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Regan v. ACE Accounting Services, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 29, 2019

JUDITH REGAN, Plaintiff,



         This matter comes before the Court upon Defendants ACE Accounting Services, LLC, ("ACE") and Christy Meyer's (collectively, "Defendants") Motion, Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2), for Leave to File Amended Answer ("Motion to File Amended Answer"). (Defs.' Notice Mot. to File Am. Answer, ECF No. 9.) Plaintiff Judith Regan argues the Motion should be denied because the amendments are "based on a sham certification," contradict Defendants' admissions, would be futile, and would prejudice Plaintiff. (Pl.'s Letter Br. in Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. 1-2, ECF No. 13.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court cannot conclude Defendants' proposed amendments will be futile and therefore their Motion is granted.

         I. Allegations and Procedural History

         Plaintiff, a former bookkeeper for ACE, brought this Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") action against ACE and its owner, Meyer, claiming they repeatedly failed to pay her overtime. (Compl. ¶¶ 1-5.) She also alleges Defendants violated the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law ("NJWHL"). (Id. ¶ 9.)

         Defendants now seek to amend their answer to assert a new affirmative defense to Plaintiff's claims. (Certification of Michael DiCicco Ex. A, at 2, 5, ECF 9-1.) Specifically, Defendants wish to add that Plaintiff was a learned professional, exempt from the FLSA's and NJWHL's overtime requirements. (Id.)

         II. Parties' Arguments

         Defendants contend that "during the course of [ACE's] investigation to comply with Plaintiff's discovery requests, ACE reviewed the job duties and job performance by Regan," and, "[b]ased on her level of education, her knowledge and skill, and the job duties and her compensation, . . . concluded that [Plaintiff] is a learned professional employee . . . exempt from the overtime requirements of the FLSA and NJWHL." (Br. in Support of Mot. 4-5, ECF 9-2.) Defendants submit there is no dilatory motive or undue delay and leave should be freely granted in accord with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") 15(a)(2) and the Third Circuit's liberal policy favoring amendment to ensure cases are decided on the merits. (Id. at 3 (citing Dole v. Arco Chemical Co., 921 F.2d 484, 487 (3d Cir. 1990)). Defendants note that the parties have discussed this issue before and that Plaintiff was originally treated as an exempt employee, but that ACE began treating her as a non-exempt employee because of her job title. (Id. at 4.)

         Plaintiff first asserts Defendants' Motion "is supported by a certification of their attorney, who has no personal knowledge of the facts," and thus the certification "is not competent evidence to support his conclusions." (Pl.'s Letter Br. in Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. 2-A.) Next, Plaintiff argues Defendants' Proposed Amended Answer contradicts their admissions. (Id. at 4.) In support of that argument, Plaintiff cites several exhibits, including her own certification and the summary of Defendants' arguments that was included in the parties' Joint Discovery Plan. (Id. at 4, 20-21, 43.)

         Plaintiff's third argument is that the amendments would be futile because the professional employee exception to the FLSA cannot be met. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff contends Defendants cannot meet the salary requirement because Plaintiff was paid hourly. (Id. at 6-7 (citing Guthrie v. Lady Jane Collieries, Inc., 722 F.2d 1141, 1143 (3d Cir. 1983); 29 C.F.R. §§ 541.300(a)(2)(I), 541.600, 541.602(a)).) Plaintiff also asserts Defendants cannot legally meet any of the three prongs of the duties requirement because her work (1) did not require advanced knowledge (2) in the field of science or learning, (3) which is customarily acquired by a prolonged field of study. (Id. at 7 (citing 29 C.F.R. §§ 541.301(a), (e)(5) ("accounting clerks, bookkeepers and other employees who normally perform a great deal of routine work will not qualify as exempt professionals")).) Plaintiff argues Defendants cannot meet each prong for the following reasons:

(1) "the only skills required in order to perform [her job] tasks [were] a basic understanding of mathematics and the use of computers, both of which are attained at the high school level," (id. at 8 (citing 29 C.F.R. § 541.301(b)));
(2) "Plaintiff [was] clearly not asked to perform the work of the traditional profession of accounting," (id. at 7-8 (citing 29 C.F.R. § 541.301(c))); and
(3) the position Plaintiff held did not require specialized training or a master's degree and Plaintiff's possession of a master's degree is irrelevant, (id. at 9 (citing Crowe v. ExamWorks, Inc., 136 F.Supp.3d 16, 34, 36 (D. Mass. 2015); Mudgett v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr., Civil Action No. 09-254, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44266 (W.D. Pa. May 6, 2010))).

         Lastly, Plaintiff contends she will be prejudiced if the Court allows Defendants to amend their answer, and that it is inexcusable that they waited eight months to assert this new defense. (Id. at 10.) Plaintiff also appears to contend allowing amendment will necessitate additional discovery, expenses, and delay. (Id. at 11 (citing as examples Oy Tilgmann, AB v. Sport Pub. International, Inc., 110 F.R.D. 68, 70 (E.D. Pa. 1986); Regent Nat'l Bank v. Dealers Choice Auto. Planning, No. 96-7930, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20122, at *13-14 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 14, 1998)).)

         In their reply, Defendants add that Plaintiff is essentially applying a summary judgment standard, inappropriate at this stage. (Defs.' Letter Br. 2, ECF No. 16.) Defendants further argue Plaintiff was salaried and meets each of the learned professional elements. (Id. at 4, 8-9.) They submit, based on Plaintiff's duties, "[P]laintiff performed work that required advanced knowledge in the field of accounting that was ...

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