Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk - 11-1059 (2013)


NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

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No. 11–1059

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GENESIS HEALTHCARE CORPORATION, et al., PETITIONERS v. LAURA SYMCZYK

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the third circuit

[April 16, 2013]

     Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court.

     The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), 29 U. S. C. §201 et seq., provides that an employee may bring an action to recover damages for specified violations of the Act on behalf of himself and other “similarly situated” employees. We granted certiorari to resolve whether such a case is justiciable when the lone plaintiff’s individual claim becomes moot. 567 U. S. ___ (2012). We hold that it is not justiciable.

I

     The FLSA establishes federal minimum-wage, maximum-hour, and overtime guarantees that cannot be modified by contract. Section 16(b) of the FLSA, 52Stat. 1060, as amended, 29 U. S. C. §216(b), gives employees the right to bring a private cause of action on their own behalf and on behalf of “other employees similarly situated” for specified violations of the FLSA. A suit brought on behalf of other employees is known as a “collective action.” See Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U. S. 165 –170 (1989).

     In 2009, respondent, who was formerly employed by petitioners as a registered nurse at Pennypack Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, filed a complaint on behalf of herself and “all other persons similarly situated.” App. 115–116. Respondent alleged that petitioners violated the FLSA by automatically deducting 30 minutes of time worked per shift for meal breaks for certain employees, even when the employees performed compensable work during those breaks. Respondent, who remained the sole plaintiff throughout these proceedings, sought statutory damages for the alleged violations.

     When petitioners answered the complaint, they simultaneously served upon respondent an offer of judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68. The offer included $7,500 for alleged unpaid wages, in addition to “such reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses . . . as the Court may determine.” Id., at 77. Petition- ers stipulated that if respondent did not accept the offer within 10 days after service, the offer would be deemed withdrawn.

     After respondent failed to respond in the allotted time period, petitioners filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Petitioners argued that because they offered respondent complete relief on her individual damages claim, she no longer possessed a personal stake in the outcome of the suit, rendering the action moot. Respondent objected, arguing that petitioners were inappropriately attempting to “pick off” the named plaintiff before the collective-action process could unfold. Id., at 91.

     The District Court found that it was undisputed that no other individuals had joined respondent’s suit and that the Rule 68 offer of judgment fully satisfied her individual claim. It concluded that petitioners’ Rule 68 offer of judgment mooted respondent’s suit, which it dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

     The Court of Appeals reversed. 656 F. 3d 189 (CA3 2011). The court agreed that no other potential plaintiff had opted into the suit, that petitioners’ offer fully satisfied respondent’s individual claim, and that, under its precedents, whether or not such an offer is accepted, it generally moots a plaintiff’s claim. Id., at 195. But the court nevertheless held that respondent’s collective action was not moot. It explained that calculated attempts by some defendants to “pick off” named plaintiffs with strategic Rule 68 offers before certification could short circuit the process, and, thereby, frustrate the goals of collective actions. Id., at 196–198. The court determined that the case must be remanded in order to allow respondent to seek “conditional certification” [ 1 ] in the District Court. If respondent were successful, the District Court was to relate the certification motion back to the date on which respondent filed her complaint. [ 2 ] Ibid.

II

     Article III, §2, of the Constitution limits the jurisdiction of federal courts to “Cases” and “Controversies,” which restricts the authority of federal courts to resolving “ ‘the legal rights of litigants in actual controversies,’ ” Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U. S. 464, 471 (1982) (quoting Liverpool, New York & Philadelphia S. S. Co. v. Commissioners of Emigration, 113 U. S. 33, 39 (1885) ). In order to invoke federal-court jurisdiction, a plaintiff must demonstrate that he possesses a legally cognizable interest, or “ ‘personal stake,’ ” in the outcome of the action. See Camreta v. Greene, 563 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 5) (quoting Summers v. Earth Island Institute, 555 U. S. 488, 493 (2009) ). This requirement ensures that the Federal Judiciary confines itself to its constitutionally limited role of adjudicating actual and concrete disputes, the resolutions of which have direct consequences on the parties involved.

     A corollary to this case-or-controversy requirement is that “ ‘an actual controversy must be extant at all stages of review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed.’ ” Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U. S. 43, 67 (1997) (quoting Preiser v. Newkirk, 422 U. S. 395, 401 (1975) ). If an intervening circumstance deprives the plaintiff of a “personal stake in the outcome of the lawsuit,” at any point during litigation, the action can no longer proceed and must be dismissed as moot. Lewis v. Continental Bank Corp., 494 U. S. 472 –478 (1990) (internal quotation marks omitted).

