CALIFORNIA CLASS ACTION LAW

Month: September, 2010

Ninth Circuit Affirms in All Respects Trial Court’s Entry of Judgment and Award of Attorneys Fees After Jury and Bench Trial of California Labor Code Class Action and FLSA Collective Action Claims

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On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in “all respects” the trial court’s grant of partial summary judgment to plaintiffs, a judgment after jury and bench trials, and an award of attorney’s fees to plaintiffs.  Wang v. Chinese Daily News, Inc., Nos. 08-55483, 08-56740, — F.3d —-, 2010 WL 3733568 (9th Cir. Sept. 27, 2010).  Among other things, the Ninth Circuit held that plaintiff newspaper reporters were non-exempt. (Thank you to Randy Renick for bringing this case to my attention.)

Background

Employees of Chinese Daily News, Inc. (“CDN”), a Chinese-language newspaper, filed suit against CDN on behalf of current, former, and future CDN employees based in CDN’s San Francisco and Monterey Park (Los Angeles), California locations.  Id. *1.  Plaintiffs claimed violations of the FLSA, California’s Labor Code, and California’s Unfair Competition Law, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200, alleging that employees were made to work in excess of eight hours per day and forty hours per week. Id. They further alleged that they were wrongfully denied overtime compensation, meal and rest breaks, accurate and itemized wage statements, and penalties for wages due but not promptly paid at termination. Id. The district court certified the FLSA claim as a collective action, and it certified the state-law claims as a class action under Rule 23(b)(2) and, alternatively, under Rule 23(b)(3). Id. Read the rest of this entry »

Ninth Circuit Reverses Denial of Class Certification, Holding that Disproportionality of Actual Harm Suffered, Enormity of the Potential Liability, and Good Faith Compliance Fail to Justify Denial of Certification on Superiority Grounds

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The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a denial of class certification in a Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (“FACTA”) case, Bateman v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc., No. 09-55108, — F.3d —-, 2010 WL 3733555 (9th Cir. Sept. 27, 2010).  Plaintiff Bateman brought a class action against American Multi-Cinema, Inc. (“AMC”) alleging that AMC violated FACTA by printing more than the last five digits of consumers’ credit or debit card numbers on electronically printed receipts in December 2006 and January 2007.  Id. *1 (citing 15 U.S.C. § 1681c(g) (2005)).  Plaintiff sought to recover statutory damages ranging from $100 to $1,000 for each willful violation of FACTA. Id. The district court denied class certification under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3), finding that a class action was not the superior method of litigating the case because AMC had made a good faith effort to comply with FACTA after this lawsuit was filed and the magnitude of AMC’s potential liability–$29 million to $290 million–was enormous and out of proportion to any harm suffered by the class.  Id. (citing Bateman v. Am. Multi-Cinema, Inc., 252 F.R.D 647, 648, 650-51 (C.D. Cal. 2008) (order)). The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that “none of these three grounds–the disproportionality between the potential liability and the actual harm suffered, the enormity of the potential damages, or AMC’s good faith compliance–justified the denial of class certification on superiority grounds and that the district court abused its discretion in relying on them.” Read the rest of this entry »

Eastern District Denies First to File Transfer of Class Action

[Bob Burman, race car driver] (LOC)
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The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California denied defendant employer’s motion to transfer pursuant to the “first-to file” rule.  Wilkie v. Gentiva Health Services, Inc., Civ. No. 10-1451 FCD/GGH, 2010 WL 3703060 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 16, 2010) (slip op.).  Plaintiff filed a putative nation-and California-wide class action/collective action against plaintiff’s former employer Gentiva for alleged violations of the Federal Labor and Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the California Labor Code § 201 et seq. for: (1) misclassification as exempt from overtime pay and failure to pay overtime; (2) willful failure to pay wages due within the time specified by the Code; (3) violation of California Wage Order No. 4 for knowingly and intentionally failing to provide timely, accurate, itemized wage statements including request for an injunction and damages; (4) failure to give proper rest and meal breaks; and (5) violation of California’s Business & Professions Code § 17200 et seq.  Id. *1

A prior FLSA collective action and New York and North Carolina state law class action against Gentiva was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, entitled Rindfleisch, et al. v. Gentiva Health Services, Inc., No. CV10-2111 (E.D.N.Y.) (“Rindfleisch”). Defendant moved to transfer plaintiff’s complaint under the “first-to-file rule,” on the ground plaintiff’s claims are the subject of the Rindfleisch action. Plaintiff opposed the motion, arguing the parties and claims are not substantially similar in the two actions and other equitable factors militate against transfer under the first-to-file rule.  Id. The court denied Gentiva’s motion.  Id. Read the rest of this entry »

