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SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
GENESIS HEALTHCARE CORPORATION, et al.,
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
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.
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
, 493 U.S.
, 169–170 (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days after service, the offer would be deemed withdrawn.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.,
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.,
196–198. The court determined that the case must be remanded
in order to allow respondent to seek “conditional
] 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
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.
, 471 (1982) (quoting Liverpool, New York &
Philadelphia S. S. Co.
v. Commissioners of
, 113 U.S.
, 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
, 563 U. S. ___, ___ (2011)
(slip op., at 5) (quoting Summers
v. Earth Island
, 555 U.S.
, 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
, 520 U.S.
, 67 (1997) (quoting Preiser
, 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
Continental Bank Corp.
, 477–478 (1990) (internal quotation marks
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.
, 364 (1994); Trans World Airlines, Inc.
, 469 U.S.
, 119, 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
, 541 U.S.
, 34 (2004).
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
(1980); Deposit Guaranty Nat. Bank
(1980); and Sosna
, 419 U.S.
(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.
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
. Neither case supports her position.
, 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
certification motions. The Court held that where an action would
have acquired the independent legal status described in
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.
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
. There is simply no certification decision to
which respondent’s claim could have related back.
More fundamentally, essential to our decisions
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
, 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.
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
line of cases began with Sosna
and is similarly inapplicable
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
, 500 U.S.
, 52 (1991) (quoting Geraghty
, at 399),
in turn citing Gerstein
, 420 U.S.
, 110, 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
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
. 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
, at 110, n. 11; McLaughlin
, 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,
, 438 U.S.
, 214, n. 11 (1978); Spencer
, 17–18 (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
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.
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.,
, 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.
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
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.
’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,
’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.