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Sutka v. Yazaki North America Inc.

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

June 9, 2017

TODD SUTKA, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, Plaintiff,


          Paul D. Borman United States District Judge.

         In this putative class action, Plaintiff Todd Sutka alleges that his employer, Defendant Yazaki North America Inc., misclassified him and other employees in similar positions as exempt from overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., and consequently failed to pay them overtime compensation to which they were entitled. Plaintiff seeks unpaid wages under the FLSA, as well as liquidated damages for late payment of wages under the Ohio Prompt Pay Act (“OPPA”), Ohio Rev. Code § 4113.15.

         Now before the Court is Defendant's Partial Motion to Dismiss. Defendant seeks dismissal of Plaintiff's OPPA claim only, citing language in the statute that limits recovery of liquidated damages to cases involving unpaid wages that are not in dispute. Accordingly, the issue presented here is largely one of statutory interpretation. Because the Court finds that Defendant's interpretation is supported by the case law interpreting the relevant statutory text, the Court will grant Defendant's Partial Motion to Dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant is a producer of auto parts, and it sells its products globally to customers that include car manufacturers. In certain circumstances, Defendant details its employees to work in auto assembly plants where its products are installed on new vehicles. Plaintiff works under such an arrangement as a “Resident Engineer” for Defendant at Fiat Chrysler's Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio. (ECF No. 1, Compl. ¶ 9.) Among other responsibilities, Resident Engineers “actively monitor Yazaki product quality on the assembly line, including physically assembling, diagnosing, repairing, cleaning, and performing other maintenance and quality assurance-related activities for Yazaki's automotive products.” (Id.) Resident Engineers are not professionally licensed and are trained primarily on the job. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that until a few years ago, Defendant paid its Resident Engineers hourly, and compensated their overtime at 1.5 times their normal hourly rates. Then, at some time prior to three years before the Complaint was filed, Defendant declared that its Resident Engineers were “exempt” from overtime, and had them (including Plaintiff) sign paperwork acknowledging that change. (Compl. ¶ 10.) Under the new arrangement, Resident Engineers are paid a “'salary' [which is] reflected on their paychecks as an hourly rate for work up to 40 hours in a workweek.” (Id.) They are then paid additionally for any hours they work in excess of 45 hours in a given workweek, but they are only compensated for those hours at their normal hourly rate. Plaintiff claims that Defendant refers to this pay designation as “straight overtime, ” “Straight OT, ” “Straight OT-Salary, ” or “Premium Pay.” (Id.) The effect of this pay structure is that Resident Engineers are uncompensated for hours that they work in excess of 40 hours but short of 45 hours in a given week. Moreover, Plaintiff alleges, Defendant's designation of Resident Engineers as “exempt” is a misclassification. Plaintiff alleges that because Resident Engineers are not in fact exempt from the FLSA's wage standards, they are entitled to be paid 1.5 times their standard hourly rate (which itself cannot be lower than the FLSA's minimum wage) for all hours in excess of 40 hours in a week-that is, to be paid as they were before Defendant implemented the current pay structure. (Compl. ¶¶ 11-12.)

         Plaintiff filed suit on March 3, 2017. (ECF No. 1, Compl.) In the two-count “Collective and Class Action Complaint, ” Plaintiff's first claim is a putative collective action brought pursuant to the FLSA, and his second claim is a putative class action brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 to enforce the OPPA. On behalf of himself and the members of the putative plaintiff class, Plaintiff seeks to recover unpaid wages and liquidated damages under the FLSA, and liquidated damages under the OPPA.

         Plaintiff's OPPA claim is the subject of the present Partial Motion to Dismiss, which Defendant filed on April 5, 2017. (ECF No. 8, Def.'s Mot.) Plaintiff filed a Response on April 26, 2017 (ECF No. 12), and Defendant filed a timely Reply (ECF No. 13). The Court held a hearing on the Motion on May 26, 2017.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows for the dismissal of a case where the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must “construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept its allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Handy-Clay v. City of Memphis, 695 F.3d 531, 538 (6th Cir. 2012).

         To state a claim, a complaint must provide a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “[T]he complaint ‘does not need detailed factual allegations' but should identify ‘more than labels and conclusions.'” Casias v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 695 F.3d 428, 435 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The court “need not accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, or an unwarranted factual inference.” Handy-Clay, 695 F.3d at 539 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         In other words, a plaintiff must provide more than “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” and his or her “[factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56. The Sixth Circuit has recently reiterated that “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a litigant must allege enough facts to make it plausible that the defendant bears legal liability. The facts cannot make it merely possible that the defendant is liable; they must make it plausible.” Agema v. City of Allegan, 826 F.3d 326, 331 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).


         Through its Partial Motion to Dismiss, Defendant seeks dismissal of Plaintiffs OPPA claim, arguing that the Ohio statute does not entitle a plaintiff to liquidated damages where the reason that the alleged unpaid wages were not paid is a dispute over whether they were in fact owed. ...

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