     In the proceedings below, both courts concluded that petitioners’ Rule 68 offer afforded respondent complete relief on—and thus mooted—her FLSA claim. See 656 F. 3d, at 201; No. 09–5782, 2010 WL 2038676, *4 (ED Pa., May 19, 2010). Respondent now contends that these rulings were erroneous, because petitioners’ Rule 68 offer lapsed without entry of judgment. Brief for Respondent 12–16. The United States, as amicus curiae, similarly urges the Court to hold that petitioners’ unaccepted offer did not moot her FLSA claim and to affirm the Court of Appeals on this basis. Brief for United States 10–15.

     While the Courts of Appeals disagree whether an un-accepted offer that fully satisfies a plaintiff’s claim is sufficient to render the claim moot, [ 3 ]      we do not reach this question, or resolve the split, because the issue is not properly before us. The Third Circuit clearly held in this case that respondent’s individual claim was moot. 656 F. 3d, at 201. Acceptance of respondent’s argument to the contrary now would alter the Court of Appeals’ judgment, which is impermissible in the absence of a cross-petition from respondent. See Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. County of Kent, 510 U. S. 355, 364 (1994) ; Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Thurston, 469 U. S. 111 , n. 14 (1985). Moreover, even if the cross-petition rule did not apply, respondent’s waiver of the issue would still prevent us from reaching it. In the District Court, respondent conceded that “[a]n offer of complete relief will generally moot the [plaintiff’s] claim, as at that point the plaintiff retains no personal interest in the outcome of the litigation.” App. 93; 2010 WL 2038676, at *4. Respondent made a similar concession in her brief to the Court of Appeals, see App. 193, and failed to raise the argument in her brief in opposition to the petition for certiorari. We, therefore, assume, without deciding, that petitioners’ Rule 68 offer mooted respondent’s individual claim. See Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U. S. 27, 34 (2004) .

III

     We turn, then, to the question whether respondent’s action remained justiciable based on the collective-action allegations in her complaint. A straightforward application of well-settled mootness principles compels our answer. In the absence of any claimant’s opting in, respondent’s suit became moot when her individual claim became moot, because she lacked any personal interest in representing others in this action. While the FLSA authorizes an aggrieved employee to bring an action on behalf of himself and “other employees similarly situated,” 29 U. S. C. §216(b), the mere presence of collective-action allegations in the complaint cannot save the suit from mootness once the individual claim is satisfied. [ 4 ]      In order to avoid this outcome, respondent relies almost entirely upon cases that arose in the context of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 class actions, particularly United States Parole Comm’n v. Geraghty, 445 U. S. 388 (1980) ; Deposit Guaranty Nat. Bank v. Roper, 445 U. S. 326 (1980) ; and Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U. S. 393 (1975) . But these cases are inapposite, both because Rule 23 actions are fundamentally different from collective actions under the FLSA, see Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., 493 U. S., at 177–178 (Scalia, J., dissenting), and because these cases are, by their own terms, inapplicable to these facts. It follows that this action was appropriately dismissed as moot.

A

     Respondent contends that she has a sufficient personal stake in this case based on a statutorily created collective- action interest in representing other similarly situated employees under §216(b). Brief for Respondent 47–48. In support of her argument, respondent cites our decision in Geraghty, which in turn has its roots in Sosna. Neither case supports her position.

     In Sosna, the Court held that a class action is not rendered moot when the named plaintiff’s individual claim becomes moot after the class has been duly certified. 419 U. S., at 399. The Court reasoned that when a district court certifies a class, “the class of unnamed persons described in the certification acquire[s] a legal status separate from the interest asserted by [the named plaintiff],” with the result that a live controversy may continue to exist, even after the claim of the named plaintiff becomes moot. Id., at 399–402. Geraghty narrowly extended this principle to denials of class certification motions. The Court held that where an action would have acquired the independent legal status described in Sosna but for the district court’s erroneous denial of class certification, a corrected ruling on appeal “relates back” to the time of the erroneous denial of the certification motion. 445 U. S., at 404, and n. 11.

