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Rafferty v. Denny's, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

July 8, 2019

LINDSAY RAFFERTY, on behalf of herself and all other similarly situated, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DENNY'S, INC., DEFENDANT.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HONORABLE SARA LIOI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the motion to dismiss filed by defendant Denny's, Inc. (“Denny's”) pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 7 (“Mot.”).) Plaintiff Lindsay Rafferty (“Rafferty”) has filed a response in opposition, with two supplements. (Doc. No. 11 (“Opp'n”); Doc. No. 13 (“Suppl.”); Doc. No. 14.) Denny's filed a reply. (Doc. No. 12 (“Reply”).)[1] For the reasons set forth herein, defendant's motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 17, 2018, Rafferty filed her complaint (Doc. No. 1, Complaint [“Compl.”]) under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated (the “collective members”). The FLSA provides, in relevant part:

An action to recover the liability [for violations of provisions of the FLSA] may be maintained against any employer (including a public agency) in any Federal or State court of competent jurisdiction by any one or more employees for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated. No. employee shall be a party plaintiff to any such action unless he gives his consent in writing to become such a party and such consent is filed in the court in which such action is brought.

29 U.S.C. § 216(b).

         Rafferty alleges that, from February 2012 until the present, she has been employed by Denny's as a server at its restaurant located at 2943 S. Arlington Road, Akron, Ohio 44312. (Compl. ¶ 13.) She has been paid by Denny's as a tipped employee under the FLSA, performing various tipped and nontipped duties, including, but not limited to, serving drinks and food to customers, cleaning, busing tables, washing dishes, and other side work. (Id. ¶¶ 14-15.)

         In a declaration accompanying Denny's motion to dismiss, Lester Nail (“Nail”), Assistant General Counsel for Denny's, attests that Denny's is incorporated in Florida and has its corporate headquarters in South Carolina. (Doc. No. 7-2, Declaration of Lester Nail (“Nail Decl.”) ¶ 7.) Nail further attests that Denny's owns and operates 181 restaurants in twenty-one (21) U.S. states, employing 9, 429 individuals. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) Denny's directly owns and operates four (4) restaurants in Ohio; it employs 177 people in Ohio (all but two (2) of whom work at the restaurants); and it has generated approximately 1.7% of its total annual revenue in Ohio, year-to-date. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 12- 13.)

         Rafferty alleges, on behalf of the collective members, that Denny's violates the FLSA by paying servers sub-minimum, tip-credit wages without informing them of the tip-credit provisions of the FLSA. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 3-5.) She sets forth three counts against Denny's under the FLSA: (1) failure to provide notice of the provisions of the “tip credit” in 29 U.S.C. § 203(m) (id. ¶¶ 50-56); (2) enforcing a policy or practice of paying servers sub-minimum, tip-credit wages even when it requires those employees to perform nontipped work that is unrelated to their tipped occupation (id. ¶¶ 6, 57-60); and (3) enforcing a policy or practice of requiring servers to perform nontipped work that, even if it was related to their tipped occupation, exceeded 20% of their time worked in one or more individual workweeks (id. ¶¶ 7, 61-65).

         Although no motion to certify the collective has yet been filed, the complaint identifies as follows a nationwide collective plaintiff will seek to certify:

All individuals who worked at any time during the past three years at any restaurant owned or operated by [d]efendant in the job position of server and who were paid for their work on an hourly basis according to the tip credit provisions of the FLSA, (i.e. an hourly rate less than the applicable minimum wage, excluding tips).

(Id. ¶ 44.) Because Rafferty alleges that the claims arise out of willful violations of the FLSA by Denny's, she alleges that a three-year statute of limitations applies. (Id. ¶ 45.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         Denny's has filed a motion to dismiss. It seeks dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction of the FLSA claims of any putative collective members not arising from employment by Denny's in Ohio. It also seeks dismissal of Counts Two and Three of the complaint for failure to state a claim. Each of these grounds for dismissal is discussed separately herein.

         A. Lack of Personal Jurisdiction (Claims of Nonresidents Arising Out of non-Ohio Employment)

         A plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the existence of personal jurisdiction. Neogen Corp. v. Neo Gen Screening, Inc., 282 F.3d 883, 887 (6th Cir. 2002). Where the Court makes a dismissal determination based on the pleadings and any supporting affidavits, without an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff “‘need only make a prima facie showing of jurisdiction.'” Id. (quoting CompuServe, Inc. v. Patterson, 89 F.3d 1257, 1262 (6th Cir. 1996)). The Court must construe the allegations “in a light most favorable to the plaintiff[.]” CompuServe, Inc., 89 F.3d at 1262.

         Where, as here, subject-matter jurisdiction is based on federal question alone, but “there is no provision authorizing nationwide service, federal courts must follow Rule 4(k) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which, inter alia, limits a court's exercise of personal jurisdiction to persons who can be reached by the forum state's long-arm statute.” Alisoglu v. Cent. States Thermo King of Okl., Inc., No. 12-cv-10230, 2012 WL 1666426, at *3 (E.D. Mich. May 11, 2012) (citing Omni Capital Int'l v. Rudolf Wolff & Co., 484 U.S. 97, 108, 108 S.Ct. 404, 98 L.Ed.2d 415 (1987)).

Where a federal court's subject matter jurisdiction over a case stems from the existence of a federal question, personal jurisdiction over a defendant exists “if the defendant is amenable to service of process under the [forum] state's long-arm statute and if the exercise of personal jurisdiction would not deny the defendant[ ] due process.”

Bird v. Parsons, 289 F.3d 865, 871 (6th Cir. 2002).[2]

         1. Due Process

         To satisfy due process, a court's exercise of its power over an out-of-state defendant must “not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154, 90 L.Ed. 95 (1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463, 61 S.Ct. 339, 85 L.Ed. 278 (1940)). “[T]he defendant's conduct and connection with the forum State [must be] such that he should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there.” World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297, 100 S.Ct. 559, 62 L.Ed.2d 490 (1980).

         “There are two types of personal jurisdiction under the Due Process Clause, general and specific jurisdiction, either one of which is adequate to confer jurisdiction.” Maclin v. Reliable ...


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