CALIFORNIA CLASS ACTION LAW

Tag: Class action

Supreme Court Holds That Unaccepted, Full-Value Rule 68 Offer of Judgment Deprives Court of Subject Matter Jurisdiction Over FLSA Collective Action

Uni 5s: Pick-off Attempt at 3rd

Uni 5s: Pick-off Attempt at 3rd (Photo credit: pj_in_oz)

In an case with broad implications for federal class action practice, the U.S. Supreme Court held today, in a 5-4 opinion, that an FLSA collective action was properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, where the lead plaintiff did not accept the employer’s full-value offer of judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68.  Genesis Healthcare Corp., et al. v. Symczyk, No. 11-1059, 569 U.S. __ (April 16, 2013).

Justice Thomas, writing for the 5-4 majority, concluded that:

Reaching the question on which we granted certiorari,we conclude that respondent has no personal interest in representing putative, unnamed claimants, nor any other continuing interest that would preserve her suit from mootness. Respondent’s suit was, therefore, appropriately dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

You can read more here.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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Ninth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of State Law Claims, Holding That FLSA Collective Actions and State Law Class Actions are Not Inherently Incompatible

English: Stanford Memorial Church, Stanford Un...

English: Stanford Memorial Church, Stanford University, Stanford, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Agreeing with other circuits, the Ninth Circuit held today that FLSA collective actions and state law class actions are not inherently incompatible.  Bush v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., No. 11-16892, __ F.3d __ (9th Cir. Apr. 12, 2013).  The district court dismissed warehouse workers’ claims for unpaid wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act and Nevada state law.  The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of state law claims on the basis that they would be certified using different class certification procedures than the federal wage-and-hour claims.  Agreeing with other circuits, the panel held that a FLSA collective action and a state law class action are not inherently incompatible as a matter of law even though plaintiffs must opt into a collective action under the FLSA but must opt out of a class action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23.

You can read more about the ruling here.

Judges

Before: Jerome Farris, Sidney R. Thomas, and N. Randy Smith, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge Thomas.

The case was argued and submitted at Stanford Law School.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

In an Antitrust Class Action, U.S. Supreme Court Holds That Expert’s Damages Study Must Translate the Legal Theory of Harmful Event to Economic Impact of Event

photograph of the justices, cropped to show Ju...

photograph of the justices, cropped to show Justice Scalia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a 5 to 4 opinion today written by Justice Scalia, the U.S. Supreme Court found that a proposed antitrust class action was improperly certified under Rule 23(b)(3) because plaintiff’s damages model fell short of establishing that damages can be measured classwide.  Comcast Corp., et al. v. Behrend, et al., No. 11-864, 569 U.S. ___ (Mar. 27, 2013).  The District Court and Third Circuit approved certification of a class of more than 2 million current and former Comcast subscribers who sought damages for alleged violations of the federal antitrust laws.

At the trial court level, plaintiffs proposed four theories of antitrust impact, only one of which–the “overbuilder” theory–the trial court accepted.  To establish damages, plaintiffs relied solely on the testimony of Dr. James McClave, who designed a regression model comparing actual cable prices in one area with hypothetical prices that would have prevailed but for defendant’s allegedly anticompetitive practices.  Dr. McClave acknowledged that the model did not isolate damages resulting from any one theory of antitrust impact.  Id. at 4.

The Supreme Court held that the class was improperly certified.

By refusing to entertain arguments against respondents’ damages model that bore on the propriety of class certification, simply because those arguments would also be pertinent to the merits determination, the Court of Appeals ran afoul of our precedents requiring precisely that inquiry. And it is clear that, under the proper standard for evaluating certification, respondents’ model falls far short of establishing that damages are capable of measurement on a classwide basis. Without presenting another methodology, respondents cannot show Rule 23(b)(3) predominance: Questions of individual damage  calculations will inevitably overwhelm questions common to the class.

The Court reasoned that the “model failed to measure damages resulting from the particular antitrust injury on which petitioners’ liability in this action is premised.”  Id. at 8.  Justice Scalia emphasized that “it may be necessary for the court to probe behind the pleadings before coming to rest on the certification question, . . . Such an analysis will frequently entail overlap with the merits of the plaintiff ’s underlying claim.” Id. at 6 (internal quotations omitted).

