Friday, July 6, 2012

SCOTUS Grants Cert. in FLSA "Pick Off" Case - COTW #99

The Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk and it's the employment law Case of the Week! You can read the 3d Circuit opinion here. I know what you're thinking . . . "hey, wasn't that Lawffice Space Case of the Week #57 back on September 8, 2011?" Yup! Read my analysis of the Third Circuit's opinion here.

Per the Petition for Cert., the Question Presented is:
Whether a case becomes moot, and thus beyond the judicial power of Article III, when the lone plaintiff receives an offer from the defendants to satisfy all of the plaintiff ’s claims.
This captures the flavor, but fails to explain what's really going on in this case.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), plaintiffs can bring a "collective action." It's kind of like a class action, but it is governed by the FLSA, not Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 (governing class actions generally). Under the FLSA, plaintiffs must opt-in to the collective action.

Switching gears for a moment, under Fed. R. Civ. P. 68, a defendant can offer judgment to a plaintiff. Here, the defendant offered the initial plaintiff everything she could possibly claim in her lawsuit. Here's the important part: the defendant made the offer before any other plaintiffs had opted in to the FLSA collective action.

Under Article III of the Constitution, federal courts can only hear actual "cases" and "controversies." If the lead, and at the time only, plaintiff has no interest in the case (because she has already been offered everything she could possibly obtain through the lawsuit), is there really a case here? Or is it moot, and therefore ought to be dismissed?

The trial court said nope, get it outta here! The Third Circuit reversed, holding that you can't just pick off the lead plaintiff to destroy a potential collective action - ya gotta give people a shot to opt in (I'm sure both courts used proper English and not "outta" and "gotta," but you get the point). Now, the Supreme Court will decide.