CALIFORNIA CLASS ACTION LAW

Tag: Plaintiff

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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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

In a Wage Class Action, Defendants Waived Right to Arbitrate After Engaging in Extensive Discovery and Filing 2 Motions to Compel

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In an unpublished decision, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of a motion to compel arbitration in a wage and hour class action, where defendants conducted voluminous discovery and filed and fully litigating two motions to compel further responses to discovery, a motion for sanctions and a motion for a protective order.    Partridge, et al. v. Hott Wings, Inc., et al., No. A130266, 2012 WL 470458 (Feb. 14, 2012).

Discussion

The Court found that Defendants’ delay in filing their petition to compel arbitration “connotes an intent not to arbitrate”.  Id. Defendants conducted substantial discovery:

Between March 2010 and the October 2010 hearing on defendants’ motion to compel arbitration, defendants engaged in voluminous written discovery to which plaintiffs responded.   In addition, defendants deposed numerous plaintiffs and third party witnesses.   Although plaintiffs had begun deposing witnesses, they had not yet obtained basic documents from defendants through discovery.   The discovery focused on the liability of individual defendants and the franchise defendants that employ plaintiffs.   As a result of defendants’ discovery requests, plaintiffs provided information regarding plaintiffs’ estimated damages, which defendants were responsible for which violations, and the liability of the individual as well as the franchise defendants.   A reasonable inference is that the information gained from defendants’ discovery goes to significant issues in plaintiffs’ case.

Id.

In addition, the Court found that Defendants “substantially invoked the litigation machinery” by: Read the rest of this entry »

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Magistrate Judge Elizabeth LaPorte Grants Final Approval For Settlement With Attorneys Fees of 25% of the Common Fund and $5,000 Incentive Award

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Magistrate Judge Elizabeth D. LaPorte granted final approval for a class of individuals who obtained an Option ARM loan originated by U.S. Financial Funding, Inc. with certain characteristics.  Lymburner v. U.S. Financial Funding, Inc., No. C0800325, 2012 WL 398816 (N.D. Cal., Feb. 7, 2012) (slip op.).  The net settlement amount was approximately $93,750, and the court granted plaintiff’s motion for attorneys’ fees in the amount of $36,250.  Id.

Background

Plaintiff Dian C. Lymburner brought a putative class action against Defendant U.S. Financial Funding alleging claims for fraudulent omissions, breach of contract, and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.  Id.  Plaintiff filed a motion to certify the class, and on January 22, 2010, the Court granted that motion.  Id.  After extensive negotiation, the parties reached a settlement. Id. After notice was mailed, no class members filed an objection or exclusion request. Id.

Discussion

With respect to the total settlement amount, the court noted that “importantly, the Settlement Agreement is premised on Defendant’s limited asset.”  Id.  “Defendant has no other source of funding other than an eroding insurance policy, which was valued at $174,000, and which is now valued at $145,000, which is the total settlement amount.”  Id.  The Court approved the settlement amount, in addition to $36,250 in fees and expenses, which is 25% of the estimated value of the settlement.  Id.  At this amount, Plaintiff’s attorneys received less than their lodestar.  Id.

Judge and Attorneys

United States Magistrate Judge Elizabeth D. LaPorte.

Edward Young Lee, Lee & Fields, A.P.C., Christopher Peter Fields, Los Angeles, CA, Jeffrey K. Berns, Arbogast & Berns LLP, Tarzana, CA, Michael C. Eyerly, Patrick Deblase, Paul R. Kiesel, Kiesel Boucher & Larson LLP, Beverly Hills, CA, for Plaintiff.

Shahram Nassi, Roger Scott Raphael, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, San Francisco, CA, for Defendant.

By CHARLES JUNG

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Northern District Grants Certification of Netflix Antitrust Class Action

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The Northern District of California granted plaintiff’s motion for class certification in In Re Online DVD Rental Antitrust Litigation, No. M 09-2029 PJH, 2010 WL 5396064 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 23, 2010) (slip op.).  Plaintiffs are individuals representing a putative class comprised of subscribers to Netflix’s online DVD rental service.

Background

Plaintiffs generally alleged that defendants Netflix, Wal-Mart Stores, and Walmart.com improperly entered into an unlawful market allocation agreement that was publicly announced on May 19, 2005, and which had the effect of illegally dividing the markets for sales and online rentals of DVDs in the United States.  Id. *1.  Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that Netflix and Wal-Mart were competing directly in the online rental DVD market in mid-2004, but that in the face of Blockbuster’s mid-2004 entry into the market place and the ensuing price wars between the three competitors, Netflix began conspiratorial communications with Wal-Mart, with the aim of having Wal-Mart exit the market place and thereby reduce downward pricing pressure in the marketplace.  Id. These efforts were successful, and were memorialized in the May 19 Agreement. Id. Plaintiffs alleged that the purpose of the Agreement was to monopolize and unreasonably restrain trade in the market for online DVD rentals, thereby allowing Netflix to charge supracompetitive prices to its subscribers.  Id.

