United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
P. Mehta United States District Judge.
matter arises out of Plaintiff Yesenia Ayub's work as a
nanny for Defendants Lori A. Picco and Andrew J. Walker. On
October 16, 2017, Plaintiff filed this action to recover
unpaid overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act
(“FLSA”) and the D.C. Minimum Wage Act.
See Compl., ECF No. 1. Two months later, on December
18, 2017, Defendants responded with an Answer and four common
law counterclaims-conversion, negligence, breach of contract,
and unjust enrichment-all of which assert various theories as
to why Plaintiff owes money to Defendants. See
Answer and Counterclaims, ECF No. 3. Thereafter, on January 4
and 5, 2018, respectively, Plaintiff filed a Motion to
Dismiss Defendants' Counterclaims, ECF No. 5, and a First
Amended Complaint, ECF No. 6. The Motion asserts that the
court lacks supplemental jurisdiction over Defendants'
state law counterclaims. See Mot. to Dismiss, Mem.
in Support, ECF No. 5-1 [hereinafter Pl.'s Mem]. The
amended pleading adds two new claims of retaliation, one
under the FLSA and the other under the D.C. Minimum Wage Act,
each premised on the allegation that Defendants filed their
counterclaims in retaliation for Plaintiff's filing suit.
See First Am. Compl. Defendants then answered the
Amended Complaint and reasserted the same four counterclaims.
See Answer to First Am. Compl. and Counterclaims,
ECF No. 8.
the court is Plaintiff's Motion to Dismiss
Defendants' Counterclaims. See Mot. to Dismiss.
The premise of Plaintiff's Motion is well-grounded. Many
courts have held that state law counterclaims, like those
asserted here, do not share a common nucleus of operative
fact with federal wage claims, even when the counterclaims
arise from the employment relationship. See
Pl.'s Mem. at 3-5 (citing cases). Courts that have so
held have recognized that “adjudicating counterclaims
filed by an employer in the same context as a suit seeking
unpaid wages may be inconsistent with the purpose of the
FLSA-‘to assure to the employees of a covered company a
minimum level of wages.'” Slaughter v. Alpha
Drugs, LLC, 907 F.Supp.2d 50, 54 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting
Martin v. PespiAmericas, Inc., 628 F.3d 738, 741
(5th Cir. 2010)).
case, however, differs from those cited by Plaintiff in one
critical respect: Plaintiff's FLSA retaliation
claim shares a “common nucleus of operative fact”
with Defendants' counterclaims. See Lindsay v.
Gov't Emps. Ins. Co., 448 F.3d 416, 423-24 (D.C.
Cir. 2006). “[S]tate law claims do not derive from a
common nucleus of operative facts if there is almost no
factual or legal overlap between the state and federal
claims.” Chelsea Condo. Unit Owners Ass'n v.
1815 A St., Condo Grp., LLC, 468 F.Supp.2d 136, 141
(D.D.C. 2007). But here there is a factual and legal
overlap. Defendants surely will defend against the
retaliation claims on the ground that they brought their
counterclaims in good faith, and not to harass or intimidate
Plaintiff for filing suit. Defendants' good faith, in
turn, rests on the bona fides of their counterclaims. Viewed
in this way, there can be little dispute that the FLSA
retaliation claim and the counterclaims “derive from a
common nucleus of operative fact” such that one
“would ordinarily be expected to try them all in one
judicial proceeding.” United Mine Workers of Am. v.
Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 725 (1966).
rejects this conclusion, asserting that exercising
supplemental jurisdiction as a result of Plaintiff's
retaliation claim “rests on circular logic.”
Pl.'s Reply to Defs.' Opp'n, ECF No. 13, at 2
(citing Ozawa v. Orsini Design Assocs., No.
