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Huddleston v. John Christner Trucking, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

May 1, 2018

THOMAS HUDDLESTON, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN CHRISTNER TRUCKING, LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          GREGORY K. ERIZZELL, CHIEF JUDGE

         Before the court is the “Motion for Conditional Certification and to Facilitate Notice Under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b)” [Doc. No. 58] of the plaintiff, Thomas Huddleston.

         I. Background

         Huddleston filed this lawsuit against John Christner Trucking, LLC (JCT), alleging, inter alia, that it violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by misclassifying its employees as independent contractors and requiring them to work without compensation. JCT is a for-hire trucking company headquartered in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, which hauls products throughout the contiguous United States. Huddleston worked for JCT as a truck driver from May, 2016, through August, 2016.

         Huddleston asks the court to conditionally certify a collective action under the FLSA and to facilitate notice. Huddleston proposes the following definition for the collective:

All current and former individuals who provide transportation services for John Christner Trucking, LLC (“JCT”) within the United States at any time during the period beginning April 13, 2014, and continuing through the present, who entered into an Independent Contractor Operator Agreement with JCT, and entered into a Lease Agreement with either JCT or Three Diamond Leasing, LLC, who were classified as independent contractors.

[Doc. No. 73, p. 13].[1] Four individuals have already elected to opt in by filing “Consent to Join Collective Action” forms: Robert Lewis; Roy Bittner; Douglas D. Burnett II; and John Henshaw. See [Doc. Nos. 44; 53; 70].

         II. Standard

         The Fair Labor Standards Act permits collective actions to be brought for and in behalf of similarly situated employees:

An action to recover the liability prescribed in either of the preceding sentences may be maintained against any employer . . . 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). Granting conditional certification does not produce a class with an independent legal status or join additional parties. Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 569 U.S. 66, 75 (2013). Rather, “[t]he sole consequence of conditional certification is the sending of court-approved written notice to employees, who in turn become parties to a collective action only by filing written consent with the court . . . .” Id.

         District courts have discretion to determine whether to certify a § 216(b) collective. The “overriding question” is whether the original plaintiffs and the opt-in plaintiffs are similarly situated. Thiessen v. Gen. Elec. Capital Corp., 267 F.3d 1095, 1102 (10th Cir. 2001). To answer this question, the Tenth Circuit has expressly authorized and endorsed a two-stage, ad hoc approach. See Id. at 1105. During the first stage, plaintiffs face the relatively light burden of making “substantial allegations that the putative class members were together the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan.”[2] Thiessen, 267 F.3d at 1102 (citing Vaszlavik v. Storage Tech. Corp., 175 F.R.D. 672, 678 (D. Colo. 1997)). “The court does not weigh the evidence, resolve factual disputes, or rule on the merits of plaintiffs' claims.” Greenstein v. Meredith Corp., 948 F.Supp.2d 1266, 1267 (D. Kan. 2013) (citing Gieseke v. First Horizon Home Loan Corp., 408 F.Supp.2d 1164, 1166-67 (D. Kan. 2006)). If the court determines a collective action should be certified for notice purposes, potential collective members are given notice and the opportunity to opt in. The action then proceeds as a representative action throughout discovery. See Kaiser v. At the Beach, Inc., No. 08-CV-586-TCK-FHM, 2010 WL 5114729, at *3 (N.D. Okla. Dec. 9, 2010) (citing Mooney v. Aramco Servs. Co., 54 F.3d 1207, 1213-14 (5th Cir. 1995). The second stage occurs at the end of discovery, typically prompted by a motion to decertify. Thiessen, 267 F.3d at 1102-03. At that time, the court “makes a second, stricter similarly-situated determination considering ‘(1) disparate factual and employment settings of the individual plaintiffs; (2) the various defenses available to defendant which appear to be individual to each plaintiff; (3) fairness and procedural considerations; and (4) whether plaintiffs made the filings required by the [FLSA] before instituting suit.”' In re Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., No. 17-1028, 2017 WL 4054144, at *1 (10th Cir. 2017) (citing Thiessen, 267 F.3d at 1103).

         III.Conditional Certification

         This case is at the first stage and Huddleston bears the burden of making substantial allegations that the potential collective members were together the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan by JCT. In support Huddleston has submitted: (1) signed declarations by himself, Lewis, Bittner, and Burnett; (2) deposition excerpts from JCT's corporate representative, Shannon Crowley; (3) a copy ...


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