     Geraghty is inapposite, because the Court explicitly limited its holding to cases in which the named plaintiff’s claim remains live at the time the district court denies class certification. See id., at 407, n. 11. Here, respondent had not yet moved for “conditional certification” when her claim became moot, nor had the District Court anticipa-torily ruled on any such request. Her claim instead became moot prior to these events, foreclosing any recourse to Geraghty. There is simply no certification decision to which respondent’s claim could have related back.

     More fundamentally, essential to our decisions in Sosna and Geraghty was the fact that a putative class acquires an independent legal status once it is certified under Rule 23. Under the FLSA, by contrast, “conditional certification” does not produce a class with an independent legal status, or join additional parties to the action. The sole consequence of conditional certification is the sending of court-approved written notice to employees, see Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., supra, at 171–172, who in turn become parties to a collective action only by filing written con- sent with the court, §216(b). So even if respondent were to secure a conditional certification ruling on remand, nothing in that ruling would preserve her suit from mootness.

B

     Respondent also advances an argument based on a separate, but related, line of cases in which the Court held that an “inherently transitory” class-action claim is not necessarily moot upon the termination of the named plaintiff’s claim. Like our decision in Geraghty, this line of cases began with Sosna and is similarly inapplicable here.

     After concluding that the expiration of a named plain-tiff’s claim following certification does not moot the class action, Sosna suggested that, where a named plaintiff’s individual claim becomes moot before the district court has an opportunity to rule on the certification motion, and the issue would otherwise evade review, the certification might “relate back” to the filing of the complaint. 419 U. S., at 402, n. 11. The Court has since held that the relation-back doctrine may apply in Rule 23 cases where it is “certain that other persons similarly situated” will continue to be subject to the challenged conduct and the claims raised are “ ‘so inherently transitory that the trial court will not have even enough time to rule on a motion for class certification before the proposed representative’s individual interest expires.’ ” County of Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U. S. 44, 52 (1991) (quoting Geraghty, supra, at 399), in turn citing Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U. S. 103 , n. 11 (1975)). Invoking this doctrine, respondent argues that defendants can strategically use Rule 68 offers to “pick off” named plaintiffs before the collective-action process is complete, rendering collective actions “inher-ently transitory” in effect. Brief for Respondent 37.

     Our cases invoking the “inherently transitory” relation-back rationale do not apply. The “inherently transitory” rationale was developed to address circumstances in which the challenged conduct was effectively unreviewable, because no plaintiff possessed a personal stake in the suit long enough for litigation to run its course. A plaintiff might seek, for instance, to bring a class action challenging the constitutionality of temporary pretrial detentions. In doing so, the named plaintiff would face the considerable challenge of preserving his individual claim from mootness, since pretrial custody likely would end prior to the resolution of his claim. See Gerstein, supra. To address this problem, the Court explained that in cases where the transitory nature of the conduct giving rise to the suit would effectively insulate defendants’ conduct from review, certification could potentially “relate back” to the filing of the complaint. Id., at 110, n. 11; McLaughlin, supra, at 52. But this doctrine has invariably focused on the fleeting nature of the challenged conduct giving rise to the claim, not on the defendant’s litigation strategy. See, e.g., Swisher v. Brady, 438 U. S. 204 , n. 11 (1978); Spencer v. Kemna, 523 U. S. 1 –18 (1998).

     In this case, respondent’s complaint requested statutory damages. Unlike claims for injunctive relief challenging ongoing conduct, a claim for damages cannot evade review; it remains live until it is settled, judicially resolved, or barred by a statute of limitations. Nor can a defendant’s attempt to obtain settlement insulate such a claim from review, for a full settlement offer addresses plaintiff’s alleged harm by making the plaintiff whole. While settlement may have the collateral effect of foreclosing unjoined claimants from having their rights vindicated in respondent’s suit, such putative plaintiffs remain free to vindicate their rights in their own suits. They are no less able to have their claims settled or adjudicated following respondent’s suit than if her suit had never been filed at all.

C

     Finally, respondent argues that the purposes served by the FLSA’s collective-action provisions—for example, efficient resolution of common claims and lower individual costs associated with litigation—would be frustrated by defendants’ use of Rule 68 to “pick off” named plaintiffs before the collective-action process has run its course. Both respondent and the Court of Appeals purported to find support for this position in our decision in Roper, 445 U. S., at 339.

