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Poehler v. Fenwick

United States District Court, D. Arizona

November 19, 2015

Robin L. Poehler, Plaintiff,
v.
Debra Fenwick; Cleaning Solution Service LLC, Defendants. Cleaning Solution Service LLC; Debra Fenwick, Counter-Claimant,
v.
Robin L. Poehler, Counter-Defendant.

ORDER AND OPINION [RE: MOTION AT DOCKET 8]

JOHN W. SEDWICK SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

I. MOTION PRESENTED

At docket 8, Plaintiff and Counter Defendant Robin Poehler (“Plaintiff” or “Poehler”) filed a motion to dismiss the counterclaims against her brought by Defendant and Counter-Claimants Cleaning Solution Service LLC (“CSS”) and Debra Fenwick (“Fenwick”; collectively, “Defendants”). She argues that the court should dismiss the counterclaims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction or, alternatively, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Defendants’ response is at docket 13. Plaintiff’s reply is at docket 14. Plaintiff requested oral argument, but it would not be of additional assistance to the court.

II. BACKGROUND

Poehler is a former employee of CSS. She worked as a cleaner with CSS from May 2013 through April 2014. She filed a lawsuit against CSS and Fenwick in May 2015 for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”)[1] and Arizona’s minimum wage law[2] based on her allegations that she was not paid for overtime and that Defendants made illegal deductions of pay and hours worked that caused her compensation to fall below minimum wage. After the case was removed to federal court, Defendants filed counterclaims against Poehler for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. Poehler argues that these state law counterclaims are not sufficiently related to her wage claims to allow the court to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over them pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), or, alternatively, she argues the court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the counterclaims under §1367(c)(4). She also argues that if the court were to disagree with her, dismissal is nonetheless appropriate because Defendants’ counterclaims were not filed on time and were not adequately pled.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), a party may seek dismissal of an action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In order to survive a defendant’s motion to dismiss, the plaintiff has the burden of proving jurisdiction.[3] Where the defendant brings a facial attack on the subject matter of the district court, the court assumes the factual allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint are true and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor.[4] The court does not, however, accept the truth of legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations.[5]

IV. DISCUSSION

The parties agree that Defendants’ counterclaims are state law claims and are permissive, not compulsory, under Rule 13 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. That is, Defendants concede that their counterclaims for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty do not arise out of the same transaction or occurrence as Plaintiff’s wage claims[6] and that there is no independent basis for the court’s jurisdiction over such claims.[7] Where there is no independent basis for jurisdiction over a permissive counterclaim, the court may nonetheless exercise supplemental jurisdiction over such claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).

Under §1367(a) the “court shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to [the federal claims] that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III.”[8] Non-federal claims are part of the same case or controversy as federal claims when they “derive from a common nucleus of operative fact.”[9] Plaintiff argues that Defendants’ counterclaims do not have any relationship to the hours she worked or the wages or overtime compensation she was paid and therefore are not part of the same common nucleus of operative fact. Defendants argue the two sets of claims have the requisite common nucleus because they both stem from “alleged monies owed to one another for one another’s conduct during employment” and they both require common witnesses.[10]

The court agrees with Plaintiff and concludes that Defendants’ counterclaims should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because they do not have a common nucleus of operative fact with Plaintiff’s FLSA claim. The allegations in Defendants’ counterclaims involve Plaintiff’s allegedly wrongful competition with CSS, while Plaintiff’s federal wage claims concern whether Defendants failed to pay overtime and minimum wages as required under FLSA. The two sets of claims clearly do not share a factual basis; that is, they are not “alternative theories of recovery for the same acts.”[11] The only connection between Defendants’ contract claims and Plaintiff’s FLSA claims is the existence of an employment relationship. Indeed, other federal courts considering the issue have concluded that the mere existence of an employment relationship between plaintiffs and defendants were insufficient to establish supplemental jurisdiction over defendants’ counterclaims that have nothing to do with the underlying wage claims.[12]

Defendants argue that the court should exercise supplemental jurisdiction in the interest of judicial economy, convenience, and fairness. They stress that their “only recourse against Plaintiff for her breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract at this point would be bringing Defendants’ [c]ounterclaims as a set off or recoupment” because the applicable statute of limitations on their state law claims has run.[13] As noted by Plaintiff, however, such concerns do not “negate the [c]ourt’s additional obligation to ensure the existence of a common nexus.”[14] Moreover, the statute of limitations ran out through no fault of anyone but Defendants.[15]

Even if the employment nexus is sufficient to confer jurisdiction, the court concludes that there are compelling reasons to decline supplemental jurisdiction under §1367(c)(4) in this FLSA case. Federal FLSA policy presents a compelling reason for the court to refuse to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Defendants’ counterclaims. As noted by the Fifth Circuit, “[t]he only economic feud contemplated by the FLSA involves the employer’s obedience to minimum wage and overtime standards. To clutter ...


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