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Walkinshaw v. Saint Elizabeths Regional Medical Center

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

December 20, 2019

NICHOLE WALKINSHAW, et al., Plaintiffs,


          Brian C. Buescher United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), Filing 46, defendant CommonSpirit Health's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction, Filing 44, and Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to Take Jurisdictional Discovery, Filing 50. For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds it has personal jurisdiction over defendant CommonSpirit and jurisdictional discovery is therefore unnecessary. The Court further finds Plaintiffs have adequately stated causes of action under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Nebraska Wage and Hour Act, and the Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act and have stated a cause of action for breach of contract. Accordingly, all three motions are denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are those alleged in the Amended Complaint[1] and are assumed to be true for the purposes of Defendants' two pending motions. Plaintiffs consist of seven nurses employed at Saint Elizabeth Regional Medical Center (“SERMC”). Filing 25 at 7-8. SERMC is a Nebraska corporation and is directly owned by CHI-Nebraska d/b/a CHI-Health (“CHI-Health”). Filing 25 at 12. CHI-Health is a Nebraska corporation and, until recently, was a subsidiary of Catholic Health Initiatives (“CHI”). Filing 25 at 11. After a merger between CHI and another health system, Dignity Health, CHI-Health and SERMC became part of CommonSpirit Health (“CommonSpirit”). Filing 25 at 9. CommonSpirit is a corporation registered in Colorado and headquartered in Illinois. Filing 25 at 9.

         The seven named plaintiffs, Nicole Walkinshaw, Tysha Bryant, April Endicott, Heather Nabity, Meghan Martin, Alandrea Ellwanger, and Troy Stauffer, have all worked for SERMC since at least February 2015. Filing 25 at 7-8. Since then, Defendants have followed an “On-Call Policy” which governs nurses' compensation for time spent on call. Filing 25 at 18. Pursuant to the on-call policy, nurses are required “to be available for work at times other than during their regular-scheduled shifts.” Filing 25 at 18. This “On-Call Work” consists of responding to telephone calls, text messages, and emails from doctors and performing preparatory and follow-up work related to those communications. Filing 25 at 18. From February 6, 2015, until September 30, 2018, Defendants paid Plaintiffs $2.00 an hour for on-call work performed during weekdays and $2.50 per hour for on-call work on weekends. Filing 25 at 19. On June 1, 2017, Defendants adopted a written on-call policy (“2017 Policy”). Filing 25 at 19. According to the 2017 Policy, nurses were to be paid time and a half their regular rate for “[w]ork relating to the principal activities of [the] position that can be taken care of with a phone call or access to work from home.” Filing 25 at 19. Despite the 2017 Policy, Plaintiffs allege they continued to be compensated for on-call work at a rate between $2.00 and $2.50 per hour. Filing 25 at 19.

         In October of 2018, the on-call policy was amended (“2018 Policy”). Filing 25 at 21. The 2018 Policy had many of the same requirements as the 2017 Policy but changed on-call work compensation to “$3.00 per hour for 0 to 50 on-call hours and $4.00 per hour for 51-plus-on-call hours.” Filing 25 at 21-22. The 2018 Policy was still in effect on June 24, 2019, the date of the filing of the Amended Complaint. Filing 25 at 21.

         Plaintiffs bring claims against SERMC, CHI-Health, and CommonSpirit for alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Nebraska Wage and Hour Act (NWHA), the Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act (NWPCA), and for breach of contract. Filing 25 at 47-56.

         Defendants SERMC, CHI-Nebraska, and CommonSpirit filed a motion to dismiss all Plaintiffs' claims for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Filing 46. Defendant CommonSpirit filed a separate motion to dismiss all the claims against it for lack of personal jurisdiction. Filing 44. Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Leave to Take Jurisdictional Discovery, Filing 50, for purposes of refuting Defendants' arguments regarding lack of personal jurisdiction.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standards of Review

         1. Failure to State a Claim Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)

         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To satisfy this requirement, a plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Corrado v. Life Inv'rs Ins. Co. of Am., 804 F.3d 915, 917 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Barton v. Taber, 820 F.3d 958, 964 (8th Cir. 2016) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 192 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)).

         In analyzing a motion to dismiss, the Court must “accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, but [is] not bound to accept as true ‘[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements' or legal conclusions couched as factual allegations.” McDonough v. Anoka Cty., 799 F.3d 931, 945 (8th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). “When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court generally must ignore materials outside the pleadings, but it may consider some materials that are part of the public record or do not contradict the complaint, as well as materials that are necessarily embraced by the pleadings.” Ashford v. Douglas Cty., 880 F.3d 990, 992 (8th Cir. 2018) (quoting Smithrud v. City of St. Paul, 746 F.3d 391, 395 (8th Cir. 2014)).