Second District Reverses Judgment in a Class Action of $99,000 and Attorneys Fees of $881,715

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The Second District reversed a trial court’s judgment in favor of employees in a class action trial.  Pearline Zalewa v. Tempo Research Corporation, B210429, 2010 WL 3735240 (Cal. Ct. App. 2d Dist. Sept. 27, 2010).  Defendant  fiber-optic equipment manufacturer was sued in a class action by its former employees who claimed that the manufacturer breached an obligation to pay them annual bonuses, an obligation that allegedly continued for years after they were laid off from work during a business downturn.  Id. The court concluded that the employees are not entitled to any recovery: “All but two of the employees relinquished their right to sue when they were laid off, in return for compensation that exceeded their earned severance pay. In any event, there was no promise made to pay bonuses to the employees after they were laid off.”  Id.

The Trial Court’s Judgment

The trial court conducted a bench trial in January 2008, finding that plaintiffs were entitled to recover a direct bonus under theories of breach of contract, promissory estoppel, accounting, and unfair business practices. Id. The court deemed the bonus payments to be “wages” under the Labor Code. Id. And because the bonus payments are wages, plaintiffs were awarded prejudgment interest and attorney fees under the Labor Code. Id. The court enumerated the amount of the award for each employee, less offsets for monies already paid by defendants, plus interest. Id. The total amount of the award, including interest, was approximately $99,000, and plaintiffs’ counsel was awarded attorney fees of $881,715.  Id. Read the rest of this entry »

Justice Scalia Stays Execution of Judgment in Louisiana Tobacco Case, Setting Up Potentially Important Review of Scope of Due Process Protection in Class Action Litigation

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Setting up a potentially important review by the U.S. Supreme Court of the scope of federal Due Process Clause protection in class actions, Justice Antonin Scalia granted an application for stay on Friday by Philip Morris USA, Inc. in Philip Morris USA Inc. v. Scott, No. 10A273, — S.Ct. —-, 2010 WL 3724564 (U.S.  Sept. 24, 2010) (mem.).  Plaintiffs brought a class action against several tobacco companies on behalf of all Louisiana smokers, alleging that the companies defrauded the plaintiff class by “distort[ing] the entire body of public knowledge” about the addictive effects of nicotine.  Id. *1 (quoting Scott v. American Tobacco Co., 2004-2095, p. 14. (La. App. 2/7/07) 949 So. 2d 1266, 1277).  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal of Louisiana granted relief on that theory, and entered a judgment requiring applicants to pay $241,540,488 (plus accumulated interest of about $29 million) to fund a 10-year smoking cessation program for the benefit of the members of the plaintiff class.  Id. The Supreme Court of Louisiana declined review.  Id. Defendants asked Justice Antonin Scalia “in [his] capacity as Circuit Justice for the Fifth Circuit, to stay the judgment until this Court can act on their intended petition for a writ of certiorari.” Id.

Justice Scalia recited the standard for a single Justice to enter such a stay, pursuant to 28 U. S. C. § 2101(f): Read the rest of this entry »

Northern District Denies Motion to Compel Arbitration Where Plaintiffs Sought Only Injunctive Relief Under Unfair Competition Law

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The United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied a motion to compel arbitration where plaintiffs sought only injunctive relief under the California Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”).  Cardenas v. Americredit Financial Services Inc., No. C 09-04978 SBA, 2010 WL 3619851 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 13, 2010).

Plaintiffs allege that Defendant AmeriCredit Financial Services, Inc. (“AmeriCredit”), failed to provide Mr. Cardenas with proper notice of his rights in connection with the financing of his car, ostensibly in violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”), California Business and Professions Code § 17200.  Id. *1.  After plaintiff defaulted on his payments, AmeriCredit repossessed Cardenas’ vehicle. Id. *3. The vehicle was subsequently sold and on thereafter, AmeriCredit informed Cardenas that his car had been sold for $12,000, but that he still owed them a deficiency balance of $12,733.85 (i.e., the amount owed on his loan less the amount recovered from the sale of the car). Id. Mr. Cardenas paid only part of the deficiency balance, and AmeriCredit later reported Cardenas’ deficiency to credit bureaus. Id. Read the rest of this entry »

After a Dispute Among Counsel for a Putative Class Regarding the Sharing of Attorneys Fees, the Northern District Denied a Motion to Terminate Counsel of Record

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The United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied plaintiffs’ motion to terminate its counsel of record and appointed a special master in Red v. Unilever PLC, No. C 10-00387 JW, 2010 WL 3629689 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 14, 2010).  Certain plaintiffs in a class action filed a notice of termination of Beck & Lee and Reese Richman LLP as counsel.  Id. *1.

