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Bennett v. McDermott International Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

August 15, 2019





         Before the court are three Motions to Dismiss filed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) by, respectively, defendants Cameron LNG, LLC ("Cameron LNG") [doc. 17], Chiyoda International Corporation ("Chiyoda") [doc. 19], and CB&I, LLC ("CB&I"), McDermott International Inc. ("McDermott"), and Chiyoda [doc. 25], as well as a Supplemental Motion to Dismiss [doc. 69] filed by CB&I, Chiyoda, and McDermott. Plaintiffs oppose all motions.

         I. Background

         These motions relate to a suit filed by plaintiffs Kendrick Bennett and Courtlande Collins, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, against the above-named defendants. Plaintiffs assert that they work/worked for defendants at the Cameron LNG Liquefaction Project in Hackberry, Louisiana, and are required to ride on employer-provided buses between designated parking lots and the job site. Doc. 15. They claim;hat they are entitled to compensation for time spent on this commute. Accordingly, they seek monetary and injunctive relief under the Louisiana Wage Payment Act ("LWPA"), Louisiana Revised Statute § 23:631 et seq., and the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. Id. They also seek certification as a collective/class action under the FLSA and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. Id; docs. 30, 62.

         The defendants now move for dismissal of the plaintiffs' claims. Cameron LNG and Chiyoda argue that the claims against them must be dismissed because they are not the plaintiffs' employers. Doc. 17, art. 1; doc. 19, att. 1. Chiyoda also argues that plaintiffs' FLSA minimum wage claims are mathematically impossible and that plaintiff Bennett's LWPA claim must be dismissed because he is still employed. Doc. 19, att. 1. CB&I, McDermott, and Chiyoda assert that plaintiffs' minimum wage claims are mathematically impossible, that their FLSA claims are implausible under the Portal-to-Portal Act, and that their claims are insufficiently pled in that they improperly "lump" defendants together. Doc. 25, att. 1; doc. 42. Finally, CB&I, Chiyoda, and McDermott assert that plaintiffs' LWPA claims are preempted by the FLSA. Doc. 69.

         II. Motion to Dismiss Standards

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows for dismissal of a claim when a plaintiff "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." When reviewing such a motion, the court should focus on the complaint and its attachments. Wilson v. Birnberg, 661 F.3d 591, 595 (5th Cir. 2012). The court can also consider matters of which it may take judicial notice, including matters of public record. Hall v. Hodgkins, 305 Fed.Appx. 224, 227 (5th Cir. 2008) (unpublished) (citing Lovelace v. Software Spectrum Inc., 78 F.3d 1015, 1017-18 (5th Cir. 1996) and Norris v. Hearst Trust, 500 F.3d 454, 461 n. 9 (5th Cir. 2007)).

         Such motions are also reviewed with the court "accepting all well-pleaded facts as true and viewing those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Bustos v. Martini Club, Inc., 599 F.3d 458, 461 (5th Cir. 2010). However, "the plaintiff must plead enough facts 'to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig, 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Accordingly, the court's task is not to evaluate the plaintiffs likelihood of success, but instead to determine whether the claim is both legally cognizable and plausible. Lone Star Fund V (U.S.), L.P. v. Barclays Bank PLC, 594 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2010).

         III. Application

         A. Employer Status

         Both the LWPA and the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the FLSA obligate employers to pay certain wages owed to their employees. La. Rev. Stat. § 23:631; 29 U.S.C. §§ 206-07. Accordingly, a plaintiff must allege that he was employed by the defendant during the relevant time period in order to state a claim under either statute. Johnson v. Heckmann Water Resources, Inc., 758 F.3d 627, 630 (5th Cir. 2014); Bergeron v. Ochsner Health Sys., 2017 WL 3648451, at *3 (E.D. La. Aug. 24, 2017).

         Louisiana courts use a five-factor test to evaluate whether an employer/employee relationship exists under the LWPA, with a focus on the employer's right to exercise control over the employee's performance. Mendoza v. Essential Quality Constr., Inc., 691 F.Supp.2d 680, 686 (E.D. La. 2010). Meanwhile, the FLSA defines an employer as "any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee." 29 U.S.C. § 203(d). To this end the court uses an economic reality test, balancing four factors. Gray v. Powers, 673 F.3d 352, 355 (5th Cir. 2012).

         Bennett and Collins asset that they "worked for the Defendant(s) at the Cameron LNG Liquefaction Project," with Bennett working as a welding foreman from December 2016 until the present and Collins working as a pipefitter from December 2016 until August 2018. Doc. 15, ¶¶ 14-15. Chiyoda and Cameron LNG move for dismissal of all claims due to plaintiffs' failure to plausibly plead enough facts to establish an employment relationship with either defendant.

         The plaintiffs offer no allegations as to their employment status or relation to the defendants other than to assert defendants' role in the liquefaction project and label them as employers. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements" are insufficient even at the pleading stage. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). As district courts have noted, however, "[t]he contention that a particular defendant is an employer 'is the very definition of a factual allegation upon which plaintiffs are entitled to offer proof." Rodriguez v. Gold & Silver Buyers, Inc., 2013 WL 5372529, at *3 (S.D. Tex. Sep. 24, 2013) (quoting Moreno v. EDCare Mgmt., Inc., 243 F.R.D. 258, 260 (W.D. Tex. 2007)); see, e.g., Mejia v. Bros. Petrol, LLC, 2015 WL 3619894, at *3-*4 (E.D. La. Jun. 9, 2015) (cursory allegation of employer status sufficient under FLSA claim); Bodnar v. Newport Corp. of La., 2011 WL 4575122, at *4-*5 (ED. La. Sep. 29, 2011) (same, under the LWPA). Accordingly, plaintiffs' allegations; of employment status suffice to support their FLSA and LWPA claims.

         B. State Law Claims

         1. ...

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