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Holcomb-Jones v. Stonemor Partners, L.P.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division

October 10, 2018

MARLA HOLCOMB-JONES, REBA LACKEY, STEVEN JOEL PARTAIN, SHARON ANN RAWLS, and PAMELA ROBERTS, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly-situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
STONEMOR PARTNERS, L.P., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court on Defendant StoneMor Partners, L.P.'s (StoneMor) motion to dismiss. (Doc. 31). Before this motion, StoneMor filed a motion to dismiss (doc. 6), which became moot when the court (Hopkins, J.) granted plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint. (Doc. 18). Plaintiffs amended their complaint and StoneMor filed another motion to dismiss. (Docs. 21, 24). StoneMor's second motion to dismiss also became moot when plaintiffs were granted leave to amend their complaint for a second time. (Doc. 29). Plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint and it is StoneMor's motion to dismiss that complaint, its third motion to dismiss overall, which is now before the court. (Docs. 6, 24, 30, 31). StoneMor seeks dismissal of unpaid minimum wage and overtime claims brought by plaintiffs Marla Holcomb-Jones, Reba Lackey, Steven Joel Partain, Sharon Ann Rawls, and Pamela Roberts (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) on behalf of themselves and a putative class of similarly situated employees. According to the plaintiffs, StoneMor violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) by failing to pay them wages that they are due.

         For the reasons set out in this opinion, the court GRANTS StoneMor's motion to dismiss because plaintiffs' allegations are factually inadequate to make their FLSA claims plausible.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A well-pled complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)); see also Harris, 572 F.3d at 71-72. To be plausible, the complaint need not show a probability of plaintiff's success, but it must evidence more than a mere possibility of a right to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955. And in evaluating whether a complaint states a plausible claim, the court draws upon “'judicial experience and common sense' to determine whether the factual allegations, which are assumed to be true, ‘plausibly give rise to an entitlement of relief.” Landers v. Quality Communications, Inc., 771 F.3d 638, 641, citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937.

         When resolving a motion to dismiss, the court must “accept[] the allegations in the complaint as true and constru[e] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Miljkovic v. Shafritz & Dinkin, P.A., 791 F.3d 1291, 1297 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Hill v. White, 321 F.3d 1334, 1335 (11th Cir. 2003) (per curiam)). Although the court must accept well-pleaded facts as true, the court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         StoneMor, a national provider of deathcare services, owns and operates cemeteries and funeral homes across the United States and in Alabama. (Doc. 30, ¶ 22). Part of its operation is in sales, selling various cemetery products and services. (Doc. 30, ¶ 23). In 2014 and 2015, plaintiffs were a part of StoneMor's sales operation, employed as so-called “family counselors” and/or “family advisors.” (Doc. 30, ¶ 9-13, 24-25). Plaintiffs worked as family counselors and family advisors at different locations, but were all indisputably employed by StoneMor in non-exempt jobs at all times relevant to the complaint.

         Working as family counselors and advisors, plaintiffs were paid a commission on their sales. (Id. ¶ 29). The sales commission was the only compensation paid to plaintiffs if, in a given week, they earned enough commission to exceed payment of the equivalent minimum wage requirement for a forty-hour week. (Id.). If the commission did not satisfy the forty-hour minimum wage requirement, plaintiffs received commissions plus additional compensation to meet the FLSA's minimum wage requirement, but not to exceed the minimum wage requirement for a forty-hour week. (Id.). Plaintiffs were regularly required to work more than forty hours a week, irrespective of whether their pay was generated from commission or minimum wage. (Id. ¶ 30). And they were instructed not to record working more than forty hours per workweek even when required to do so regularly. (Id.). Individually, the plaintiffs allege the following:

• Ms. Holcomb-Jones alleges that she “worked more than 40 hours per week [sic] on a regular basis but was told not to record more than 40 hours and was therefore not paid either minimum wage or overtime for every hour she worked. (Doc. 30, ¶ 32).
• Ms. Reba Lackey alleges that she “worked the six days the last week of March (Monday through Saturday and was then called in Sunday afternoon to meet with a family.” She also alleges that during “the first week of April, 2016, she worked (Monday through Saturday, ) and was called in again that Sunday. During the second week of April, 2016, she worked Monday through Saturday, and was told that she was going to be on call that Sunday. Ms. Lackey was not paid for any hours in excess of 40 either week.” She was required to watch a video on overtime pay and sign a document stating that overtime pay would “not be paid if not preapproved by management.” And “many times” she worked until 8:00 P.M. for call nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She also alleges that if she worked through lunch, 30 minutes was deducted from her time “whether she received lunch or worked through lunch doing non-exempt work.” (Doc. 30, ¶¶ 34-37).
• Mr. Steven Joel Partain alleges he “worked more than 40 hours per week on numerous occasions but was not paid overtime compensation.” (Doc. 30, ¶ 38).
• Ms. Sharon Ann Rawls alleges that on “numerous occasions” she worked “more than 40 hours per week but she did not receive overtime compensation.” (Doc. 30, ¶ 39).
• Ms. Pamela Roberts alleges that she was “required to work on Saturday and Sunday after working a full workweek but was only allowed to record that she had worked forty hours that week and therefore not paid ...

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