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Hill v. Meda Painting and Refinishing, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

March 27, 2017

RAYMOND HILL, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MEDA PAINTING AND REFINISHING, INC., et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS OR FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [33]

          STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Raymond Hill, Chris Piotter, Ranson Kelly, Phil Piotter, and Robert States sued Defendants Meda Painting and Refinishing, Inc. ("MPR"), Viking Painting, LLC ("Viking"), and Michael A. Meda ("Meda") under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss or for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motion in part and deny the motion in part.

         BACKGROUND

         Viking and MPR are paint contractors owned by Meda and based in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. Plaintiffs worked for MPR as residential painters for various lengths of time between June 2012 and November 2014. Plaintiffs claim Defendants hired and supervised them, provided them with equipment, and controlled every aspect of their work, including schedules, payment rates, customer billing rates, project deadlines, appropriate dress attire, and acceptable on-the-job behavior. ECF 1 ¶¶ 17-20. They claim Defendants forced them "to sign waivers, under coercion of termination, stating that they only worked 30 hours" per week-when they typically logged more than 40-and calculated overtime pay using the regular hourly rate. Id. ¶¶ 23-25. Additionally, Hill claims he was terminated after providing the Department of Labor with testimony about Defendants' wage and hour violations. Id. ¶¶ 33-34.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Court may only grant a Civil Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss if the allegations are not "sufficient 'to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ' and to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Hensley Mfg. v. ProPride, Inc., 579 F.3d 603, 609 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007)). In evaluating the motion, the Court presumes the truth of all well-pled factual assertions. Bishop v. Lucent Techs., 520 F.3d 516, 519 (6th Cir. 2008). Moreover, the Court must draw every reasonable inference in favor of the non-moving party. Dubay v. Wells, 506 F.3d 422, 427 (6th Cir. 2007). But a "pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the element of a cause of action will not do.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Rules 12(b)(6), 12(d), and 56

         At the outset, the Court must determine the proper standard to employ as it reviews Defendants' motion and the attached exhibits, which include affidavits from Meda and nonparty Brian Williams, ECF 33-2, 33-3; "Independent Contractor Agreements, " "Independent Contractor Statements, " "Sole Proprietor Statements, " and W-9 tax forms for each Plaintiff, ECF 33-4, 33-5, 33-6, 33-7, 33-8[1]; a list of "OCC Jobsite Safety Rules, " ECF 33-9; and screen shots of websites and social media postings pertaining to Kelly and Hill, ECF 33-10, 33-11.

         Defendants primarily move to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), so the Court must first decide whether it is proper to consider these exhibits as part of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. A court may consider "public records, items appearing in the record of the case and exhibits attached to defendant's motion to dismiss so long as they are referred to in the [c]omplaint and are central to the claims contained therein." Bassett v. NCAA, 528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008). Here, the complaint refers to waivers Defendants allegedly forced Plaintiffs to sign regarding the number of hours worked weekly, but it is not clear whether any of the exhibits attached to Defendants' motion are the same as or substantially similar to those waivers. Thus, it would be improper for the Court to consider them in the context of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.

         Alternatively, Defendants invite the Court to construe the motion as one for summary judgment under Rule 56-by way of Rule 12(d)-if the Court believes that is the proper posture to consider the exhibits. When, as here, "matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, " Rule 12(d) allows a court to construe a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) as a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Courts are afforded broad discretion when making this decision, but should do so with "great caution and attention to the parties' procedural rights, " giving the parties notice of the changed status of the motion so the parties have a opportunity to respond with material pertinent to the motion. Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561 F.3d 478, 487 (6th Cir. 2009).

         Here, the Court has not given Plaintiffs notice, Plaintiffs have submitted declarations of their own, and discovery has yet to begin. It is simply too early in the proceedings to consider materials outside the pleadings that are more properly exchanged, addressed, and developed during discovery and subsequent motion practice. The Court therefore declines to convert the motion, and declines to consider the exhibits attached to both parties' briefs. See, e.g., Marks One Car Rental, Inc. v. Auto Club Grp. Ins. Co., 55 F.Supp.3d 977, 981 n.3 (E.D. Mich. 2014) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) and finding a request for summary judgment premature when plaintiffs have submitted affidavits and discovery has yet to begin); Mincey v. Univ. of Cincinnati, No. 1:11-CV-300-HJW, 2012 WL 1068167, at *2 (S.D. Ohio Mar. 29, 2012) ("[T]he parties have not had a reasonable opportunity for discovery, and the Court will not consider any matters outside the pleadings at this early stage of the proceedings."). The Court will, however, deny the motion without prejudice to the extent it seeks summary judgment. Defendants will of course still have the opportunity to move for summary judgment after the parties have had an opportunity to engage in discovery.

         II. Defendants' Arguments for Dismissal

         Having determined the appropriate standard of review, the Court must now decide whether Plaintiffs' allegations sufficiently serve as a factual basis for an inference of wrongdoing. Defendants contend that the Court should dismiss the complaint because Plaintiffs are not "employees" within the meaning of the statute, Plaintiffs' factual allegations are insufficient, and-as to Viking, in ...


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