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Robbins v. XTO Energy, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

June 26, 2018

RONNIE ROBBINS, AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED UNDER 29 U.S.C. 216(B)
v.
XTO ENERGY, INC. (a/k/a EXXONMOBIL)

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KAREN GREN SCHOLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This Order addresses Defendant XTO Energy Inc.'s ("XTO") Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Overbroad Class Definition and Related Class Allegations [ECF No. 47]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On December 27, 2016, Plaintiff Ronnie Robbins ("Robbins") filed a collective action against XTO (the "Amended Complaint"), alleging it failed to pay him and other similarly situated employees overtime in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 206-207, 215(a)(2). In the Amended Complaint, Robbins alleged he was responsible for inspecting and operating well equipment and performing other routine duties. Am. Compl. ¶ 13. He defined the proposed class as current and former frontline oilfield workers, including lease operators, automation technicians, and other production-side workers. Id. ¶ 3. Robbins claims that XTO classified Robbins and similarly situated employees as non-exempt, overtime eligible employees, yet failed to pay them overtime when they worked more than 40 hours per week. Id. ¶¶ 14-15.

         XTO moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint, On July 28, 2017, the Court granted XTO's motion and afforded Robbins the opportunity to replead. See Order 4 (the "Lynn Order"). The issues identified in the Lynn Order were: 1) failure to cite the date range worked or when the FLSA violations allegedly occurred; 2) failure to state the number of hours for which Robbins was allegedly undercompensated; 3) failure to state where the alleged FLSA violations occurred; and 4) failure to describe the class members' work or state the common attributes among them. See Id. "Overall, the . . . Amended Complaint [did] not adequately put Defendant on notice of the characteristics of the members of the purported class." Id.

         Robbins filed an amended complaint on September 5, 2017 (the "Second Amended Complaint"). Robbins amended the class definition to "consist of [XTO's] Lease Operators employed in the United States who (1) were classified as non-exempt; and (2) did not receive an overtime compensation for overtime work in one or more individual workweeks over the past three years." Second Am. Compl. ¶ 5. This definition "include[s], without limitation, such job titles as 'Lease Operator,' 'Pumper,' and all job titles performing similar duties." Id. The duties uniting the job titles at issue are "performing] manual and technical labor at well sites to assist with oil and gas production." Id. ¶ 2. Robbins further alleges that XTO subjected class members to a common scheme to deprive them of compensation for overtime hours worked. See, e.g., Id. ¶ 26. XTO allegedly threatened discipline if putative class members failed to meet minimum productivity requirements, thus causing them to work more than 40 hours per week on a regular basis, refused to approve or pay for all overtime hours worked, and instructed class members not to record all hours worked. Id. ¶¶ 20-22.

         XTO moved to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint, arguing that Robbins failed to correct the deficiencies identified in the Lynn Order. Pursuant to Special Order 3-318, this case was transferred from the docket of Chief Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn to the docket of this Court on March 9, 2018.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. The Rule 12(b) (6) Standard

         To defeat a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Reliable Consultants, Inc. v. Earle, 517 F.3d 738, 742 (5th Cir. 2008). To meet this "facial plausibility" standard, a plaintiff must "plead[] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Plausibility does not require probability, but a plaintiff must establish "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. The court must accept well-pleaded facts as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Sonnier v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 509 F.3d 673, 675 (5th Cir. 2007). However, the court does not accept as true "conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual inferences, or legal conclusions." Ferrer v. Chevron Corp., 484 F.3d 776, 780 (5th Cir. 2007). A plaintiff must provide "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations omitted). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level ... on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id.

         The ultimate question is whether the complaint states a valid claim when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Great Plains Tr. Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 313 F.3d 305, 312 (5th Cir. 2012). At the motion to dismiss stage, the court does not evaluate the plaintiffs likelihood of success. It only determines whether the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. Mann v. Adams Realty Co., 556 F.2d 288, 293 (5th Cir. 1977).

         B. Dismissing Class Allegations

         As noted in the Lynn Order, courts disagree about whether a plaintiff must plead facts to support the propriety of a collective action in order to survive a motion to dismiss. "A minority of courts have held that a motion to dismiss is an inappropriate place to challenge the sufficiency of class allegations when the plaintiffs have not yet moved for conditional certification." Huchingson v. Rao, CV No. 5:14-CV-l 118, 2015 WL 1655113, at *3 (W.D. Tex. Apr. 14, 2015) (citations omitted). However, courts in this district generally have adhered to the majority approach and have held that the complaint must give the defendant fair notice of the putative class. See, e.g., Flores v. Act Event Servs., Inc., 55 F.Supp.3d 928, 940 (N.D. Tex. 2014). This inquiry is much different than the inquiry at the class certification stage. See Huchingson, 2015 WL 1655113, at *3. This Court adopts the majority approach and requires that "at the pleading stage, plaintiffs asserting FLSA collective actions must make plausible allegations that there are similarly situated employees with certain common alleged attributes that could support a collective action." Ecoquij-Tzep v. Hawaiian Grill, No. 3:16-CV-0625-M, 2016 WL 3745685, at *5 (N.D. Tex. July 12, 2016) (citation omitted).

         III. ...


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