         2. Lack of Personal Jurisdiction Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2)

         In order to defeat a motion for lack of personal jurisdiction, a plaintiff must plead “sufficient facts ‘to support a reasonable inference that the defendant[] can be subjected to jurisdiction within the state.'” K-V Pharm. Co. v. Uriach & CIA, S.A., 648 F.3d 588, 591-92 (8th Cir. 2011) (alteration in original) (quoting Dever v. Hentzen Coatings, Inc., 380 F.3d 1070, 1072 (8th Cir. 2004)). When jurisdiction is at issue, “the nonmoving party need only make a prima facie showing of jurisdiction.” Pangaea, Inc. v. Flying Burrito LLC, 647 F.3d 741, 745 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Dakota Indus., Inc. v. Dakota Sportswear, Inc., 946 F.2d 1384, 1387 (8th Cir. 1991)). The nonmoving party's prima facie showing is analyzed “not by the pleadings alone, but by the affidavits and exhibits presented with the motions and in opposition thereto.” Dever, 380 F.3d at 1072 (quoting Block Indus. v. DHJ Indus., Inc., 495 F.2d 256, 260 (8th Cir. 1974)). “[T]he court must look at the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and resolve all factual conflicts in favor of that party.” Pangaea, Inc., 647 F.3d at 745 (quoting Dakota Indus., Inc., 946 F.2d at 1387).

         B. Discussion

         1. Personal Jurisdiction over CommonSpirit

         As a preliminary matter, the Court must address whether it has jurisdiction over CommonSpirit. As a rule, Plaintiffs do not need to pass a high burden at this stage in the proceedings to establish jurisdiction over a defendant; only a prima facie case is required. See Johnson v. Arden, 614 F.3d 785, 794 (8th Cir. 2010) (stating that for purposes of a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, “the plaintiff must make a prima facie showing” (citation omitted)). To assess whether a Court has personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant, “the Court must determine whether: (1) the requirements of the Nebraska long-arm statute are satisfied; and (2) the exercise of jurisdiction is permitted by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Fastrich v. Cont'l Gen. Ins. Co., 2017 WL 3610535, at *3 (D. Neb. Aug. 21, 2017) (citing Coen v. Coen, 509 F.3d 900, 905 (8th Cir. 2007)). Nebraska courts have interpreted the state's long-arm statute, Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-536 (Reissue 2016), to extend jurisdiction over nonresident defendants to the fullest degree allowed by the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution. Pecoraro v. Sky Ranch for Boys, Inc., 340 F.3d 558, 561 (8th Cir. 2003). Thus, the Court need only determine whether the assertion of jurisdiction over CommonSpirit comports with constitutional limits.

         “The Supreme Court has recognized two theories for evaluating personal jurisdiction: general and specific jurisdiction.” Steinbuch v. Cutler, 518 F.3d 580, 586 (8th Cir. 2008) (citing Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414-15, 104 S.Ct. 1868, 80 L.Ed.2d 404 (1984)). “When a cause of action arises out of or is related to a defendant's contacts with the forum state, the exercise of personal jurisdiction is one of specific jurisdiction.” Epps v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 327 F.3d 642, 648 (8th Cir. 2003) (citing Helicopteros, 466 U.S. at 414 n.8, 104 S.Ct. 1868, 80 L.Ed.2d 404). On the other hand, “if the exercise of jurisdiction does not depend on the relationship between the cause of action and the defendant's contacts with the forum state, the exercise of personal jurisdiction is one of general jurisdiction.” Id. (citing Helicopteros, 466 U.S. at 415, 104 S.Ct. 1868, 80 L.Ed.2d 404.) The Court reads Plaintiffs' Complaint and briefing as presenting only an argument for specific personal jurisdiction over CommonSpirit.[2]

         Under either theory, “[t]he touchstone of the due-process analysis remains whether the defendant has sufficient ‘minimum contacts with [the forum state] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Viasystems, Inc. v. EBM-Papst St. Georgen GmbH & Co., KG,646 F.3d 589, 594 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington,326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154, 90 L.Ed. 95 (1945)). “Minimum contacts must exist either at the time the cause of action arose, the time the suit is filed, or within a reasonable ...

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