By CHARLES H. JUNG

California Court of Appeal Cites Death Knell Doctrine to Assert Jurisdiction Over Appeal of Order Granting Arbitration

Ring His Death Knell - NARA - 534312

Ring His Death Knell – NARA – 534312 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, in a proposed wage and hour class action, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District reversed the lower court’s order granting a petition to compel arbitration.  Compton v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. B236669, — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2013 WL 1120619 (2d Dist. Mar 19, 2013).  Plaintiff was a property manager who was required to sign an arbitration agreement that also barred arbitration of class claims.  The trial court granted defendants’ petition to compel arbitration.

Normally an order compelling arbitration is not appealable.  But the Court of Appeal determined it had jurisdiction, citing the “death knell” doctrine:

An order compelling arbitration is not appealable. (Elijahjuan v. Superior Court (2012) 210 Cal.App.4th 15, 19.) The parties argue over whether this matter is appealable under the “death knell” doctrine, which applies when an order effectively terminates a class action. Rather than parse the case law on that issue, we conclude that we have jurisdiction to treat this nonappealable order as a petition for writ of mandate in this unusual case because: (1) the unconscionability issue is one of law based on undisputed facts and has been fully briefed; (2) the record is sufficient to consider the issue and it appears that the trial court would be only a nominal party; (3) if we were to dismiss the appeal, and the ultimate reversal of the order is inevitable, it would come in a post-arbitration award after the substantial time and expense of arbitrating the dispute; and (4) as a result, dismissing the appeal would require the parties to arbitrate nonarbitrable claims and would be costly and dilatory.

The Court concluded that the arbitration agreement was unconscionably one-sided because (1) it exempted from arbitration claims the employer would more likely bring, such as claims for injunctive or equitable relief from trade secret disclosures; (2) it limited the time to demand arbitration to a period shorter than the relevant statutes of limitation; (3) it retained the statute of limitations period for itself  and (4) it suggested that the arbitrator had the discretion not to award mandatory attorney’s fees under the Labor Code.

The Court determined that it was not violating Concepcion by enforcing Armendariz’s bilaterality rule:

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U.S. Supreme Court Rules a Putative Class Action Plaintiff May Not Use Stipulation to Defeat CAFA Amount in Controversy

Official portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ste...

Official portrait of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Breyer, the U.S. Supreme Court held today that a putative class representative’s stipulation that he and the class would seek less than $5 million in damages does not defeat federal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (“CAFA”).  Standard Fire Insurance Co. v. Knowles, No. 11-1450, 586 U.S. __ (Mar. 19, 2013).

The question presented concerned a class-action plaintiff who stipulates, prior to certification of the class, that he, and the class he seeks to represent, will not seek damages that exceed $5 million in total. Does that stipulation remove the case from CAFA’s scope?

The Court concluded no, reasoning that stipulations must be binding, and a “plaintiff who files a proposed class action cannot legally bind members of the proposed class before the class is certified.”

 We do not agree that CAFA forbids the federal court to consider, for purposes of determining the amount in controversy, the very real possibility that a nonbinding, amount-limiting, stipulation may not survive the class certification process. This potential outcome does not result in the creation of a new case not now before the federal court. To hold otherwise would, for CAFA jurisdictional purposes, treat a nonbinding stipulation as if it were binding, exalt form over substance, and run directly counter to CAFA’s primary objective: ensuring “Federal court consideration of interstate cases of national importance.” §2(b)(2), 119 Stat. 5. It would also have the effect of allowing the subdivision of a $100 million action into 21 just-below-$5-million state-court actions simply by including nonbinding stipulations; such an outcome would squarely conflict with the statute’s objective.

The Court concluded that “the stipulation at issue here can tie Knowles’ hands, but it does not resolve the amount-in-controversy question in light of his inability to bind the rest of the class.”

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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Ninth Circuit Holds that FAA Under Concepcion Broadly Preempts State Law Invalidating Class-Action Waivers in Arbitration Agreements

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a published opinion today, held that the Federal Arbitration Act broadly preempts state law invalidating class-action waivers in arbitration agreements, even where the waivers would preclude effective vindication of statutory rights.  The opinion can be found here: http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2012/03/16/09-35563.pdf.

More on this later.

By CHARLES JUNG

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No Collateral Estoppel Against Unnamed Putative Class Members, Where Certification Is Denied

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The Court of Appeal for the Second District held that a denial of class certification cannot establish collateral estoppel against unnamed putative class members. Bridgeford v. Pacific Health Corporation, et al., No. B227486, 202 Cal.App.4th 1034 (2d Dist. Jan. 18, 2012).