Plaintiffs asserted four causes of action against Netflix and Wal-Mart: (1) a Sherman Act, section 1 claim for unlawful market allocation of the online DVD rental market (against all defendants); (2) a Sherman Act, section 2 claim for monopolization of the online DVD rental market (against Netflix); (3) a Sherman Act, section 2 claim for attempted monopolization of the online DVD rental market (against Netflix); and (4) a Sherman Act, section 2 claim for conspiracy to monopolize the online DVD rental market (against all defendants). Id. *2.

Class Definition

The putative class was defined as: “Any person or entity in the United States that paid a subscription fee to Netflix on or after May 19, 2005 up to and including the date of class certification.”

Discussion

Stating the policy in favor of certification of antitrust class actions, the court noted that “in antitrust actions such as this one, it has long been recognized that class actions play an important role in the private enforcement of antitrust laws.” Id. *3 (citing Hawaii v. Standard Oil Co., 405 U.S. 251, 262 (1972)). Read the rest of this entry »

Central District Denies Twombly Challenge to Wage & Hour Class Action Pleadings, Holds That FLSA Is a Proper Predicate for a UCL Claim, but Strikes Fees Prayer Under C.C.P. § 1021.5

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The United States District Court for the Central District of California held that (1) relatively formulaic pleadings in a wage and hour case were sufficient to meet the pleading requirements of Rule 8, even under Twombly and Iqbal; (2) the FLSA is a proper predicate for a UCL claim; and (3) plaintiffs’ prayer for attorneys fees under Cal. Code Civ. Proc. section 1021.5 should be stricken. Whitaker v. Countrywide Financial Corp., No. CV CAS 09-5898 (PJWx), 2010 WL 4537098 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 1, 2010).

Background

A putative class action was brought on behalf of current and former employees of Countrywide Financial Corporation and Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. (the “Countrywide Defendants”) against the Countrywide Defendants and Bank of America, the alleged successor employer and/or successor in liability to the Countrywide Defendants. Id. *1. The FAC alleges claims for: (1) failure to pay overtime in violation of Cal. Labor Code s 510 and s 1194 and IWC Wage Order 4-2001; (2) Cal. Labor Code s 203 waiting penalties; (3) failure to provide an accurate itemized wage statement pursuant to Cal. Labor Code s 226; (4) failure to pay minimum wage in violation of Cal. Labor Code s 1194 and IWC Wage Order No. 4-2001; (5) failure to pay minimum and overtime wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. s 206(a); and (7) unfair competition pursuant to Cal. Business & Professions Code, s 17200 et seq. Id. Defendants moved to dismiss or strike plaintiffs’ first amended complaint.  Id.

Discussion

Defendants argued that plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed because they are factually devoid and simply “parrot the statutory language and proffer purely conclusory allegations”, thereby running afoul of the standards set out in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Northern District Denies Discovery of Class Member Identities on Privacy Grounds

[Bob Burman, race car driver] (LOC)
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The United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied the production of names, addresses and telephone numbers of non-opt-in members of a FLSA collective and putative Labor Code class action.  Hill v. R+L Carriers Shared Services, LLC, No. C 09-1907 CW (MEJ), 2010 WL 4175958 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 20, 2010).  Plaintiff Glenn Hill is a former employee of Defendant R+L Carriers Shared Services, LLC, which provides administrative employees to transportation companies all across the United States.  Id. *1. Plaintiff worked as a “dispatcher” at Defendant’s San Lorenzo terminal in California, and brought a collective and class action pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), California’s wage-and-hour laws and California Business & Professions Code section 17200. Id.

Background

Plaintiff sought two sub-classes: those employees in California and those that he refers to as a Nationwide Collective.  Id. The California Class is defined as “all persons who worked for any period of time in California who were classified as Dispatchers (including “City Dispatchers” and any other position(s) who are either called, or work(ed) as, dispatchers) in the four years prior to the filing of this Complaint, up through the final disposition of this action.” Id. In Defendant contended that a collective action under the FLSA is improper because the job duties, work schedules, and salary of its employees varies across the United States, as well as in the State of California. Id.

Hon. Claudia Wilken, the presiding judge in this matter, conditionally certified a class of Nationwide Collective Plaintiffs.  Judge Wilken also ordered Defendant to “disclose to Plaintiff, subject to a protective order if necessary, the number, location and actual job titles of persons who are classified as dispatchers.”  Id. Defendant provided the class members’ contact information to a third-party administrator, who propounded notice to all putative class members.  Id. Defendant also disclosed the number, location and actual job titles of putative class members to Plaintiff. Id. Two California putative members subsequently opted into the case. 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 »