CALIFORNIA CLASS ACTION LAW

Tag: Class action

Central District Strikes Opposition Filed by Terminated Former Co-Counsel in Putative Class Action

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In the latest round of an apparent falling out between law firms, the Central District of California struck a terminated firm’s  request to strike the notice of its termination, and considered but did not rule on the remaining firm’s alleged ethics violations.  Yumul v. Smart Balance, Inc., No. CV 10-00927 MMM (AJWx), 2010 WL 4352723 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 8, 2010).

Background

Plaintiff Rebecca Yumul filed a notice of termination of counsel, terminating Beck & Lee Business Trial Lawyers (“Beck & Lee”) as her counsel.  Id. *1. The notice was filed by Beck & Lee’s former co-counsel, the Weston firm (“Weston”), which continues to represent Yumul.  Id. Beck & Lee filed a pleading requesting that the court strike the notice of termination, alleging ethical violations by the Weston, and seeking Weston’s disqualification. Id. Beck & Lee asserts that Weston has filed a suit in the Southern District of California to determine the validity of the Joint Prosecution Agreement (“JPA”) that governed Beck & Lee’s co-counsel relationship with Weston in this and other class actions. Id. Yumul filed an ex parte application to strike Beck & Lee’s filings. Id.

Motion to Strike Terminated Counsel’s Opposition

The court granted plaintiff’s motion to strike Beck & Lee’s opposition to the notice of termination on the grounds that it interferes with her absolute right to discharge her attorney.  Id. Read the rest of this entry »

Second District Finds Actual Controversy in Declaratory Judgment Action Between Two Former Co-Counsel Relating to Distribution of Attorneys Fees

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In a dispute over the distribution of attorneys fees between two former co-counsel in a class action lawsuit, the Court of Appeal for the Second District reversed a trial court’s denial of relief in a declaratory action.  Leonard Carder, LLP v. Patten, Faith & Sandford, No. B221940, — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2010 WL 3961275 (Cal. Ct. App. 2d Dist. Oct. 12, 2010).

Plaintiff and appellant Leonard Carder, LLP filed a declaratory relief action against his former co-counsel Patten, Faith & Sandford (Patten) regarding the distribution of attorney fees awarded in a stipulated judgment in a class action lawsuit.  Id. *1.  The trial court entered a judgment denying all relief to Leonard Carder on the basis the complaint did not present a case or controversy and that jurisdiction had been reserved with the judge who approved the class action settlement.  Id. The Second District reversed, holding that the complaint did articulate a justiciable case or controversy, and the class action court specifically declined to retain exclusive jurisdiction over the distribution of attorney fees.  Id.

Background

Leonard Carder and Patten were appointed class counsel in an action tried in 2004 before the Honorable Howard J. Schwab, with the bulk of the work on behalf of the plaintiff class performed by Leonard Carder.  Id. The plaintiff class was determined to be entitled to an award of approximately $14.4 million.  A loadstar chart in support of the motion for attorneys fees  showed 11,414 hours worked by Leonard Carder and 673 by Patten.  Id. The loadstar chart justified total fees of $10,879,272 for Leonard Carder and $373,040 for Patten.  Id. Judge Highberger signed the parties’ stipulation to reasonable attorney fees and costs in the total amount of $12,475,000 to be paid within 45 days to Leonard Carder “as trustees for distribution to all counsel in accordance with the approved stipulation.” Id. The final provision in the stipulated judgment was that “[t]his court shall retain jurisdiction over the parties to enforce the terms of this Stipulated Judgment.”  Id. *2. Judge Highberger orally stated that if there were unresolved issues regarding distribution of the fees, “you’ll find some other forum to resolve them. They don’t automatically come to me as a matter of exclusive jurisdiction.”  Id. All counsel expressed agreement with the court’s statement regarding exclusive jurisdiction.  Id. Read the rest of this entry »

Eastern District Remands Class Action for Failure to Meet CAFA Amount in Controversy

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The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California remanded a class action case for failure to meet the $5,000,000 amount in controversy requirement under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”).  Rhoades v. Progressive Casualty Insurance Co., Inc., No. 2:10-cv-1788-GEB-KJM, 2010 WL 3958702 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 8, 2010).  Plaintiffs alleged that they and the members of the putative class were “employed in the State of California by the Defendant[ ] to adjust insurance claims and their positions were known as ‘Claims Adjuster,’ ‘Claims Generalist Associate,’ or similar titles” during the past four years. Id. Plaintiffs and members of the putative class were allegedly “not paid overtime wages for all hours worked” and were not “provided accurate itemized wage statements.” Id.

