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Wyler-Wittenberg v. MetLife Home Loans, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

October 17, 2012

Patricia WYLER-WITTENBERG, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
METLIFE HOME LOANS, INC., and Metlife, Inc., Defendants.

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Erik H. Langeland, P.C. by Erik H. Langeland, Esq., Of Counsel, New York, NY, Tostrud Law Group, P.C. by Jon A. Tostrude, Esq., Of Counsel, Los Angeles, CA, for Plaintiffs.

Proskauer Rose LLP, by Joseph Baumgarten, Esq., New York, NY, Joseph Cornelius O'Keefe, Jr., Esq., Of Counsel, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

SPATT, District Judge.

The Plaintiff Patricia Wyler-Wittenberg (" Wyler-Wittenberg" ) commenced this putative collective and class action against MetLife Home Loans, a Division of MetLife Bank, N.A. (erroneously named herein as " MetLife Home Loans, Inc." ) and MetLife, Inc. (collectively " MetLife" or " the Defendants" ) seeking to recover both unpaid overtime and minimum wages. Presently before the Court is MetLife's motion to dismiss the complaint with prejudice pursuant to the " first-filed" rule, or alternatively, to stay or transfer this matter pursuant to the " first-filed" rule and 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), and Wyler-Wittenberg's motion to amend the complaint. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants MetLife's motion to transfer, and orders the instant action to be transferred to the United States District Court for the Central District of California where parallel actions are pending. In addition, the Court denies the Plaintiff's motion for leave to file an amended complaint.

I. BACKGROUND

Unless otherwise stated, the following facts are undisputed. MetLife is a mortgage bank and brokerage firm that provides banking services to consumers both in the State of New York and nationwide. MetLife is an " employer" as defined under the New York Labor Laws (" NYLL" ) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (" FLSA" ). Wyler-Wittenberg was a loan officer employed by MetLife in its office located in Hauppauge, New York. The class which Wyler-Wittenberg seeks to represent is inclusive of other similarly situated MetLife loan officers and employees. MetLife maintains uniform company-wide policies and procedures under which the primary duty of the Plaintiff and others similarly situated was to sell residential mortgage loans. MetLife managed and controlled the wage, hour, and other related employee compensation policies for its loan officers.

Wyler-Wittenberg alleges that she and other similarly situated loan officers were not paid a weekly guaranteed salary of at least $455.00. (Compl. ¶ 15.) Consequently, the Plaintiff contends that MetLife failed to comply with legal minimum wage requirements. Instead, Wyler-Wittenberg maintains that MetLife engaged in illegal compensation practices in which it paid its loan officers an illegal " draw", consisting of a bi-weekly or monthly stream of income, which did not include overtime payment. ( Id. ) Wyler-Wittenberg alleges that MetLife required that she and other similarly situated loan officers arrive early and work late, routinely making officers

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work in excess of forty-hours a week without overtime compensation. ( Id. ) According to Wyler-Wittenberg, the overtime frequently worked by loan officers included weekend hours. ( Id. ) Finally, Wyler-Wittenberg asserts that MetLife acted in violation of the FLSA and the NYLL by failing to create and maintain accurate records to reflect the time that was worked by its loan officers. ( Id. )

This is the fourth putative collective and/or class action filed against MetLife, regarding its failure to lawfully compensate its loan officers. Therefore, the Court deems it necessary to explore the facts and current status of each of the previously filed cases.

A. The First Putative Collective and Class Action: Cerami v. MetLife

On March 2, 2011, plaintiff Robert Cerami (" Cerami" ), a former MetLife loan officer, filed the first putative collective and nationwide class action against MetLife in the Superior Court of California, Cerami v. MetLife, Inc., MetLife, N.A., and MetLife Home Loans, No. 30-2011-00454509 (Cal.Super.Ct.) (Docket Entry No. 10-3.) On May 5, 2011, the case was removed to the United States District Court for the Central District of California, No. 11 Civ. 00681 (the " Cerami action" ). Cerami seeks to represent a nationwide collective class of loan officers and other employees, whom he contends MetLife misclassified as exempt from the FLSA overtime requirements. In addition to the FLSA claims, Cerami asserts claims under California state law and maintains the case as a Rule 23 class action on behalf of the California-based loan officers within the collective class. (Compl., ¶ 1.) Cerami alleges that MetLife owes said plaintiffs unpaid wages and overtime compensation, and seeks to recover wages for the eight hours allegedly worked in excess of the forty-hour workweek. (Compl., ¶ 4.)

