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Fernandez v. Clean House, LLC

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

March 2, 2018

MARIA FERNANDEZ; LAURA CHACON, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
CLEAN HOUSE, LLC; CESAR BARRIDA, a/k/a Cesar Barriga, Defendants-Appellees. and RUBI JAZMIN ORTEGA AGUILAR, Plaintiff,

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Colorado (D.C. No. 1:16-CV-02140-LTB)

          Alexander Hood, Towards Justice, Denver, Colorado (Alexander L. Gastman and Penn A. Dodgon, AndersonDodson, P.C., New York, New York, on the briefs), for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

          Teresa M. Wilkins, Law Firm of Teresa Wilkins, LLC, Englewood, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellees.

          Before BRISCOE, HARTZ, and PHILLIPS, Circuit Judges.

          HARTZ, Circuit Judge.

         Plaintiffs Maria Fernandez and Laura Chacon appeal the dismissal by the United States District Court for the District of Colorado of their Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) claims against Defendants Clean House and Cesar Barrida. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants failed to properly compensate them as employees. The general limitations period under the FLSA is two years, but that period is expanded to three years for willful violations. See 29 U.S.C. § 255(a). Plaintiffs' employment had ended between two and three years before they filed suit. Although the complaint alleged that Defendants' violations had been willful, Defendants moved to dismiss the claims as untimely on the ground that Plaintiffs had not supported their allegation of willfulness with sufficiently specific facts. The district court agreed with Defendants and dismissed the claims with prejudice. Plaintiffs argue that the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense which they did not need to anticipate in their complaint by alleging willfulness, and, in any event, their allegation of willfulness was adequate. We agree. Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we reverse.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs filed their original complaint on August 24, 2016, alleging violations of the FLSA and Colorado law. (They were joined by a third plaintiff who is not a party to this appeal.) They later filed an amended complaint (the Complaint), which is the operative pleading on appeal. The Complaint alleges that Plaintiffs began working as house cleaners for Defendants in May 2013, with Fernandez continuing until February 2014 and Chacon until April 2014. Both allegedly worked well over 40 hours per week, often working 11-12 hours a day and up to 77 hours per week. According to the Complaint, Defendants misclassified them as independent contractors instead of employees and as a result Defendants denied them, among other things, FLSA-required overtime pay, breaks, and minimum wages. On the issue of scienter, the Complaint alleged the following:

15.At all times material to this action, Defendant Clean House knew of the FLSA and CWA's requirements that it pay at least the minimum wage to all employees covered by the aforementioned acts for each and every hour worked and overtime rates of one and one-half their regular rates of pay for all hours worked over forty in a given workweek to nonexempt workers.
16.In choosing to pay Plaintiffs as it did, Defendant Clean House willfully violated the mandates of the laws at issue here.

Aplt. App. at 50 (emphasis added).

         Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a timely claim. Citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), they argued that the Complaint "allege[d] no supporting facts in support of" the allegation of willfulness and "[u]nsupported labels and legal conclusions . . . are insufficient to establish a plausible claim." Aplt. App. at 88. The district court agreed, citing both Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), in ruling that the Complaint had not plausibly alleged willfulness. It later entered an order dismissing Plaintiffs' claims with prejudice. Although the claims of the third plaintiff continued, the court certified its order as final under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b). Plaintiffs appeal the dismissal of their FLSA claims but do not appeal the dismissal of their claims under Colorado law.

         II. DISCUSSION

         We review de novo a district-court dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim. See Slater v. A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc., 719 F.3d 1190, 1196 (10th Cir. 2013). "To defeat a motion to dismiss, a complaint must plead facts sufficient to state a claim to relief that is ...


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