     In Roper, the named plaintiffs’ individual claims became moot after the District Court denied their motion for class certification under Rule 23 and subsequently entered judgment in their favor, based on the defendant bank’s offer of judgment for the maximum recoverable amount of damages, in addition to interest and court costs. Id., at 329–330. The Court held that even though the District Court had entered judgment in the named plaintiffs’ favor, they could nevertheless appeal the denial of their motion to certify the class. The Court found that, under the particular circumstances of that case, the named plaintiffs possessed an ongoing, personal economic stake in the substantive controversy—namely, to shift a portion of attorney’s fees and expenses to successful class litigants. [ 5 ] Id., at 332–334, and n. 6. Only then, in dicta, did the Court underscore the importance of a district court’s class certification decision and observe that allowing defendants to “ ‘pic[k] off’ ” party plaintiffs before an affirmative ruling was achieved “would frustrate the objectives of class actions.” Id., at 339.

     Roper’s holding turned on a specific factual finding that the plaintiffs’ possessed a continuing personal economic stake in the litigation, even after the defendants’ offer of judgment. Id., at 336. As already explained, here, respondent conceded that petitioners’ offer “provided complete relief on her individual claims,” Brief in Opposition i, and she failed to assert any continuing economic interest in shifting attorney’s fees and costs to others. Moreover, Roper’s dictum was tethered to the unique significance of certification decisions in class-action proceedings. 445 U. S., at 339. Whatever significance “conditional certification” may have in §216(b) proceedings, it is not tantamount to class certification under Rule 23.

*  *  *

     The Court of Appeals concluded that respondent’s individual claim became moot following petitioners’ Rule 68 offer of judgment. We have assumed, without deciding, that this is correct.

     Reaching the question on which we granted certiorari, we conclude that respondent has no personal interest in representing putative, unnamed claimants, nor any other continuing interest that would preserve her suit from mootness. Respondent’s suit was, therefore, appropriately dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

     The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

Notes

1  Lower courts have borrowed class-action terminology to describe the process of joining co-plaintiffs under . While we do not express an opinion on the propriety of this use of class-action nomenclature, we do note that there are significant differences between certification under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 and the joinder process under §216(b).
2  The “relation back” doctrine was developed in the context of class actions under Rule 23 to address the circumstance in which a named plaintiff’s claim becomes moot prior to certification of the class. This case raises two circumstances in which the Court has applied this doctrine. First, where a named plaintiff’s claim is “inherently transi-tory,” and becomes moot prior to certification, a motion for certification may “relate back” to the filing of the complaint. See, e.g., County of Riverside v. McLaughlin, –52 (1991). Second, we have held that where a certification motion is denied and a named plaintiff’s claim subsequently becomes moot, an appellate reversal of the certification decision may relate back to the time of the denial. See United States Parole Comm’n v. Geraghty, .
3  Compare, e.g., Weiss v. Regal Collections, 385 F. 3d 337, 340 (CA3 2004), with McCauley v. Trans Union, LLC, 402 F. 3d 340, 342 (CA2 2005).
4  While we do not resolve the question whether a Rule 68 offer that fully satisfies the plaintiff’s claims is sufficient by itself to moot the action, supra, at 5, we note that Courts of Appeals on both sides of that issue have recognized that a plaintiff’s claim may be satisfied even without the plaintiff’s consent. Some courts maintain that an unaccepted offer of complete relief alone is sufficient to moot the individual’s claim. E.g., Weiss, supra, at 340; Greisz v. Household Bank (Ill.), N. A., 176 F. 3d 1012, 1015 (CA7 1999). Other courts have held that, in the face of an unaccepted offer of complete relief, district courts may “enter judgment in favor of the plaintiffs in accordance with the defendants’ Rule 68 offer of judgment.” O’Brien v. Ed Donnelly Enters., Inc., 575 F. 3d 567, 575 (CA6 2009); see also McCauley v. Trans Union, LLC, 402 F. 3d 340, 342 (CA2 2005). Contrary to the dissent’s assertion, see post, at 8 (opinion of Kagan, J.), nothing in the nature of FLSA actions precludes satisfaction—and thus the mooting—of the individual’s claim before the collective-action component of the suit has run its course.
5  Because Roper is distinguishable on the facts, we need not consider its continuing validity in light of our subsequent decision in Lewis v. Continental Bank Corp., . See id., at 480 (“[An] interest in attorney’s fees is, of course, insufficient to create an Article III case or controversy where none exists on the merits of the underlying claim”).


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