MetLife filed its answer in the Cerami action on May 3, 2011 (Docket Entry No. 10-4.), denying each and every material allegation asserted in the complaint. The parties' Joint Rule 26(f) report was filed on August 30, 2011. Thereafter, on December 1, 2011, the court issued a scheduling order, directing the completion of all discovery by July 27, 2012. (Docket Entry No. 10-5.) Pursuant to the order, the parties engaged in informal discovery. In addition, two mediation sessions were conducted, one on January 31, 2012 and another on February 16, 2012. All motions for class or conditional certification were due on April 30, 2012. (Sched. Order, ¶ 1.)

On July 20, 2012, the parties filed a joint stipulation for settlement, specifically seeking preliminary court approval of the Rule 23 class action and FLSA collective action. On August 31, 2012, United States District Judge Cormac J. Carney denied the motion for an order preliminarily approving the class action settlement without prejudice. He found that the Joint Stipulation and Settlement Agreement violated federal law as it purported to bind some class members to a release of the FLSA claims unless they " opted out" . ( Cerami Docket Entry No. 35.) The parties refiled the motion for settlement approval on September 21, 2012. Currently, a hearing is set for October 22, 2012 in connection with the Plaintiff's motion for Rule 23 preliminary approval of settlement and FLSA approval of settlement.

B. The Second Putative Collective and Class Action: Miner v. MetLife

On March 11, 2011, plaintiff Barry Hollander (" Hollander" ), a former loan officer of MetLife, filed the second putative collective and class action against MetLife in

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California state court, which was subsequently removed to the United States District Court for the Central District of California, Miner v. MetLife Bank, N.A., No. 11 Civ. 04038. The claims asserted in Miner are virtually identical to those asserted in the Cerami action. In both matters, plaintiffs brought FLSA claims on behalf of a nationwide class of loan officers and California state law overtime claims on behalf of a class of MetLife loan officers and employees. The claims asserted in Miner are currently pending before the same federal judge to whom the Cerami action has been assigned, and the parties in Miner consented to partake in the ongoing mediation and settlement efforts in the Cerami action. For this reason, the claims set forth in Miner are referred to collectively as part of the discussion of the Cerami action.

As set forth above in the context of the Cerami action, on or about July 20, 2012, a Joint Stipulation and Settlement Agreement, made and entered among the parties in the Cerami action, was filed with the court. ( Cerami Docket Entry No. 26.) The hearing on plaintiffs' motion for Rule 23 preliminary approval of settlement and FLSA approval of settlement is currently scheduled for October 22, 2012 Judge Carney in the United States District Court, Central District of California. ( Cerami Docket Entry No. 37.) In light of this hearing, Judge Carney vacated the pretrial conference and trial dates scheduled in the Cerami action by order dated October 3, 2012. ( Cerami Docket Entry No. 38.)

C. The Third Putative Collective And Class Action: Swisher v. MetLife

On January 17, 2012, plaintiff Steve Swisher (" Swisher" ), a former MetLife loan officer, filed the third putative collective and class action representative of a nationwide collective class of loan officers in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, Swisher, et al. v. MetLife Home Loans and MetLife Bank, N.A., No. 12 Civ. 00133 (the " Swisher action" ) (Docket Entry No. 10-6.) In the complaint, Swisher asserted that MetLife misclassified the relevant class of loan officers and employees, and acted in violation of the FLSA for its failure to pay federally mandated overtime wages. (Docket Entry No. 10-6; Compl., ¶ 4.)

On February 3, 2012, Swisher timely filed a motion seeking leave from the court to amend the complaint. (Docket Entry No. 10-7.) Swisher submitted a proposed amended class and collective action complaint with the motion, adding New York State former loan officer Scott H. Finger, and all other similarly situated officers of MetLife who worked in the State of New York, as plaintiffs in the Swisher action. Id. In addition to claims brought under the FLSA, Swisher asserted a Rule 23 class action claim on behalf of the New York State loan officers pursuant to the NYLL.

Pursuant to the " first-filed" rule, MetLife moved to dismiss, or alternatively, to stay or transfer the Swisher action to the Central District of California, the venue of the Cerami action. The motion was heard on April 25, 2012. At that time, Swisher's motion for leave to amend the complaint was also pending. In a Report and Recommendation dated May 11, 2012, United States Magistrate Judge Tony Leung concluded that " [t]he core FLSA legal questions in [the Cerami action and the Swisher action] are ... parallel to one another." Swisher, No. 12 Civ. 00133, slip op. at 7. Based upon this finding, Magistrate Judge Leung recommended that the court grant MetLife's motion to ...


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