Apparently attempting to avoid federal court jurisdiction, Plaintiffs also alleged that “the individual members of the classes herein have sustained damages under the seventy-five thousand … jurisdictional threshold and that the aggregate claim is under the five million dollar … threshold, [and argue therefore] removal under the CAFA would be improper.” Id. Plaintiffs state in their prayer for relief: “Plaintiffs are informed and believe that the damages, back-wages, restitution, penalties, interest and attorneys’s [sic] fees do not exceed an aggregate of $4,999,999.99 and that Plaintiffs’ individual claims do not exceed $74,999.99.” Id. Read the rest of this entry »

Northern District Grants Final Approval of $3.5 Million Class Action Settlement, Reducing Requested Attorneys Fees to 25% From Requested 30%, and Granting $20,000 Enhancement Awards to Each Representative Plaintiff

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The Northern District of California granted final approval of a settlement in a meal and rest break class action in Ross v. US Bank National Association, No. C 07-02951 SI, 2010 WL 3833922 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 29, 2010).  The complaint was filed on behalf of all hourly employees who worked at a California U.S. Bank in-store branch.  See Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement (“MPA”) at 1.  Plaintiffs alleged that they and other hourly paid employees have not been provided a legally compliant meal and rest period on Sundays and worked off the clock pre and post shift and during their meal breaks. Id. The parties settled the case, and the settlement agreement provides for the payment of compensation to each Participating Class Member based on his or her total workweeks in a Class position during a certain period.  Ross, 2010 WL 3833922, *1.   The court approved a non-reversionary settlement of $3,500,000 for approximately 3,300 settlement class members.  MPA at 2.

Attorneys’ Fees and Costs

Plaintiffs’ counsel sought an award of 30% of the settlement fund,  $1,050,000.00, as attorneys’ fees.  Ross, 2010 WL 3833922, *1.   Plaintiffs estimate that the total time spent litigating this case, including time overseeing claims administration, will be approximately 2647.7 hours.  Id. Plaintiffs’ counsel listed hourly rates ranging from $185 an hour to $650 an hour.  MPA at 14.  The court reduced the award to 25%: Read the rest of this entry »

Fourth District Reverses Denial of Class Certification in Mail-In Rebate Case

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The Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed a denial of class certification in Kershenbaum v. Buy.com, Inc.,  No. G042303, 2010 WL 3800339 (Cal. Ct. App. 4th Dist. Sept. 30, 2010).  Plaintiff Richard M. Kershenbaum did not receive an advertised rebate on a product he purchased through Buy.com, Inc.’s Web site. Id. *1. Buy.com contended the rebate was offered by the product manufacturer, and it was therefore not responsible for compensating Kershenbaum. Id.

The Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred in denying the motion for class certification:

The different definitions of the proposed class contained in the memorandum of points and authorities and the proposed order did not warrant denial of the motion for lack of ascertainability. Any confusion caused by the different definitions could and should have been remedied by the trial court, either by correcting the proposed order, or by independently drafting a new order.

We further conclude the trial court erred in denying the motion on the ground that common questions of law did not predominate. The California choice-of-law provision in Buy.com’s terms of use agreement applies to the claims asserted by the class. Even if the choice-of-law provision did not apply, class certification was still appropriate because significant contacts with California have been shown to exist, and Buy.com cannot demonstrate that any foreign law, rather than California law, should apply to the class claims.

We also conclude the trial court erred in determining the claims asserted by the class were vague.

Finally, Kershenbaum had standing to assert a claim for misleading advertising; the trial court erred in determining otherwise. 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 »

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 »

Second District Affirms Denial of Certification of Class of Junk Fax Recipients for Lack of Ascertainability

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The Second District affirmed denial of certification of a class of recipients of unsolicited faxes. Law Offices of Hermez Moreno v. Travelcomm Industries, Inc., B214807, 2010 WL 3610131 (Cal. Ct. App. 2d Dist. Sept. 17, 2010).  Plaintiff and appellant Law Offices of Hermez Moreno brought a putative class action under 47 United States Code section 227, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), and Business and Professions Code 17538.43 alleging that defendants and respondents Travelcomm Industries, Inc. and others had sent unsolicited faxes.  Id. *1.  The trial court denied class certification based on findings that plaintiff had failed to present substantial evidence that a community of interest existed such that common questions of law and fact would predominate. As a separate basis, the court found that appellant had failed to present substantial evidence that the class was ascertainable. Id. Plaintiff appealed.  Id. *1. Read the rest of this entry »

Central District Remands Class Action for Defendant’s Failure to Prove Amount in Controversy Under CAFA

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The Central District remanded a putative minimum wage and overtime class action suit in Munoz v. Central Parking Sys., Inc., No. CV 10-6172 PA (RCx), 2010 WL 3432239 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 30, 2010) (unpublished).

Plaintiff’s Complaint attempted to avoid removal, stating “[i]t is believed that the total sum owed to the Class alleged herein is less than $5 million, based upon the anticipated size of the Class and the amount in controversy for each member of the Class.”  Id. *1. Read the rest of this entry »