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Hubbard v. Papa John's International, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

November 15, 2019

HUBBARD, et al., PLAINTIFFS
v.
PAPA JOHN'S INTERNATIONAL, INC., DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS B. RUSSELL, SENIOR JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Papa John's International, Inc.'s Motion to Stay Under the First-To-File Rule and to Partially Dismiss Claims as Time-Barred, [DN 30], and Defendant's Motion to Stay Under the First-To-File Rule and Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Claims, [DN 45]. Fully briefed, these matters are ripe for adjudication. For the reasons stated herein: Defendant's Motion to Stay Under the First-To-File Rule and to Partially Dismiss Claims as Time-Barred, [DN 30], is DENIED AS MOOT and Defendant's Motion to Stay Under The First-To-File Rule and Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Claims, [DN 45], is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 13, 2016, plaintiffs William Durling, Michael Morris, James Morton, Jr., Richard Sobol, Muhammad Sultan, and Tom Wolff filed a collective and class action complaint against Papa John's International (“PJI”) in the Southern District of New York. Durling v. Papa John's International, Inc., No. 7:16-CV-03592 (S.D.N.Y.); [DN 45-1 at 386]. The plaintiffs claimed that PJI “systematically under-reimbursed its delivery drivers for vehicular wear and tear, gas, and other driving-related expenses, thereby ensuring that all of PJI's delivery drivers are effectively paid below minimum wage.” [DN 45-3 at 417]. Plaintiffs brought a collective action pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) on behalf of “[a]ll persons PJI employed as a delivery driver during any workweek in the maximum limitations period.” Id. at 432. Plaintiff William Durling brought a class action pursuant to New York Labor Law; Plaintiff Mike Morris brought a class action pursuant to the Delaware Minimum Wage Act; Plaintiff James Morton, Jr. brought a class action pursuant to Pennsylvania Wage and Hour Law; and Plaintiff Tom Wolff brought a class action pursuant to New Jersey Wage and Hour Law. Id. at 434-36.

         On July 20, 2018, the Southern District of New York conditionally certified a collective action against PJI consisting of those individuals employed as delivery drivers by corporate owned or controlled Papa John's stores. [DN 45-6 at 458]. On April 18, 2018, plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint to add Aaron Nelson, Joshua Boyland, and one other individual as additional named plaintiffs, alleging violations of Colorado, Illinois, and Missouri law on behalf of similarly situated delivery drivers. [DN 45-1 at 388]. However, on February 5, 2019, the Southern District of New York denied the motion to amend based on a lack of personal jurisdiction, finding no connection between the proposed plaintiffs and PJI's activities within New York. Id.

         In response to this decision, the same attorneys representing the Durling Plaintiffs filed the current class action in the Western District of Kentucky. In this case, Plaintiffs Amanda Hubbard, Aaron Nelson, and Joshua Boyland allege that PJI under-reimbursed its delivery drivers for expenses related to their vehicles which resulted in payment below minimum wage in violation of Kentucky, Colorado, and Missouri's minimum wage laws. [DN 1]. In response, PJI filed a motion to stay the case pursuant to the first-to-file rule, arguing that to allow “this case to proceed concurrently with Durling would waste significant judicial resources and create a substantial risk of inconsistent rulings.” [DN 30-1 at 151-52]. However, PJI's motion to stay became moot when Plaintiffs subsequently filed an amended complaint. See 10-Acious, Inc. v. Green Hills Ventures, LLC, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95677, *2 (W.D. Ky. Aug. 25, 2011) (“An amended complaint supersedes all previous complaints and becomes the only operative pleading. Thus, it renders moot any pending motion to dismiss the original complaint.”).

         Plaintiffs' amended class action complaint added Edgar Bustamante, Jacob Pontow, Milton Dearry, and Reynard Webb as named plaintiffs alleging violations of Florida, Illinois, Maryland, and Minnesota law on behalf of similarly situated delivery drivers residing in their respective states. [DN 30]. As a result, the following claims are currently before the Court: violation of Kentucky's Wage and Hour Law; violation of the Colorado Minimum Wage Act; breach of contract under Colorado law; unjust enrichment under Colorado law; violation of the Florida Minimum Wage Act; violation of the Illinois Minimum Wage Act; violation of the Illinois Wage and Payment Collection Act; breach of contract under Illinois law; unjust enrichment under Illinois law; violation of the Maryland Minimum Wage and Hour Law; violation of the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act; violation of the Minnesota Payment of Wages Act; breach of contract under Minnesota law; unjust enrichment under Minnesota law; breach of contract under Missouri law; and unjust enrichment under Missouri law. Id. at 348-69. Subsequently, PJI filed the second motion to stay pursuant to the first-to-file rule currently before the Court. [DN 45].

