Nov. 29, 2017 – A cab owner leased his cab to a driver, who subleased it to another driver, who complained that he should be considered an “employee” of the cooperative that dispatched the cab to passengers and should thus receive the minimum wage.
But the President of Yellow Cab Cooperative, Ali Mohammad, took issue with that complaint and said Thomas Chapman, who subleased the cab from Parashu Giri, who leased the cab from owner Dennis Edwards, was “fired” and would not be dispatched.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin ruled that Chapman’s multiple complaints, which alleged that Mohammad’s action violated the anti-retaliation clause of the Fair Labor Standards Act, were insufficient and dismissed the case.
In Chapman v. Yellow Cab Cooperative, No. 17-1758 (Nov. 16, 2017), a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit similarly ruled that Chapman’s claim cannot be revived but revisited the pleading rules in doing so.
The district court judge had ruled that Chapman’s complaint allegations did not address factors in court opinions relevant to the distinction between employees and independent contractors. But the three-judge panel said those factors did not need to be addressed.
“To the extent the district court demanded that complaints plead facts – not only facts that bear on the statutory elements of a claim, but also facts that bear on judicially established standards – it was mistaken,” wrote Judge Frank Easterbrook.
“Because complaints need not identify the applicable law … it is manifestly inappropriate for a district court to demand that complaints contain all legal elements (or factors) plus facts corresponding to each,” Judge Easterbrook continued.
The panel recognized that Chapman’s claim as presented “does not seem plausible,” given the business relationship he describes in his complaint – but a desire for plausibility did not mean that Chapman needed to present facts to support factors.
Instead, the district court should have asked for a more definite statement under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e), the panel explained. Thus, it treated the judge’s order for more information as a request for a more definite statement under Rule 12(e).
“Rule 12(e) authorizes the district court to enter ‘any appropriate order’ when the plaintiff does not comply, and after Chapman’s multiple failed efforts to frame a plausible claim the most appropriate order was the one the district court employed – dismissal with prejudice,” wrote Judge Easterbrook for the three-judge panel.