In Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) collective action was brought on behalf of the respondent and other employees similarly situated. The District Court found that no other individuals had joined the respondent’s suit and the Rule 68 offer, which the respondent ignored, fully satisfied her claim, and concluded that the respondent’s suit was moot and dismissed it for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Third Circuit reversed. The Third Circuit held that the respondent’s individual claim was moot but not her collective action explaining that allowing defendants to “pick off” named plaintiffs before certification would frustrate the goals of collective actions. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the respondent’s individual claim because she had no personal interest in representative putative, unnamed claimants, nor any other continuing interest that would preserve her suit for mootness.
The Symczyk Court found that well-settled mootness principles controlled the outcome of the case. After the respondent’s individual claim became moot, the suit became moot because she had no personal interest in representing others in the action. The court found that Rule 23 class action decisions were inapposite, both because Rule 23 actions are fundamentally different from FLSA collective actions and because the cases were inapplicable to the facts before it. Two such cases, Sosna v. Iowa and United States Parole Commission v. Geraghty, did not provide support for the respondent.
Sosna 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. Geraghty extended the principle to denials of class certification motions; and it provided that, where an action would have acquired independent legal status 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. Geraghty’s holding however was explicitly limited to cases in which the named plaintiff’s claim remained live at the time the District Court denied class certification. Here, respondent had not yet moved for “conditional certification” when her claim became moot nor had the District Court anticipatorily ruled on any such request.
More fundamentally essential to Sosna and Geraghty was the fact that a putative class acquires an independent legal status once it is certified under Rule 23. By contrast, the FLSA “conditional certification” does not produce a class with an independent legal status or join additional parties to the action.
The court rejected all of the respondent’s support for the claim that the purposes of FLSA’s collective action provisions would be frustrated by defendant’s use of Rule 68 to “pick off” named plaintiffs before the collective action process has run its course. This opinion is another example of the high court’s view that defendants can use Rule 68 offers, or other settlement techniques, to pick off named plaintiffs in not only Rule 23 class action situations but also in FLSA collective action scenarios.