Background

Plaintiffs allege in the class action that Defendants engaged in false advertising for the product “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!”  Id. Three law firms undertook representation of the named Plaintiffs and the putative class, pursuant to a Joint Prosecution Agreement.  Id. *2.  On August 16, 2010, Mr. Weston, one of Plaintiffs’ attorneys of record, filed a Notice of Termination, effectively moving to terminate the Reese Richman and Beck & Lee firms as co-counsel for Plaintiffs. Id. *1. Two days later, Beck & Lee filed an Opposition to the Notice, charging the Weston Firm with engaging in “a shocking course of unethical and bad faith conduct.” Id. Beck & Lee’s Opposition contended, inter alia, that: Read the rest of this entry »

Central District Denies Motion to Compel Class Arbitration, But Grants Stay Pending Outcome of Supreme Court’s Decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion

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The United States District Court for the Central District of California denied a class action defendant’s motion to compel arbitration, but granted its motion to stay.  Lopez v. American Express Bank, FSB, No. CV 09-07335 SJO (MANx), 2010 WL 3637755 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 17, 2010).

Plaintiffs sued Defendants American Express Bank, FSB, and American Express Centurion Bank’s (collectively, “Defendants”) alleging causes of action relating to the terms and conditions of credit cards. Id. *1.  Defendants moved to compel arbitration.  Id. The Court denied, finding that the class action waiver contained in the Agreement between the parties was unconscionable under California law, and therefore, the Plaintiffs could not be compelled to arbitrate. Id. Defendants brought the present motion to reconsider.

The Court determined that the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in AT & T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, — U.S. —-, 130 S. Ct. 3322, — L. Ed. 2d —-, 2010 WL 303962 (May 24, 2010) constitutes a material difference in fact and law, potential change in controlling law, and justifiable reason to reconsider its prior. Id. *3.

The specific question that the Supreme Court will resolve is: Read the rest of this entry »

Southern District Grants Class Certification Granted in Labor Code Class Action

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The Southern District of California granted class certification in a vacation, uniform, paycheck, wage and contract class action.  Lopez v. G.A.T. Airline Ground Support, Inc., No. 09cv2268-IEG(BGS), 2010 WL 3633177 (S.D. Cal. Sept. 13, 2010) (slip op.).

Background

Former employees of Defendant G.A.T. Airline Ground Support, Inc. (“GAT”) sued for systematic wage and hour violations in violation of federal and state law. Id. *1.  GAT provides services to airlines, including ground transportation, aircraft maintenance, and cargo operations management.  Id. The four named Plaintiffs are former ramp agents employed by GAT in California.  Id.

Rule 23(a) Commonality

The court found questions of law or fact common to the class with respect to plaintiffs’ vacation, uniform, paycheck, wage, and contract claims:

Here, as explained in detail below, Plaintiffs present both factual evidence of GAT’s company-wide policies and practices as well as anecdotal evidence in the form of class member declarations regarding the application of those challenged policies and practices. Read the rest of this entry »

Central District Orders Pre-Certification Disclosure of Name and Contact Information for Putative Class Members, Finding that Such Disclosure Was “Common Practice” in Class Actions

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The Central District granted plaintiff’s motion to compel disclosure of the name and contact information (full name, last known addresses and telephone numbers) for class members of a putative class action for unpaid commission wages.  Celia Alvarez, et al. v. The Hyatt Regency Long Beach, et al., CV 09-04791-GAF (VBKx).  According to the court, the class was defined as all non-exempt employees for the period commencing May 7, 2005.  (Thank you to Radhika Sainath for alerting me to the decision.)

Defendants contended that the information was not relevant for class certification and invaded the privacy rights of the putative class.  Plaintiffs offered to enter into a protective order and offer that the information be given to a third party who would send the class members an opt-out letter.  Defendant rejected these proposal. Read the rest of this entry »