Authored by Robert T. Szyba
The message in the Second Circuit is clear: a bare-bones complaint for unpaid overtime that just restates the text of the Fair Labor Standards Act will not do. To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff will have to put some factual meat on those bones.
In Dejesus v. HF Management Services, LLC [here], the Second Circuit reviewed an order dismissing an overtime complaint in which the plaintiff claimed that, during the three years she worked for the employer, she “worked more than forty (40) hours in a week for Defendant in some or all weeks, but was not paid at a rate of at least 1.5 times her regular rate for each and all hours worked in excess of forty hours in a week” (emphasis in original). Since this sentence was the extent of the detail of her factual allegations about unpaid overtime, the District Court held that the plaintiff failed to properly allege that she actually worked overtime without the proper pay.
The Second Circuit agreed. Addressing for the third time in the past five months how specific a plaintiff must plead an overtime claim to survive a motion to dismiss [here], the court reiterated that “a plaintiff must sufficiently allege 40 hours of work in a given workweek as well as some uncompensated time in excess of the 40 hours.” The court particularly faulted the plaintiff for her failure to estimate her hours in any way or provide any factual context for how many hours she worked. The court also pointed out that much of the text in the complaint was merely a “rephrasing” of the FLSA’s requirements made to appear as factual statements.
The Second Circuit noted that its standard balances competing policy considerations, such as: (1) employees’ frequent difficulty in knowing the details of their hours and pay; (2) the practice of plaintiffs’ attorneys engaging in “fishing expeditions” by filing bare-bones complaints against multiple potential defendants to ferret out the correct entities; and (3) the modern federal pleading requirements, as enunciated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, that a complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” This “plausibility” standard requires facts and details for context to make out a claim, even if the employee does not have detailed factual records.
Dejesus is obvious good news for employers in the Second Circuit. The bare-bones fishing expeditions referenced by the court might become less effective — and therefore less frequent — if courts hold plaintiffs to the requirement to provide detailed factual allegations before imposing employers with months/years of discovery and other litigation costs. Even where plaintiffs re-plead with sufficient facts, the detailed factual allegations will be more conducive to efficient preparation for depositions and other discovery, and perhaps summary judgment, trial, and settlement.