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Knaak v. Armour-Eckrich Meats LLC

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 8, 2014

CAROL KNAAK, WANDA FIRCHAU, and KAY OLIVER, all individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
ARMOUR-ECKRICH MEATS LLC, Defendant

Decided Date: October 18, 2013

James H. Kaster and David E. Schlesinger, NICHOLS KASTER, PLLP, Minneapolis, MN; Steven R. Sunde, SUNDE, OLSON, KIRCHER & ZENDER, PLC, St. James, MN, for plaintiffs.

L. Dale Owens and Eric R. Magnus, JACKSON LEWIS LLP, Atlanta, GA; D. Christopher Lauderdale, JACKSON LEWIS LLP, Greenville, SC; David J. Duddleston, JACKSON LEWIS PC, Minneapolis, MN, for defendant.

OPINION

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MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN R. TUNHEIM, United States District Judge.

Plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, bring this putative collective and class action against their employer, Armour-Eckrich Meats, LLC, (" Armour" ), claiming that Armour failed to pay employees for time employees worked in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (" FLSA" ), the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act, and in breach of a contract between the parties. Two motions are before the Court. First, Armour moves to dismiss plaintiffs' breach of contract claim and objects to United States Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan's recommendation to deny the motion. Second, plaintiffs move for conditional certification of a collective action under the FLSA. The Court will deny Armour's motion to dismiss and grant plaintiffs' motion for conditional class certification.

BACKGROUND

Armour specializes in processing and preparing meat proteins and operates a food processing facility in St. James,

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Minnesota. (Amended Compl. (" Compl." ) ¶ 3, May 10, 2013, Docket No. 13.) Plaintiffs are or have been hourly employees at Armour's facility in St. James within the last three years. (Compl. ¶ 5.) Plaintiffs allege that they performed unpaid work before and after clocking in and out for shifts and meal breaks, including donning and doffing protective gear and waiting in line to clock in, for a total of approximately fifteen minutes of unpaid work time per day per person. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 8-9.) Plaintiffs also allege generally that they perform unpaid work at the start and end of their work shifts, for example, because Armour uses the shift start time to calculate wages even if plaintiffs clocked in before the start time, but uses the clock-in time if plaintiffs clock in after the start time. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 13, 16-17.)

With their motion for conditional certification of a collective action class, plaintiffs have submitted declarations from nine current and former Armour employees at the St. James facility. ( See Aff. of David E. Schlesinger, Exs. A-I, Sept. 6, 2013, Docket No. 34.) The declarants include both employees who work on the production line and other employees, such as a blade sharpener and inspectors. The declarations include several substantially similar or nearly identical allegations. All declarants allege that they were told they need to begin their scheduled shifts with all the required sanitary clothing and safety gear already on and that they need to arrive early for their scheduled shifts. (Exs. A-I, ¶ 4.) The declarations of all current employees (and some former employees, including non-production line employees) also state that a notice recently posted at the St. James facility states that " employees are permitted to punch in no more than five minutes before shift start." ( Id. ¶ 5.) All declarants also state that they are required to put on certain clothing and gear and that they are not paid for that work. ( Id. ¶ 6.) All declarants state that they are required to doff required clothing and safety gear after clocking out for their lunch break and that they are required to again don the required clothing and gear before clocking back in, such that much of their 30 minute lunch break is spent donning and doffing. ( Id. ¶ 7.) All employees estimate that the unpaid work they perform results in them working more than forty hours per week. ( Id. ¶ 8.)

With regard to the breach of contract claim (Count IV), plaintiffs allege that Armour " entered into an employment contract, express or implied, with Plaintiffs and class members, under which Plaintiffs and class members were to be paid at a certain hourly rate for the work they performed for the benefit of Defendant Armour" and that Armour " made this promise to Plaintiffs and class members on many occasions, including, but not limited to, on or around Plaintiffs['] and class members' respective dates of hire." (Compl. ¶ ¶ 55-56.) Plaintiffs further allege that " Plaintiffs and class members accepted Defendant Armour's offer to compensate them at a certain hourly rate for all work performed each time they reported to the St. James facility and performed their job duties," but that Armour " breached this contract when it failed to pay Plaintiffs . . . for the time they spend/spent donning and doffing the required protective gear." ( Id. ¶ ¶ 57-58.)

DISCUSSION

I. MOTION TO DISMISS

Armour moves to dismiss plaintiffs' breach of contract claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. ( See Mot. to Dismiss, May 24, 2013, Docket No. 14.) The Magistrate Judge recommended denying this motion (Report and Recommendation (" R& R" ), Oct. 18, 2013,

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Docket No. 44) and Armour objects (Obj. to R& R, Nov. 1, 2013, Docket No. 45).

A. Standard of Review

Upon the filing of a report and recommendation by a magistrate judge, a party may " serve and file specific written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2); accord D. Minn. LR 72.2(b). " The district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

On a motion to dismiss brought under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must " accept all facts pled by the nonmoving party as true and draw all reasonable inferences from the facts in favor of the nonmovant." Waldron v. Boeing Co., 388 F.3d 591, 593 (8th Cir. 2004). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint must contain " a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." This requires a plaintiff to allege " enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). The plaintiffs must " plead[] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

" The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Farnam St. Fin., Inc. v. Pump Media, Inc., Civ. No. 09-233, 2009 WL 4672668, at *3 (D. Minn. Dec. 8, 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Facts pled which " give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests" meet the 12(b)(6) standard. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration and internal quotations omitted)).

B. Breach of Contract Claim

Under Minnesota law, plaintiffs must demonstrate four elements to show a breach of contract: (1) a contract was formed, (2) plaintiffs performed any required conditions precedent, (3) defendant materially breached the contract, and (4) plaintiffs suffered damages as a result.[1] See Gen. Mills Operations, LLC v. Five Star Custom Foods, Ltd., 789 F.Supp.2d 1148, 1155 (D. Minn. 2011) (citing Parkhill v. Minn. Mut. Life Ins. Co., 174 F.Supp.2d 951, 961 (D. Minn. 2000)).

Armour argues in its motion to dismiss that plaintiffs fail to allege sufficient facts about the alleged contract, specifically as to what a representative of Armour actually offered to plaintiffs and what tasks Armour promised to pay for, and that without those specific details, plaintiffs' allegations are conclusory and insufficient. The Magistrate Judge rejected Armour's arguments, finding that, although " [p]laintiffs' allegations may not be 'as specific as they could be,'" they adequately alleged the formation of a contract. (R& R at 5 (quoting Chambers v. Travelers Cos., Inc., 764 F.Supp.2d 1071, 2009 WL 873124 at *5 (D. Minn. 2009)).) The Magistrate Judge concluded that plaintiffs' allegations that Armour promised to pay them a certain hourly rate for all hours worked and made the promise on many occasions were sufficient allegations of an offer, rejecting Armour's arguments that they

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failed because they did not include the specific identity of the promisor or the exact date of promise. Because the plaintiffs also adequately alleged their acceptance of the offer, the Magistrate Judge concluded that plaintiffs adequately alleged the formation of a contract.[2]

Armour now objects to the conclusions of the R& R, again raising its argument that plaintiffs fail to adequately allege that Armour promised to pay them for time spent donning and doffing, rather than promising to pay them simply for time worked. Armour argues that in order to state a claim for breach of contract, " the plaintiff must specifically allege facts showing that the defendant actually promised that it would provide [the specific] money or benefit" that plaintiffs claim to have been deprived of. (Obj. to R& R at 6 (emphasis omitted).) Essentially, Armour's argument appears to be that in order to state a claim for breach of contract for failure to pay for time spent ...


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