United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
H. Miller United States District Judge.
before the court is a motion to dismiss or stay filed by
defendant Helix Energy Solutions Group, Inc.
(“Helix”). Dkt. 6. After considering the motion,
response, reply, and applicable law, the court is of the
opinion that Helix's motion should be DENIED.
an employment law case in which plaintiff Jason Shirey
contends that Helix misclassified his job as a toolpusher as
exempt from overtime. Dkt. 7 (first amended complaint).
Shirey worked for Helix from November 2008 through July 2017.
Id. He contends that he routinely worked over forty
hours a week but was not paid overtime. Id. He
asserts that his work does not meet the definition of exempt
work under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”)
because it was routine and manual labor in the oilfield and
offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Id.
originally filed his claim on behalf of himself and others
similarly situated. Dkt. 1. Helix filed a motion to dismiss
or stay because Shirey's claims were duplicative and
overlapped with an existing and earlier filed FLSA lawsuit.
Dkt. 6; see Hewitt v. Helix Energy Solutions Grp.,
Inc., No. 4:17-cv-02545 (S.D. Tex., filed Aug. 8, 2017)
(Hoyt, J.). Shirey thereafter amended his complaint and
removed the claims on behalf of those similarly situated.
See Dkt. 7.
also filed a response to Helix's motion to dismiss or
stay in which Shirey asserts that his amended complaint moots
Helix's motion. Dkt. 8. Shirey additionally argues that
now that he has abandoned his collection action allegations,
minimal if any overlap exists between his suit and the
collective action, as his suit hinges on how may hours he,
personally, worked. Id. He also argues that he has a
right to bring his own separate FLSA claim and it
“would subvert the purpose of the FLSA if a court were
to use a pending collective action to dismiss or delay an
employee's separate suit to vindicate his individual
rights under the FLSA.” Id. (citing Tony
& Susan Alamo Found. v. Sec'y of Labor, 471 U.S.
290, 296, 105 S.Ct. 1953 (1985) (instructing that the FLSA
must be construed liberally)).
filed a reply in which it contends that (1) Shirey's
amended complaint does not moot Helix's motion; (2)
significant overlap still remains between Shirey's claim
and the collective action; and (3) dismissing or staying
Shirey's claims will not deprive him of any substantive
right under the FLSA. Dkt. 10. Helix contends that both
lawsuits center on the legal issue of whether Helix's pay
structure for toolpushers satisfies the “salary
basis” test as required under the FLSA exemptions of 29
U.S.C. § 213(a)(1). Id. It asserts that
removing the collective action allegations only removes one
area of overlap and since substantial overlap still exists,
allowing Shirey's lawsuit to proceed would be
inefficient. Id. Helix argues that dismissing
Shirey's claim does not run afoul of Shirey's ability
to vindicate his individual rights under the FLSA because
dismissal is proper under the first-to-file rule.
Id. Helix also contends that Shirey is still able to
join the first-filed lawsuit with counsel of his choice.
Id. Helix argues that dismissing Shirey's claim
or allowing him to join the first-filed case will avoid
duplicative litigation and unnecessary costs to the court.
Fifth Circuit, “when related cases are pending before
two federal courts, the court in which the case was last
filed may refuse to hear it if the issues raised by the cases
substantially overlap.” Cadle Co. v. Whataburger of
Alice, Inc., 174 F.3d 599, 603 (5th Cir. 1999). This is
known as the “first-to-file rule, ” and the
purpose is “‘to avoid the waste of duplication,
to avoid rulings which may trench upon the authority of
sister courts, and to avoid piecemeal resolution of issues
that call for a uniform suit.'” Id.
(quoting West Gulf Mar. Ass'n v. ILA Deep Sea Local
24, 751 F.2d 721, 728 (5th Cir. 1985)). The rule does
not require the cases to be identical; instead courts may
consider the “extent of overlap, the likelihood of
conflict, the comparative advantage and the interest of each
forum in resolving the dispute.” Int'l Fid.
Ins. Co. v. Sweet Little Mex. Corp., 665 F.3d 671, 678
(5th Cir. 2011) (citations and quotations omitted).
the court does not doubt that it may apply the
first-to-file rule, it exercises its discretion not to do so
for the same reasons discussed by Judge Rodriguez in
Guyton v. Legacy Pressure Control, Inc., No.
15-CV-1075-XR, 2016 WL 5794801 (W.D. Tex. Oct. 4, 2016)
(Rodriguez, J.). Judge Rodriguez noted first that whether to
apply the rule is within the district court's discretion.
Id. at *2. The Guyton case, like this case,
was an FLSA case, and the first-filed case was an FLSA
collective action. Id. Judge Rodriguez pointed out
that the FLSA allows plaintiffs to proceed on an individual
basis rather than joining a collective action. Id.
While Judge Rodriguez was considering whether to transfer
venue and the plaintiff's choice of forum also factored
into his decision, here the court finds that Shirey's
right to have his case heard as an individual as opposed to
joining a collective action weighs against the application of
the first-to-file rule. Additionally, the court does not find
it appropriate or necessary to stay Shirey's case until
the collective action case is resolved. While there is a
slight risk that this court and the court considering the
collective action (Judge Hoyt) will reach different
conclusions, the issues are not complex and the law is
relatively well settled. Thus, the threat of conflicting
rulings is minimal. The court therefore declines to apply the
first-to-file rule. Helix's motion is DENIED.