On November 12, 2014, in Greg Landers v. Quality Communications Inc., the Ninth Circuit clarified a previously unsettled point of law by confirming that Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) pleadings must meet the specificity requirements established in the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Affirming the dismissal of a proposed class action against cable services company Quality Communications Inc. for unpaid overtime wages, the three-judge panel ruled that the trial court had acted properly in dismissing the suit because, in light of Twombly and Iqbal, the plaintiff's pleadings lacked sufficient specificity to state a claim under the FLSA.
The named plaintiff in the class action had alleged that Quality Communications violated the FLSA by failing to pay employees minimum wage, paying insufficient overtime wages, and denying overtime wages. The trial court dismissed the suit, ruling that the plaintiff's complaint was insufficiently specific under the Twombly and Iqbal standard as it did not make any factual allegations approximating the actual overtime hours the plaintiff worked, the plaintiff's hourly wage, or the amount of overtime wages he was due.
While the First, Second and Third Circuits already have held that FLSA claims must meet the higher standard of specificity set forth in Twombly and Iqbal, the issue was a matter of first impression in the Ninth Circuit. Writing for the panel, Judge Rawlinson noted that, prior to the Supreme Court's rulings in Twombly and Iqbal, a complaint under the FLSA for unpaid minimum wages or overtime wages only had to allege that the employer failed to pay sufficient wages. But post-Twombly and Iqbal, the Ninth Circuit ruled that a higher standard applied, and pleadings containing conclusory allegations that merely recite the statutory language would no longer be sufficient. The Ninth Circuit found that the plaintiff failed to state a claim under the FLSA because his complaint did not allege facts demonstrating that there was any specific week in which the plaintiff was entitled to, but did not receive, minimum wage or overtime wages.
This decision appears to shoot down a typical argument made by Plaintiffs that, without discovery, it can sometimes be impossible to include enough detail in a pleading to satisfy the standard set forth in Twombly and Iqbal. As this decision makes clear, however, a plaintiff in the Ninth Circuit can no longer open the doors to discovery without a sufficiently specific pleading.
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