Secretary of Labor v. South Florida Contractors ( 2008 )

  •                                                          [DO NOT PUBLISH]
                        FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT                     FILED
                          ________________________          U.S. COURT OF APPEALS
                                                              ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
                                                                 November 4, 2008
                                 No. 08-12120                  THOMAS K. KAHN
                             Non-Argument Calendar                 CLERK
                      D.C. Docket No. 07-80192-CV-DTKH
                    Appeal from the United States District Court
                        for the Southern District of Florida
                               (November 4, 2008)
    Before BARKETT, MARCUS and WILSON, Circuit Judges.
           The Secretary of the United States Department of Labor, Wage and Hour
    Division, (“Secretary”) appeals from an order of final dismissal without prejudice
    of its complaint against Steven Labbe.1 The Secretary’s complaint alleged, in
    relevant part, that Steven Labbe as an employer at the residential roofing company,
    South Florida Contractors, Inc., violated the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as
    amended, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. (“FLSA”) by failing to pay its employees
    applicable minimum wage and overtime and by failing to keep accurate
    employment records since June 16, 2002. Upon Labbe’s motion to dismiss and/or
    for more definite statement, the district court dismissed the Secretary’s complaint
    with leave to file an amended complaint finding that further detail was necessary to
    satisfy the threshold pleading requirements as articulated by the Supreme Court in
    Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, ___ U.S. ___, 
    127 S. Ct. 1955
           On appeal, the Secretary argues that the allegations and information in its
    complaint meet the requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) that a
    complaint contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the
    pleader is entitled to relief” as affirmed by the Supreme Court in Twombly. Labbe
    responds that the district court correctly dismissed the complaint because,
              The Secretary’s complaint was brought against defendants South Florida Contractors,
    Inc., Julian Labbe, and Steven Labbe. The district court entered a default judgment against
    defendants South Florida Contractors, Inc. and Julian Labbe, neither of whom is involved in this
    according to Labbe, the complaint, on its face, alleges violations that are barred by
    the applicable statute of limitations without alleging such claims should be
    equitably tolled.
          We review a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim de novo, applying
    the same standards as the did the district court. Hoffman-Pugh v. Ramsey, 
    312 F.3d 1222
    , 1225 (11th Cir. 2002). We must accept the allegations in the complaint
    as true, construing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id. In
    Twombley, the Supreme Court explained that to survive a motion to dismiss under
    Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations,” but those
    allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”
    127 S. Ct. at 1964-65.
          We have explained that the Rule 8(a)(2) pleading standard articulated by the
    Supreme Court in Twombley is “one of ‘plausible grounds to infer.’” Watts v.
    Fla. Int’l Univ., 
    495 F.3d 1289
    , 1295 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombley, 127 S.
    Ct. at 1965). To state a claim with sufficient specificity “‘requires a complaint
    with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest’ the required element.” Id.
    The rule “‘does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,’ but
    instead ‘simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that
    discovery will reveal evidence of’ the necessary element.” Id. at 1296.
          In applying these standards to the FLSA claims in this case, we review the
    Secretary’s complaint to determine whether its allegations plausibly indicate that
    Labbe failed to pay minimum wage and overtime compensation and failed to keep
    employment records as required by FLSA. Unlike the complex antitrust scheme at
    issue in Twombley that required allegations of an agreement suggesting
    conspiracy, the requirements to state a claim of a FLSA violation are quite
    straightforward. The elements that must be shown are simply a failure to pay
    overtime compensation and/or minimum wages to covered employees and/or
    failure to keep payroll records in accordance with the Act. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 206,
    207, and 215(a)(2) and (5). There is no need to prove intent or causation that
    might require more extensive pleading. See Chao v. Rivendell Woods, Inc., 
    415 F.3d 342
    , 348 (4th Cir. 2005) (finding a FLSA complaint sufficient under Rule
    8(a)(2) where it identified the employees who were alleged to have worked
    overtime, described the manner of the employer’s repeated violations of the
    overtime and record-keeping provisions of FLSA, and alleged the time frame in
    which these violations occurred).
          We conclude that the Secretary’s March 2, 2007 complaint makes such
    factual allegations sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss for failure to state a
    claim under FLSA. The complaint alleges that Labbe is a covered employer and
    provides a listing of the specific names of the covered employees as Appendix A to
    the complaint. The complaint alleges that since June 16, 2002, Labbe repeatedly
    violated stated provisions of the FLSA by failing to pay covered employees
    minimum hourly wages and to compensate employees who worked in excess of
    forty hours a week at the appropriate rates. The complaint also alleges in a
    separate paragraph that since June 16, 2002 Labbe failed to keep appropriate
    records of the “wages, hours and other conditions and practices of employment
    maintained by it” as required by law. While these allegations are not overly
    detailed, we find that a claim for relief for failure to pay minimum wage, to
    provide overtime compensation, or to keep appropriate records under FLSA does
    not require more.
          Labbe contends that the dismissal of the complaint was appropriate
    nonetheless, because the Secretary’s allegations that certain of the violations
    occurred as far back as June 16, 2002 preclude relief on the complaint in its
    entirety due to FLSA’s applicable statute of limitations. Both parties agree that
    willful violations of FLSA are subject to a three year statute of limitations, and
    construing the facts in the light most favorable to the Secretary, we will presume
    that the complaint alleges willful violations of FLSA. Hence, because the
    complaint was filed on March 2, 2007, any violations that occurred prior to March
    2, 2004 would appear to be barred by the statute of limitations. The possibility that
    some of the alleged violations may have occurred during a time-barred period,
    however, does not sustain the dismissal of the complaint, in its entirety. Moreover,
    asserting such a bar is an affirmative defense. See Tello v. Dean Witter Reynolds,
    410 F.3d 1275
    , 1292 (11th Cir. 2005) (explaining that the defendant bears the
    burden of proving an affirmative defense). The Secretary was under no obligation
    to anticipate and negate this affirmative defense in the complaint. See La Grasta v.
    First Union Sec., Inc., 
    358 F.3d 840
    , 845 (11th Cir.2004).
          While it is true that we have dismissed complaints under Rule 12(b)(6) on
    statute of limitations grounds, we have made it clear that dismissal on such
    grounds is “appropriate only if it is apparent from the face of the complaint that the
    claim is time-barred” and “only if it appears beyond a doubt that [a plaintiff] can
    prove no set of facts that toll the statute.” Tello, 410 F.3d at 1288, n.13 (emphasis
    added) (internal quotations omitted). The complaint here contains factual
    allegations that clearly are not time-barred, namely those violations that may have
    occurred from March 2, 2004 until March 2, 2007. In addition, as to those
    violations that may be time-barred, we cannot conclude beyond a doubt that the
    Secretary can prove no set of facts that toll the statute. The allegation in the
    complaint that the defendants submitted “Receipts for Payment of Back Wages”
    knowing that they were false is sufficient to suggest equitable tolling.
          Because we find that the Secretary has alleged facts sufficient to meet the
    threshold pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2) as articulated in Bell Atlantic
    Corp. v. Twombly, we reverse the district court’s dismissal of the complaint and
    remand for further proceedings.