CALIFORNIA CLASS ACTION LAW

Tag: Government

In Wage Class Action, Second District Affirms Labor Code Section 203 Penalties and Requires Separate Minimum Wage Pay for Certain Piece Rate Workers

1905 American Mercedes In a year when the aver...

1905 American Mercedes In a year when the average wage was only $200 to $400 annually, the Mercedes was a car for the rich readers of Country Life magazine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, the Second District Court of Appeal published Gonzalez v. Downtown LA Motors, LP, et al., Case No. B235292, __ Cal. App. 4th __ (2d Dist. Mar. 6, 2013).  Gonzalez is a wage class action where the question presented was whether California’s minimum wage law requires an employer that compensates its automotive service technicians on a “piece-rate” basis for repair work must also pay those technicians a separate hourly minimum wage for time spent during their work shifts waiting for vehicles to repair or performing other non-repair tasks directed by the employer.  Defendant automobile dealership contended it was not required to pay the technicians a separate hourly minimum wage for such time because it ensured that a technician’s total compensation for a pay period never fell below what the employer refers to as the “minimum wage floor” — the total number of hours the technician was at work during the pay period (including hours spent waiting for repair work or performing non-repair tasks), multiplied by the applicable minimum wage rate.  The employer supplemented pay, if necessary, to cover any shortfall.

The Court of Appeal concluded that class members were entitled to separate hourly compensation for time spent waiting for repair work or performing other non-repair tasks directed by the employer during their work shifts, as well as penalties under Labor Code section 203, subdivision (a).  You can read more about the Gonzalez opinion here.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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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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First District Affirms Dismissal of Qui Tam Action for Failure to Identify a “Liquidated and Certain Obligation”

SAN FRANCISCO - JANUARY 20:  A Bank of America...
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The First District Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal of a qui tam action without leave to amend, holding that plaintiffs failed to identify a “liquidated and certain obligation” owed by Bank of America.  State of California ex rel. Joseph McCann v. Bank of America, N.A., No. A126494, — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2011 WL 72177 (Cal. Ct. App. 1st Dist. Jan. 11, 2011).  Joseph McCann and Douglas Valdetero (Plaintiffs or Appellants) brought a qui tam action against Bank of America (BOA) in the name of the State of California under the California False Claims Act (CFCA; Govt. Code, s 12650 et seq.).  Id. *1.  Plaintiffs alleged that BOA defrauded the State by failing to pay over to the State amounts that they contend should escheat as abandoned or unclaimed property under the California Unclaimed Property Law (UPL; Code of Civ. Proc. s 1500 et seq.).  Id. The trial court sustained BOA’s demurrer to Appellants’ first amended complaint (FAC) without leave to amend on the basis that it failed to plead a CFCA claim with the required specificity and failed to establish a violation of the UPL.  Id.

Background

Plaintiffs alleged that as a check clearing bank, BOA diligently researched errors which could result in debits (i.e., money due) to BOA, but pursued errors which would result in credits (i.e., money payable) to the presenting banks “much less regularly.” Id. *2.  They contended that, as a result of a policy decision by BOA not to research credits due at the end of each processing date to presenting banks, they became “unidentified credits” which could not be traced to their rightful owners. Id. They allege that BOA’s practice was to transfer these monies to a suspense account for a short period of time, and to then appropriate them into income.  Id. Plaintiffs contended that these unidentified credits are subject to escheat to the State as unclaimed property subject to the UPL. 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.

Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu Approves Petition for Attorneys Fees of $287,589 From a $359,000 Total Settlement Fund

Bounced Check Policy...Post to Wall of Shame
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United States Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu of the Northern District of California granted a petition for attorneys fees and costs in a FDCPA class action of up to $23,539.31 in costs and up to $287,589.25 in attorneys’ fees from a $359,000 total settlement fund.  Hunt v. Imperial Merchant Services, No. C-05-04993 DMR, 2010 WL 3958726, *1 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 7, 2010) (slip op.).

Plaintiffs filed a consolidated class action against Defendant Imperial Merchant Services, Inc., doing business as Check Recovery Systems (“IMS”), for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. section 1692 et seq. Id. *1. Plaintiffs claimed that IMS’ practice of demanding 10% interest, in addition to a statutory service charge for dishonored checks, was not permitted by California law and was unlawful under the FDCPA. Id.

