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Cook v. Mississippi Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

November 13, 2018

DONALD COOK PLAINTIFF
v.
MISSISSIPPI FARM BUREAU CASUALTY INSURANCE CO., e/a/. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Plaintiff Donald Cook, on behalf of himself and others, alleges that Defendants, three separate insurance companies, misclassified him as an independent contractor and failed to pay him overtime pay in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Defendants filed motions to dismiss the claims [11, 13, 30]. Cook has responded and the matter is now ripe for review. Having considered the matter, the Court finds the motions should be granted in part and denied in part.

         Background

         Cook is a former "Agency Manager," for the Defendants. In this role he managed insurance agents who sold insurance lines for all three defendants: Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company ("SFB Life"), Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company ("SFB Casualty"); and Mississippi Farm Bureau Casualty Company ("Mississippi Farm Bureau"). Since at least 2004 Cook performed this role pursuant to an Agency Manager's Contract. A 2004 version of the Contract featured both SFB Casualty and Mississippi Farm Bureau as parties while a 2017 version featured only Mississippi Farm Bureau. See, Compl. Ex. 1 & 2, Agency Manager Contracts [1-1, 1-2]. [1]

         Cook alleges that Defendants, acting as joint employers, misclassified him as an independent contractor, when in reality he was an employee, and that Defendants did not pay him overtime pay for weeks in which he worked in excess of 40 hours, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). Defendants filed the pending motions seeking to dismiss the complaint for failing to state a claim.

         12(b)(6) Standard

         When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court is limited to the allegations set forth in the complaint and any documents attached to the complaint. Walker v. Webco Indus., Inc., 562 Fed.Appx. 215, 216-17 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Kennedy v. Chase Manhattan Bank USA, NA, 369 F.3d 833, 839 (5th Cir. 2004)). "[A plaintiffs] complaint therefore 'must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Phillips V. City of Dallas, Tex., 781 F.3d 772, 775-76 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)).

         A claim is facially plausible when the pleaded factual content "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). "[P]laintiffs must allege facts that support the elements of the cause of action in order to make out a valid claim." Webb v. Morella, 522 Fed.Appx. 238, 241 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting City of Clinton, Ark. v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp., 632 F.3d 148, 152-53 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted)). "[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss," Id. (quoting Fernandez-Montes v. Allied Pilots Ass'n, 987 F.2d 278, 284 (5th Cir. 1993) (internal quotation marks omitted)). "Dismissal is appropriate when the plaintiff has not alleged 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face' and has failed to 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Emesowum v. Hous. Police Dep't 561 Fed.Appx. 372, 372 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955).

         Analysis

         Cook alleges four causes of action against Defendants: a failure to pay overtime wages (count 1); a failure to keep time records (count 2); a failure to pay PICA taxes (count 3); and a failure to withhold PICA taxes from Plaintiffs' pay (count 4).

         Defendants argue that there are no private causes of actions for a failure to keep time records under PLSA or a failure to pay and withhold PICA taxes. Cook concedes that point. Therefore counts 2, 3, and 4 of the complaint will be dismissed.

         Turning to the failure to pay overtime wages claim. Defendants object to Cook's grouping of all three Defendants under the single moniker of "Parm Bureau". They each argue that Cook's grouping of the Defendants under a single name prevents Cook from alleging an employment relationship with each Defendant, and that Cook has not successfully pleaded he is jointly employed by Defendants. Defendants further argue that that Cook has failed to allege facts about their hours worked necessary to support their claim.

         PLSA requires employers to compensate employees who work more than 40 hours a week with overtime pay on those excess hours. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a). If more than one person or entity controls an individual, they may be considered "joint employers":

[I]f the facts establish that the employee is employed jointly by two or more employers, i.e., that employment by one employer is not completely disassociated from employment by the other employer(s), all of the employee's work for all of the joint employers during the workweek is considered as one employment for purposes of [PLSA].

29 C.F.R. ยง 791.2. Joint employers "are responsible, both individually and jointly, for compliance with all of the applicable provisions of the act, including the overtime provisions, with respect to the entire ...


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