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “The first-to-file rule is a well-established doctrine that encourages comity among federal courts of equal rank.” Zide Sport Shop of Ohio, Inc. v. Ed Tobergte Assocs., Inc., 16 Fed. App'x 433, 437 (6th Cir. 2001). “[W]hen actions involving nearly identical parties and issues have been filed in two different district courts, the court in which the first suit was filed should generally proceed to judgment.” Certified Restoration Dry Cleaning Network, LLC v. Tenke Corp., 511 F.3d 535, 551 (6th Cir. 2007). The first-to-file rule “conserves judicial resources by minimizing duplicative or piecemeal litigation, and protects the parties and the courts from the possibility of conflicting results.” Baatz v. Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC, 814 F.3d 785, 789 (6th Cir. 2016). In the Sixth Circuit, courts apply the first-to-file rule by evaluating three factors: “(1) the chronology of events, (2) the similarity of the parties involved, and (3) the similarity of the issues or claims at stake.” Id. “If these three factors support application of the rule, the court must also determine whether any equitable considerations such as evidence of ‘inequitable conduct, bad faith, anticipatory suits, [or] forum shopping,' merit not applying the first-to-file rule in a particular case.” Id. (quoting Certified Restoration, 511 F.3d at 551-52).

         DISCUSSION

         Defendant PJI requests the Court stay the current action pursuant to the first-to-file rule. [DN 45-1]. It asserts that Hubbard “should be stayed under the ‘first-to-file' rule because it purports to bring state law minimum wage violations and common law claims premised on the exact same improper wage reimbursement theory as alleged in Durling, and because those claims are asserted on behalf of 11 different Rule 23 classes that overlap with the conditionally certified collective action in Durling.” Id. at 393. Moreover, PJI claims “[h]aving two federal courts decide the same issues in both cases . . . would create the possibility of conflicting judgments and be a waste of judicial resources.” Id. at 399. In response, Plaintiffs argue that the first-to-file rule is inapplicable because this Court is the first-filed court in regard to the chronology of events factor. [DN 48 at 302]. In addition to other equity-based arguments, Plaintiffs contend that courts have refused application of the first-to-file rule when another court has previously determined that it lacks jurisdiction over the claims at issues. Id. at 604.

         1. Chronology of Events

         The first factor the Court must consider in determining whether the first-to-file rule applies is the chronology of events. PJI argues that because Durling was filed on May 13, 2016, over three years prior to the filing of the current case, it is “plainly the first-filed action.” [DN 45-1 at 395]. In response, Plaintiffs claim that when applying the first-to-file rule, “the first court is not the court in which claims were first filed, but rather the court in which jurisdiction first attaches to the claims.” [DN 48 at 602]. Since the Southern District of New York lacked personal jurisdiction over Plaintiffs Nelson and Boylan's state law claims, Plaintiffs argue that this Court is the “first court” pursuant to the first-to-file rule. Id. at 602-03.

         The Court is unpersuaded by Plaintiffs' interpretation of the first-to-file rule. The Sixth Circuit has held that “[t]he dates to compare for chronology purposes of the first-to-file rule are when the relevant complaints are filed.” Baatz, 814 F.3d at 790. Jurisdictional issues are not considered in this inquiry. See Zimmer Enterprises, Inc. v. Atlandia Imports, Inc., 478 F.Supp.2d 983, 988 (S.D. Ohio 2007) (“Zimmer argues that the first-filed rule is concerned with a determination of which of the two courts first acquired jurisdiction, however, for purposes of the first-to-file chronology, the date that an original complaint is filed controls.”) (internal citation omitted). Rather, “the ‘chronology of events' factor simply asks which of the two overlapping cases was filed first.” Baatz, 814 F.3d at 790. ...


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