Background

Plaintiffs Bridgeford and Tarin filed a class action complaint in May 2010 against Pacific Health Corporation and other entities, alleging that defendants committed numerous wage and hour violations, including (1) failure to pay wages due upon discharge or resignation, (2) failure to pay regular and overtime wages due semimonthly, (3) failure to provide meal breaks, (4) failure to provide rest breaks, (5) failure to provide itemized wage statements, (6) failure to pay minimum wages for time worked off-the-clock, (7) failure to pay overtime wages, and (8) unfair competition.  Id.

The trial court sustained a demurrer without leave to amend.  Id.  Plaintiff’s appealed, contending the trial court misapplied the doctrine of collateral estoppel in holding that their class claims are precluded, and there is no basis to dismiss their individual claims or their representative claims under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) (Lab. Code section 2698, et seq.).

Discussion

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In Wage Class Action, Sixth District Reverses Summary Judgment on Question of Whether Leave Policy Was Sabbatical or Regular Vacation

A True vacation spirit

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In a wage and hour class action, California’s Sixth District Court of Appeal held that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether eight-week leave was a sabbatical or regular vacation precluded summary judgment in former employee’s class action against the former employer.  Paton v. Advanced Micro Devices, — Cal. Rptr. 3d —-, 2011 WL 3369346, No. H034618 (6th Dist. Aug. 5, 2011).

Background

Plaintiff Eric Paton sued defendant Advanced Micro Divices, Inc. on behalf of himself and a class of others, alleging that Defendant had failed to pay him for an eight-week sabbatical he earned but had not used when he retired. Id. *1 Salaried employees who served for seven years were eligible for an eight-week fully paid sabbatical.  Id. Plaintiff argued that the sabbatical was extra vacation and, pursuant to Labor Code section 227.3, the employer could not require an employee to forfeit vacation pay.  Id.  Plaintiff cited Suastez v. Plastic Dress-Up Co., 31 Cal. 3d 774 (1982), to support his claim that the sabbatical had vested over the seven years he had worked for defendant and he was entitled to the pay when he resigned.  Id.  Class members who had not worked for the full seven years or more were entitled to payment for the unused sabbatical in proportion to the time they had worked. Id. Read the rest of this entry »

Northern District Denies Certification of Wage & Hour Class Action

A Joe's Crab Shack branch in San Diego, CA. Th...
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The Northern District of California denied class certification of a meal and rest break class action in Washington v. Joe’s Crab Shack, No. C 08-5551 PJH, 2010 WL 5396041 (N.D. Cal Dec. 23, 2010.) (slip op.).  Plaintiff Drew Garrett Washington asserted that defendant Crab Addison, Inc. (“Crab Addison”), a company that operates a number of Joe’s Crab Shack restaurants, failed to provide employees with meal and rest breaks, allowed its restaurant managers to manipulate employee time records to deprive employees of pay for all hours worked (including overtime and missed meal break pay), required employees to perform work “off the clock”; and required employees to pay for their own employer-mandated uniforms.  Id. *1.

Class Definition

Plaintiff moved pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, to certify a plaintiff class consisting of “all non-exempt restaurant employees employed by Crab Addison at Joe’s Crab Shack restaurants in California from January 1, 2007, through the present.”

Discussion

The court denied the certification motion.  Id. *11.  “Plaintiff’s position is that common questions predominate because the main issue is whether—notwithstanding Crab Addison’s written policies—Joe’s Crab Shack restaurants in California followed a common unwritten policy of denying meal and rest breaks, failing to pay employees who did not take breaks, failing to pay for overtime, requiring employees to purchase their own uniforms, and so forth.” Id. Plaintiff contended that the existence of a policy or practice that in effect contradicts Crab Addison’s written policies can be ascertained by an analysis of the data in Crab Addison’s computer systems.  Id. “But since plaintiff has failed to adequately explain how that analysis works and exactly what the data shows, he has failed to adequately establish the existence of such a policy or practice.” Id. Read the rest of this entry »

U.S. Supreme Court Set to Hear Oral Argument in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, a Case Which Many Predict Will End Consumer Class Actions

from here to eternity
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The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion tomorrow (Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010). This is a critical case, in which the Court may effectively end most court-based consumer class actions.