplate complaint has been used, with identically vague and conclusory allegations, in more than a dozen actions in New York and elsewhere is a vivid demonstrative of how not to plead.”
Judge Crotty noted the absence of specific factual allegations about the meal periods through which plaintiffs allegedly worked, and the number of allegedly under- and uncompensated hours, which he called “the heart of the claim.” He held that plaintiffs must plead “the nature of the uncompensated activity” as well as their dates of employment, pay and positions, all of which were notably absent from the nearly identical complaints. Judge Crotty also pointed out the preemption principle that if any of the alleged violations “hinge on [a] collective bargaining agreements’ definition of the terms of employment, they must be brought under the LMRA and in accordance with the [CBAs’] grievance and arbitration provisions.” Skeptical of the plaintiffs’ own claims as pled, Judge Crotty held that there is “no basis for a collective or class action with regard to every other so-called hourly employee in the system.” He also noted that the cited state statutes fail to support Plaintiffs’ claims for unpaid wages or overtime. Judge Crotty ultimately concluded that there was no basis for naming all hospitals within a system or for personal liability on the part of hospital executives; that the RICO allegations fall “woefully short” of stating a claim and are preempted; and that the state claims are insufficiently pled, not viable, duplicative of statutory claims and/or preempted by the FLSA. Judge Crotty held that it would be futile for plaintiffs to re-plead the RICO and common law-claims, and admonished Plaintiffs to replead claims arising under the FLSA and NYLL with specificity, stating that the “complaint should not take a blunderbuss approach to alleged wrongs, multiple defendants who are not employers, and random citation of inapplicable statutes.”