CALIFORNIA CLASS ACTION LAW

Tag: United States

Ninth Circuit Declines to Vitiate Broughton-Cruz Rule

Flight Academy 03

Flight Academy 03 (Photo credit: bestarns)

Declining to issue a broad ruling vitiating the Broughton-Cruz rule, the Ninth Circuit filed its en banc opinion today in Kilgore v. Keybank, National Association, No. 09-16703, __ F.3d __ (9th Cir. Apr. 11, 2013) (en banc).  While the court reversed and remanded with instructions to compel arbitration, it took a narrow approach.  The appeal involved a putative class action by former students of a failed flight-training school who seek broad injunctive relief against the bank that originated their student loans among others.  The court held that the arbitration agreement was not unconscionable under California law and compelled arbitration.

The court concluded that the injunctive relief claim at issue fell outside Broughton-Cruz’s “narrow exception to the rule that the FAA requires state courts to honor arbitration agreements.”

The central premise of Broughton-Cruz is that “the judicial forum has significant institutional advantages over arbitration in administering a public injunctive remedy, which as a consequence will likely lead to the diminution or frustration of the public benefit if the remedy is entrusted to arbitrators.” Broughton, 988 P.2d at 78. That concern is absent here, where Defendants’ alleged statutory violations have, by Plaintiffs’ own admission, already ceased, where the class affected by the alleged practices is small, and where there is no real prospective benefit to the public at large from the relief sought.

You can read more about today’s ruling here.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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

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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Central District Grants Final Approval to Injunctive Relief Settlement in Qunol CoQ10 Liquid Labeling Litigation

DSC_9962

DSC_9962 (Photo credit: k_haruna)

On March 13, 2013, Judge David O. Carter granted final approval to a class action based on claims that Defendants mislabeled their “Qunol” product as “six times more effective” than other similar products.  Bruno v. Quten Research Institute, LLC, et al. (In re Qunol CoQ10 Liquid Labeling Litigation), No. SACV 11–00173 DOC (Ex), 2013 WL 990495 (C.D. Cal. March 13, 2013) (slip op.).

Class

All excluding officers, directors, and employees of Quten Research Institute, LLC or Tishcon Corp. and their immediate families, who on or after January 31, 2007 purchased Qunol CoQ10 in the United States for personal or household uses, rather than resale or distribution, in packaging stating that Qunol offers six times better absorption or effectiveness. Read the rest of this entry »

First District Holds That Stay of PAGA and Class Claims Pending Arbitration of Employee’s Individual Claims Not Appealable

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 10:  John Toomey,...

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The Court of Appeal for the First District granted plaintiff’s motion to dismiss an appeal, where the employer appellant sought review of a trial court order that did not compel an employee to arbitrate her PAGA claims.  Reyes v. Macy’s, Inc., No. A133411, 202 Cal.App.4th 1119 (1st Dist. Dec. 21, 2011).  The court held that the portion of the trial court’s order that failed to compel employee to arbitrate her class claims and PAGA claims was not immediately appealable; and plaintiff’s PAGA claim was not an individual claim and thus was not within the scope of arbitration request.  Id. (holding that the order granting Defendant’s own motion to compel arbitration of the individual claims “is not appealable, and the remainder of the order denying the motion to dismiss representative [PAGA] claims is not a final judgment and, therefore, also is not appealable . . . .”).

Background

Plaintiff and respondent Reyes brought action against her employer Macy’s, alleging numerous class action labor code violations and a cause of action under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (“PAGA”), as well as individual claims for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.  Id.

In the trial court, Macy’s filed a “motion to compel arbitration on an individual basis, dismiss class allegations, and stay civil action,” asking the court to enforce the parties’ agreement to arbitrate, compel the plaintiff to arbitrate individual claims, dismiss class/representative claims and, if the motion were granted, stay the proceedings until arbitration is completed.  Id.  San Francisco Superior Court Judge Charlotte Walter Woolard held that:

All of plaintiff’s individual claims are severed and are subject to arbitration.   These individual claims are to proceed to arbitration.   Plaintiff’s class claims and PAGA claims, and discovery related to those claims, are stayed and shall remain in this court until the individual claims are arbitrated.

Macy’s filed a notice of appeal and plaintiff has moved to dismiss the appeal.

Discussion

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Central District Holds in a “Pick-Off” Case That an Unaccepted Rule 68 Offer of Judgment Cannot Moot Plaintiff’s Claims or Class Claims

In the Navy

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Judge Dolly M. Gee of the Central District of California held that a Rule 68 offer that was not accepted by a lead plaintiff cannot moot either plaintiff’s claim or the putative class claim.  Gomez v. Campbell-Ewald Company, 2011 WL 3664354, No. CV 10-2007 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 6, 2011).

Background

Plaintiff filed a class action complaint alleging violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act alleging that Defendant directed the mass transmission of wireless spam to the cellular telephones of consumers across the nation to advertise on behalf of the U.S. Navy. Id. *1. Plaintiff received several text messages regarding pursuing a career in the Navy and did not consent to receiving such text messages from the Defendant. Id. Plaintiff sought damages, treble damages, injunctive relief, and attorneys’ fees and costs. Id.  Plaintiff also sought to certify a nationwide class of “all persons in the United States and its Territories who received one or more unauthorized text message advertisements from Defendant.” Id.

The Parties’ Stipulation

The parties stipulated that they agreed that the deadline for Plaintiff to file his motion for class certification would be extended until after the Defendant answered or otherwise responded to the complaint and conducted pre-certification discovery. Id. Defendant agreed that not waiting would be inefficient. Id. The Court approved the stipulation and extended the deadline until after all parties answered and a proposed discovery schedule was set forth to the Court. Id. *2. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Northern District Grants Certification of Netflix Antitrust Class Action

In 1998 Reed Hastings founded Netflix, the lar...
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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 »

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 »