Plaintiffs obtained class certification, and the parties reached a class-wide settlement, which generated a $359,000 total settlement fund.  Id. Specifically, the settlement funds are to be used first to pay class notice costs incurred by Plaintiffs’ counsel as well as expenses for administering the class settlement.  Id. Next, the two class representatives will receive $2,000 each, and qualifying class members will be entitled to a pro rata share of the $100,000 Damages Class Fund, up to 100% of an individual class members’ damages. Id. The settlement funds are then be used to pay attorneys’ fees and expenses.  Id. And any remaining settlement funds are to be distributed to designated cy pres recipients. Id. Subject to the terms of the above plan of distribution, the court granted the motion for reimbursement of up to $287,589.25 in attorneys’ fees.  Id.

Legal Standard Read the rest of this entry »

Northern District Denies Class Certification, After Sustaining Objections to a Declaration Designed to Evade a Local Rule on Page Limits

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The United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied a motion for class certification for evading the page limit on briefing by relying on 11 pages of argument crammed into a supporting declaration.  Juarez v. Jani-King Of California, Inc., No. 09-3495 SC, 2010 WL 3766649 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 24, 2010).  Plaintiffs brought a putative class action arising out of the sale of franchises by Defendants Jani-King of California, Inc., Jani-King, Inc., and Jani-King International, Inc.  Id. *1.  Plaintiffs petitioned the Court for leave to file a brief exceeding Northern District of California’s Civil Local Rule 7-4(b)’s twenty-five-page limit, but the court denied the request. Id.

Plaintiffs filed their Motion to Certify, as well as sixty exhibits totaling more than four thousand pages in support of the Motion.  Id. Defendants filed objections to an eleven-page section of a declaration that Plaintiffs filed in support of their Motion.  Id.

The Statement of Facts in Plaintiffs’ motion cited almost exclusively to seventy-six paragraphs in this declaration.  Id. And in turn, these paragraphs cited to the evidence supporting the Motion.  The court gave the following example from the motion and declaration: Read the rest of this entry »

Ninth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Individual Claims Where Plaintiff Received an Offer of Judgment for More Than Amount He Was Entitled to Recover

special offer
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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a dismissal of individual claims in a class action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, were the named plaintiff received an offer of judgment for more than he was entitled to recover.  Marschall v. Recovery Solution Specialists, Inc., No. 08-55247, 2010 WL 3937992 (9th Cir. Oct. 5, 2010) (slip op.).

Plaintiff Carl N. Marschall appealed pro se from a district court’s judgment dismissing his action brought under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) and the California Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“Rosenthal Act”).  Id. *1.  Reviewing de novo, the Ninth Circuit found that the district court properly dismissed Marschall’s individual claims against Recovery Solution Specialists, Inc. (“RSS”) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because RSS’s offer of judgment was for more than Marschall was legally entitled to recover. Id. (citing 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a); Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1788.17 and 1788.30(b); Chang v. United States, 327 F.3d 911, 919 (9th Cir.2003) (case is moot where there remains “no effective relief … for the court to provide”)).

The Ninth Circuit also affirmed dismissal of the class claims against RSS because Marschall had a “reasonable opportunity to file a motion for class certification but failed to do so.” Id. (citing C.D. Cal. R. 23-3; Ghazali v. Moran, 46 F.3d 52, 53 (9th Cir. 1995) (per curiam) (“Only in rare cases will we question the exercise of discretion in connection with the application of local rules.”)). Read the rest of this entry »

Northern District Decertifies FLSA Overtime Class of Loan Officers Because of Lack of Evidence of Centralized Employer Practice re Outside Salespersons Exemption

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The Northern District of California granted defendant’s motion to decertify a conditional FLSA class in Wong v. HSBC Mortgage Corporation (USA), No. C-07-2446 MMC, 2010 WL 3833952 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 29, 2010).  Plaintiff HSBC loan officers allege that HSBC improperly classified them as exempt under the Federal Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), and, consequently, violated the FLSA by failing to pay them overtime compensation. Id. *1. The Court granted plaintiffs’ motion for an order conditionally certifying, for purposes of the FLSA, a class of persons who, as of May 7, 2004, had been employed by HSBC as loan officers within the United States. Id. Notice of the action was sent to the class, and 120 class members filed consent forms, joining the action as plaintiffs.  Id.

Decertification Motion

HSBC argued that individualized factual determinations will be necessary regarding HSBC’s affirmative defense that plaintiffs are/were properly classified as “outside” salespersons and, consequently, are exempt under the FLSA. Id. *2 (citing 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1) (providing “maximum hour requirements” in FLSA do not apply to “any employee employed … in the capacity of outside salesman”)). 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

records of financial catastrophe from americredit
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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 »