Sullivan v. Oracle Corporation addresses how California law applies to nonresident employees working both in and outside California

Today, the California Supreme Court issued an Opinion following its acceptance of questions about the construction of California law from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  In Sullivan v. Oracle Corporation (June 30, 2011), the Court addressed (1) whether the Labor Code's overtime provisions apply to plaintiffs' claims for compensation for work performed in this state [with the ancillary question of whether the same claims can serve as predicates for claims under California's unfair competition law (UCL) (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200 et seq.)], and (2) whether the plaintiffs' claims for overtime compensation under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) (29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq.; see id., § 207(a)) for work performed in other states can serve as predicates for UCL claims.

The Court responded "yes" to the first question group, and "no" to the second.

On the first issue, the Court said:  "The California Labor Code does apply to overtime work performed in California for a California-based employer by out-of-state plaintiffs in the circumstances of this case, such that overtime pay is required for work in excess of eight hours per day or in excess of forty hours per week. (See Sullivan III, supra, 557 F.3d 979, 983.)"  (Slip op., at 18.)

On the related UCL question, the Court said: "Business and Professions Code section 17200 does apply to the overtime work described in question one. (See Sullivan III, supra, 557 F.3d 979, 983.)"  Slip op., at 19.)

The full answer to the last issues was:  "Business and Professions Code section 17200 does not apply to overtime work performed outside California for a California-based employer by out-of-state plaintiffs in the circumstances of this case based solely on the employer's failure to comply with the overtime provisions of the FLSA."  (Slip op., at 23.)

The Opinion was issued by a unanimous Court.

Breaking News: Walmart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes decided by Supreme Court; Reversed

I'll preface this brief post by noting that I have not had a chance to read the entire opinion, but the opnion in Walmart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes (June 20, 2011) was released this morning by the United States Supreme Court.  The Court reversed the Ninth Circuit and the District Court, finding that the matter was not suitable for class certification.  The core majority was authored by Justice SCALIA. ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, THOMAS, and ALITO, JJ., joined in that opinion, and GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined as to Parts I and III.  Justice GINSBURG authored an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.  BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN joined in Justice GINSBURG'S opinion.

Some key aspects of the holding are:

  • Proof of commonality necessarily overlaps with respondents’ merits contention that Wal-Mart engages in a pattern or practice of discrimination. The crux of a Title VII inquiry is “the reason for a particular employment decision,” Cooper v. Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, 467 U. S. 867, 876, and respondents wish to sue for millions of employment decisions at once. Without some glue holding together the alleged reasons for those decisions, it will be impossible to say that examination of all the class members’ claims will produce a common answer to the crucial discrimination question.
  • General Telephone Co. of Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U. S. 147, describes the proper approach to commonality. On the facts of this case, the conceptual gap between an individual’s discrimination claim and “the existence of a class of persons who have suffered the same injury,” id., at 157–158, must be bridged by “[s]ignificant proof that an employer operated under a general policy of discrimination,” id., at 159, n. 15. Such proof was absent here.
  • Claims for monetary relief may not be certified under Rule 23(b)(2), at least where the monetary relief is not incidental to the requested injunctive or declaratory relief.
  • The mere “predominance” of a proper (b)(2) injunctive claim does nothing to justify eliminating Rule 23(b)(3)’s procedural protections, and creates incentives for class representatives to place at risk potentially valid monetary relief claims.

Justice Ginsburg is concerned that the majority imported too much of the "predominance" analysis into the Rule 23(a) requirement that common questions of law or fact must exist:

The Court’s emphasis on differences between class members mimics the Rule 23(b)(3) inquiry into whether common questions “predominate” over individual issues. And by asking whether the individual differences “impede” common adjudication, ante, at 10 (internal quotation marks omitted), the Court duplicates 23(b)(3)’s question whether “a class action is superior” to other modes of adjudication.

Slip op., Ginsburg concurring and dissenting, at 9.  Otherwise, Ginsburg agrees that the class should not have been certified under Rule 23(b)(2) but would  have saved the issue of whether certification was appropriate under Rule 23(b)(3) for the District Court on remand.

The opinion looks as though it will prove to have the greatest impact on cases of this type.  While the Rule 23(a) construction seems to be inconsistent with well-settled standards, the balance of the opinion was predictable, given the massive size of the class.

More on AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion

Unless you've been living in a compound, off the grid with no internet access in a medium sized city outside the capital of a troubled nation in South Asia, you undoubtedly are aware of the Supreme Court's decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion (April 27, 2011).  For a number of reasons, which I will revisit obliquely in a moment, I decided against providing any immediate analysis.  Apparently this silence was disconcerting to some, as several readers actually inquired about my silence.  Beginning first with a synopsis, here are some, but not all, of my comments on Concepcion.

