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Hou v. Lam

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 27, 2017

MING HOU, Plaintiff,
v.
PAT KWOK LAM and HONG KONG CHINESE RESTAURANT LLC, Defendants.

          RULING ON MOTION TO DISMISS

          Victor A. Bolden, Judge

         Ming Hou (“Plaintiff”) brought this case against Pat Kwok Lam and Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant LLC (together “Defendants”), alleging that Defendants filed a retaliatory lawsuit against him in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the Connecticut Minimum Wage Act (“CMWA”). Defendants have moved to dismiss all of Mr. Hou's claims under Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Def. Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 18.

         For the reasons outlined below, Defendants' [10] Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. Defendants' motion to dismiss Mr. Hou's claim under the CMWA is granted, but the motion is denied with respect to his FLSA claim.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Ming Hou is a former delivery man at Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant, LLC (“the restaurant”), where Pat Kwok Lam works as an owner and manager. Compl. ¶¶ 8-10, ECF No. 1. In June of 2014, Mr. Hou filed a federal lawsuit against Defendants, Ming Hou v. Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant, LLC and Kwok Pat Lam, No. 3:14-cv-869 (AWT) (“employment lawsuit”), alleging that Defendants violated the FLSA and various state labor laws during the course of Mr. Hou's employment. A bench trial was held on October 25, 2016 to adjudicate Mr. Hou's claims; to date, the Court has not yet issued a ruling or judgment in that case.

         Mr. Hou alleges that, within a couple of months of the scheduled trial in the employment lawsuit, Defendants contacted Mr. Hou's wife threatening to file a lawsuit against Mr. Hou. Compl. ¶¶ 19-21. He alleges that, in September of 2016, following this threat, Defendants served Mr. Hou with a complaint in connection with a prejudgment remedy application filed in Connecticut Superior Court, Pat Kwok Lam and Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant LLC v. Ming Hou, NNI-CV16-5006873-S (“state action”). According to Mr. Hou, this state action was frivolous and was filed “solely to retaliate for Plaintiff's assertion of his rights under the FLSA and Connecticut law.” Id.

         Defendants, on the other hand, contend that the state action was a legitimate application for a prejudgment remedy under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-278a, et seq. Defs. Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 1. Defendants also insist that they never contacted Mr. Hou's wife to threaten Mr. Hou with a lawsuit, explaining that the state action was initiated in July of 2016, not in September, by the filing of a prejudgment remedy application, which is not considered a formal lawsuit. Id.; see also Pat Kwok Lam and Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant LLC v. Ming Hou, NNI-CV16-5006873-S, Docket Entry No. 100.30. According to the docket for the state action, Defendants' prejudgment remedy application was scheduled for a hearing in Connecticut Superior Court on September 25, 2017 at 9:30 AM.

         Mr. Hou initiated this action against Defendants on September 20, 2016. See Compl., ECF No. 1. Defendants now seek dismissal of this action, arguing that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), that Mr. Hou has failed to state an actionable claim under Rule 12(b)(6), and that abstention is appropriate under the Colorado River doctrine.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A district court may not entertain a case where it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1); Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000) (“A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it.”). Generally, the plaintiff bears the burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the court has subject matter jurisdiction over its claims. Id. This burden is met “as long as [the] complaint states a colorable federal claim.” Rodriguez v. DeBuono, 175 F.3d 227, 233 (2d Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). When reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), “a court must accept as true all material factual allegations in the complaint.” Shipping Fin. Serv. Corp. v. Drakos, 140 F.3d 129, 131 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). The court, however, must also refrain from “drawing from the pleadings inferences favorable to the party asserting [jurisdiction].” APWU v. Potter, 343 F.3d 619, 623 (2d Cir. 2003) (citation omitted).

         A district court may also dismiss a case for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In order to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain factual allegations sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 555, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible if “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although “detailed factual allegations” are not required, a complaint must offer more than “labels and conclusions, ” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” or “naked assertion[s]” devoid of “further factual enhancement.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557 (2007). Plausibility at the pleading stage is nonetheless distinct from probability, and “a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of [the claims] is improbable, and . . . recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Id. at 556 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Although courts considering motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) generally “must limit [their] analysis to the four corners of the complaint, ” they may also consider documents that are “incorporated in the complaint by reference.” Kermanshah v. Kermanshah, 580 F.Supp.2d 247, 258 (S.D.N.Y. 2008). The Court may also consider matters subject to judicial notice, which include publicly filed documents. See Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007); DeSilva v. N. Shore-Long Island Jewish Health Sys. Inc., 770 F.Supp.2d 497, 506-07 (E.D.N.Y. 2011).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendants seek dismissal of Mr. Hou's claims on the following grounds: (1) this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) and/or Rule 12(b)(6) because the state action filed by Defendants is not a “lawsuit” as alleged in the Complaint and the relief requested is not available under the statutory provisions cited; and (2) the Court should abstain from exercising federal jurisdiction over this dispute under the abstention doctrine outlined by the Supreme Court in Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. U.S., 424 U.S. 800 (1976). For the ...


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