13-cv-1282, 2015 WL 1055902, at *12 n.17 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 11,
2015)). The court disagrees. “[W]hen a plaintiff files
a complaint in federal court and then voluntarily amends the
complaint, courts look to the amended complaint to determine
jurisdiction.” Rockwell Int'l Corp. v. United
States, 549 U.S. 457, 473-74 (2007). A district court
therefore has “no obligation to consider jurisdictional
bases set forth in prior iterations of the complaint.”
Mohammadi v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 782 F.3d 9,
18 (D.C. Cir. 2015). Thus, in this case, Plaintiff's
Amended Complaint, not her original Complaint, drives the
court's supplemental jurisdiction inquiry. Understood in
that light, there is nothing “circular” about
treating Plaintiff's FLSA retaliation claim and
Defendants' state law counterclaims as arising from a
common nucleus of operative fact.
also contends that “there are sound policy
considerations” to reject exercising supplemental
jurisdiction over Defendants' counterclaims. Pl.'s
Reply at 2. She asserts that allowing such counterclaims to
remain in federal court: (1) “risks rewarding employers
who retaliate with baseless counterclaims by providing them a
federal forum to wield those claims, ” and (2)
“risks discouraging employees from [bringing] valid
FLSA retaliation claims against employers who bring baseless
counterclaims.” Id. at 2-3.
not without surface appeal, Plaintiff's policy arguments
are ultimately unpersuasive. It is unclear why any reasonable
defendant would invite a retaliation claim merely to get its
state law claims into federal court. The FLSA contains a
specific damages provision that entitles a retaliation
plaintiff to recover “such legal or equitable relief as
may be appropriate to effectuate the purposes of” the
Act's anti-retaliation clause. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).
The Circuits uniformly have held that provision to allow an
award of compensatory damages, including for emotional
distress. See Little v. Tech. Specialty Prods., LLC,
940 F.Supp.2d 460, 479 (E.D. Tex. 2013) (citing appellate
cases). And some Circuits, although not all, have held that
punitive damages are available under that provision. See
Greathouse v. JHS Sec. Inc., No. 11-cv-7845, 2016 WL
4523855, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 29, 2016) (noting circuit
split). Given this increased exposure to damages, it is
unlikely that an FLSA defendant would file a
“baseless” counterclaim to provoke a retaliation
claim simply to get into federal court.
much the same reason, exercising supplemental jurisdiction
likely will not inhibit FLSA plaintiffs from bringing
retaliation claims in similar circumstances. Because an FLSA
retaliation claim allows for the recovery of
additional damages, on top of those recoverable in
an FLSA wage claim, plaintiffs will remain incentivized to
pursue such a claim when cognizable, even if it means having
to defend against an employer's counterclaims at the same
time in federal court. Moreover, a plaintiff could reasonably
want to have all related claims litigated in a single forum.
Take the instant case. Had Plaintiff successfully secured
dismissal of Defendants' counterclaims, Defendants might
have turned around and brought those claims in the D.C.
Superior Court. Once in D.C. Superior Court, Plaintiff could
then bring her retaliation claim there as a counterclaim, but
that would leave her fighting on two fronts. See 29
U.S.C. § 216(b) (providing concurrent federal and state
court jurisdiction over FLSA claims). To avoid such a
predicament, a reasonable plaintiff very well could elect to
litigate only in the federal forum by bringing her FLSA
retaliation claim there, even if it means having to take on a
defendant's state law counterclaims there, too. The court
thus rejects Plaintiff's policy reasons for not hearing
the court finds that none of the reasons to decline
exercising supplemental jurisdiction, as set forth in 28
U.S.C. § 1367(c), apply here. Defendants'
counterclaims do not raise novel issues of state law and do
not predominate over the federal claims; nor are there
exceptional circumstances present that counsel against
exercising supplemental jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 1367(c). To the contrary, the “values of
judicial economy, convenience, fairness, and comity”
weigh in favor of considering all claims in a single forum.
Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 350
(1988). Accordingly, the court will exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over Defendants' counterclaims.
foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's Motion to Dismiss is
denied. Plaintiff shall answer Defendants' counterclaims
within 14 days of ...