The result was all but pre-determined by the way in which the issue was framed: "We consider whether the FAA prohibits States from conditioning the enforceability of certain arbitration agreements on the availability of classwide arbitration procedures."  Slip op., at 1.  But Justice Scalia, writing for the Court, went ahead with the rest of the opinion.  The Court summarized the findings in the courts below:

In March 2008, AT&T moved to compel arbitration under the terms of its contract with the Concepcions. The Concepcions opposed the motion, contending that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable and unlawfully exculpatory under California law because it disallowed classwide procedures. The District Court denied AT&T’s motion. It described AT&T’s arbitration agreement favorably, noting, for example, that the informal disputeresolution process was “quick, easy to use” and likely to “promp[t] full or . . . even excess payment to the customer without the need to arbitrate or litigate”; that the $7,500 premium functioned as “a substantial inducement for the consumer to pursue the claim in arbitration” if a dispute was not resolved informally; and that consumers who were members of a class would likely be worse off. Laster v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., 2008 WL 5216255, *11–*12 (SD Cal., Aug. 11, 2008). Nevertheless, relying on the California Supreme Court’s decision in Discover Bank v. Superior Court, 36 Cal. 4th 148, 113 P. 3d 1100 (2005), the court found that the arbitration provision was unconscionable because AT&T had not shown that bilateral arbitration adequately substituted for the deterrent effects of class actions. Laster, 2008 WL 5216255, *14.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed, also finding the provision unconscionable under California law as announced in Discover Bank. Laster v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 584 F. 3d 849, 855 (2009). It also held that the Discover Bank rule was not preempted by the FAA because that rule was simply “a refinement of the unconscionability analysis applicable to contracts generally in California.” 584 F. 3d, at 857. In response to AT&T’s argument that the Concepcions’ interpretation of California law discriminated against arbitration, the Ninth Circuit rejected the contention that “ ‘class proceedings will reduce the efficiency and expeditiousness of arbitration’ ” and noted that “ ‘Discover Bank placed arbitration agreements with class action waivers on the exact same footing as contracts that bar class action litigation outside the context of arbitration.’ ” Id., at 858 (quoting Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Services, Inc., 498 F. 3d 976, 990 (CA9 2007)).

Slip op., at 3.  At this point, I parenthetically comment as follows: "Right."

After describing the "liberal" federal policy favoring arbitration agreements, the Court described the savings clause of the FAA thusly:

The final phrase of §2, however, permits arbitration agreements to be declared unenforceable “upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” This saving clause permits agreements to arbitrate to be invalidated by “generally applicable contract defenses, such as fraud, duress, or unconscionability,” but not by defenses that apply only to arbitration or that derive their meaning from the fact that an agreement to arbitrate is at issue. Doctor’s Associates, Inc. v. Casarotto, 517 U. S. 681, 687 (1996); see also Perry v. Thomas, 482 U. S. 483, 492–493, n. 9 (1987). The question in this case is whether §2 preempts California’s rule classifying most collective-arbitration waivers in consumer contracts as unconscionable. We refer to this rule as the Discover Bank rule.

Slip op., at 5.  California law includes an unconscionability defense to any contract.  The consumers in Concepcion argued that this generally applicable defense, and California's general policy against exculpation, are not arbitration-specific, and even if they are, the same principles apply to any dispute resolution contract.  The Court commented:

When state law prohibits outright the arbitration of a particular type of claim, the analysis is straightforward: The conflicting rule is displaced by the FAA. Preston v. Ferrer, 552 U. S. 346, 353 (2008). But the inquiry becomes more complex when a doctrine normally thought to be generally applicable, such as duress or, as relevant here, unconscionability, is alleged to have been applied in a fashion that disfavors arbitration. In Perry v. Thomas, 482 U. S. 483 (1987), for example, we noted that the FAA’s preemptive effect might extend even to grounds traditionally thought to exist “ ‘at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.’ ” Id., at 492, n. 9 (emphasis deleted). We said that a court may not “rely on the uniqueness of an agreement to arbitrate as a basis for a state-law holding that enforcement would be unconscionable, for this would enable the court to effect what . . . the state legislature cannot.” Id., at 493, n. 9.

Slip op., at 7-8.  Before this decision was rendered, I knew that the outcome is dependent upon how you choose to look at the situation.  It is very subjective.  If one views a policy against exculpation as a policy applicable to all contracts, it is arbitration neutral.  If one views a policy against exculpation as directed at arbitration agreements, it would be invalidated under just that logic.  When the outcome is so subjective, the result is highly dependent upon the predilictions of the majority.

The Court then did something that I find highly inconsistent with Justice Scalia's professed refusal to consider legislative intent and other indicia of legislative meaning.  The Court restricted the FAA's savings clause to preclude any generally applicable contract defense that might interfere with the FAA (which begs the question of what defense that overcomes an arbitration agreement does not do so):

Although §2’s saving clause preserves generally applicable contract defenses, nothing in it suggests an intent to preserve state-law rules that stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment of the FAA’s objectives. Cf. Geier v. American Honda Motor Co., 529 U. S. 861, 872 (2000); Crosby v. National Foreign Trade Council, 530 U. S. 363, 372–373 (2000). As we have said, a federal statute’s saving clause “ ‘cannot in reason be construed as [allowing] a common law right, the continued existence of which would be absolutely inconsistent with the provisions of the act. In other words, the act cannot be held to destroy itself.’ ” American Telephone & Telegraph Co. v. Central Office Telephone, Inc., 524 U. S. 214, 227–228 (1998) (quoting Texas & Pacific R. Co. v. