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Boone v. Solid Wood Cabinet Co., LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 31, 2018

PAMELA BOONE and RAY MARRERO, for themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE SOLID WOOD CABINET COMPANY, LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION

          Kevin McNulty United States District Judge

         The plaintiffs, Pamela Boone and Ray Marrero, sue for overtime pay they claim they were owed by their former employer, defendant The Solid Wood Cabinet Company, LLC ("Solid Wood"). Solid Wood has moved for judgment on the pleadings under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Solid Wood claims that Plaintiffs have not sufficiently pled a claim for relief and that, even if they have, the company falls within an exception to the FLSA that exempts "retail establishments" from having to provide overtime pay to sales representatives. Solid Wood also asserts that Mr. Marrero's claims under the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law fall outside the statute of limitations. For the reasons stated in this opinion, I will deny Solid Wood's motion except as to Mr. Marrero's overtime compensation claims under the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law, which are dismissed as untimely.

         I. Summary of Facts[1]

         Both Ms. Boone and Mr. Marrero are former employees of Solid Wood.[2]Solid Wood is a Pennsylvania-based, factory-direct retail company that manufactures and sells kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities. It has four showroom locations in New Jersey. (Cplt. ¶ 11.)

         From January 2013 to July 2016, Ms. Boone worked at Solid Wood's locations in Woodbridge and Paramus, New Jersey, as a kitchen designer and salesperson. (Id., ¶ 9.) Mr. Marrero was a kitchen designer and salesperson from July 2014 to January 2015 at the Woodbridge location only. (Id. ¶ 10.) The plaintiffs' primary duties were to design and sell kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities to Solid Wood's customers. (Id. ¶ 13.) The positions were not managerial; Boone and Marrero were not empowered to hire or fire any worker, and their duties did not require any advanced knowledge, or any invention or originality in a recognized field of artistic or creative endeavor. (See Id. ¶¶ 22-29.)

         Ms. Boone alleges that she "typically" worked five to six days, totaling approximately 45-55 hours, per week. (Id. ¶ 9.) Mr. Marrero alleges that he worked six days, totaling approximately 50-60 hours, per week. (Id. ¶ 10.) Both were paid a fixed weekly rate of $600 (referred to as a "non-recoverable weekly draw" by Solid Wood). (Id. ¶¶ 9-10; Def. Br. at 3.)

         Plaintiffs claim that Solid Wood classified them as "exempt" employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 203 et seq., and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law ("NJWHL"), N.J.S.A. 34:1 l-56a et seq. (Cplt. ¶ 17.) That exempt classification would mean that, as commission-based salespersons, they were not entitled to any overtime premium wages. (See id.) They argue that they should not have been classified as exempt. They claim that Solid Wood knew that they worked between 45-60 hours per week and should have paid them overtime wages. (See Id. ¶¶ 20-21.) They allege that they were entitled to be paid one and one-half times the regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours a week. (Id. ¶ 30.)

         II. Discussion

         a. Standard of Review

         Solid Wood has moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). A motion for judgment on the pleadings is often indistinguishable from a motion to dismiss, except that it is made after the filing of a responsive pleading. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(2) "provides that a defense of failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted may also be made by a motion for judgment on the pleadings." Turbe v. Gov't of Virgin Islands, 938 F.2d 426, 428 (3d Cir. 1991)). Accordingly, when a Rule 12(c) motion asserts that the complaint fails to state a claim, the familiar Rule 12(b)(6) standard applies. Id. (making due allowance, of course, for any factual allegations that are admitted in the responsive pleading). Thus, the moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005).

         I must take the allegations of the complaint as true and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving parties (in this instance, plaintiffs Boone and Marrero). Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 51 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008). However, a plaintiffs obligation to provide the grounds of her entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions; a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The complaint's factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiffs right to relief above a speculative level, so that a claim is "plausible on its face." Id. at 570; see also West Run Student Housing Assocs., LLC v. Huntington Nat'l Bank, 712 F.3d 165, 169 (3d Cir. 2013). I am also allowed to consider "extraneous documents that are referred to in the complaint or documents on which the claims in the complaint are based" without converting this motion into one for summary judgment. Morano v. BMW of N. Am., LLC, 928 F.Supp.2d 826, 830 (D.N.J. 2013) (citing In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997); Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1996 (3d Cir. 1993)).

         b. Sufficiency Under Heightened Pleading Standard of FLSA

         First, Solid Wood takes issue with the level of detail in Plaintiffs' complaint. It argues that Plaintiffs have not sufficiently pled a claim for relief for denial of overtime pay under the heightened pleading standards of an FLSA case. [See Def. Br. at 5-6.) Citing David v. Abington Memorial Hospital, 765 F.3d 236 (3d Cir. 2014), Solid Wood points out that the complaint contains general allegations, using the term "typically" when describing how often Plaintiffs worked in excess of the 40-hour threshold before being qualified to receive overtime pay. (Id.; see, e.g., Cplt. ¶¶ 9-10; 37.)

         Recognizing that "the level of detail necessary to plead a FLSA over time claim poses a . . . difficult question, " the Court in Abington Memorial concluded that a plaintiff must, at least, allege forty hours of work in a given workweek as well as some uncompensated time in excess of the forty hours. 765 F.3d at 241-42 (adopting the "middle-ground approach" laid out in Lundy v. Catholic Health Syst. of Long Island Inc., 711 F.3d 106 (3d Cir. 2013)). What drove the Court of Appeals to affirm the dismissal of the claims was that none of the named plaintiffs "alleged a single workweek in which he or she worked at least forty hours and also worked uncompensated time in excess of forty hours." Id. at 242 (emphasis added). The Court noted, however, that this standard did not require plaintiffs to plead the exact dates and times they worked overtime. Id. at 243 ("For instance, a plaintiffs claim that she 'typically' worked forty hours per week, worked extra hours during such a forty-hour week, and was not compensated for extra hours beyond forty hours he or she worked during one or more of those forty-hour weeks, would suffice.").

         While not detailing exact dates and times they worked over the 40-hour-per-week threshold, both Ms. Boone and Mr. Marrero have sufficiently alleged a FLSA claim. Mr. Marrero alleges that he "typically worked six days per week, for approximately 50-60 hours each week and was paid a fixed weekly rate of $600." (Cplt. ¶ 10.) Ms. Boone, likewise, alleges that she "worked five to six days per week, for approximately 45-55 hours per week and was paid a fixed weekly rate of $600." (Id. ¶ 9.) Within both of these allegations is a claim that each plaintiff worked at least 40 hours in at least one week while employed by Solid Wood, that they worked over 40 hours in that given week, and that they were paid under the statutory minimum of one and a half times the minimum wage for those excess hours. Cf. Abington Mem'l, 765 F.3d at 241 (explaining that one of the plaintiffs only asserted that she "typically" worked 37.5 hours per week but "occasionally" worked an additional 12.5-hour or "slightly longer" shift without actually claiming there was at least one work worked over 40 hours). That is a sufficiently specific allegation under the standard set out in Abington Memorial.

         c. Elements of the FLSA Retail Sales Exception

         FLSA establishes federal minimum-wage, maximum-hour, and overtime guarantees that cannot be modified by contract. It requires, generally, that employees must be paid one and one-half times the regular wage for hours worked in excess of forty hours per week. Abington Mem'l, 765 F.3d at 241. However, FLSA also provides an exemption from its overtime pay requirements for ...


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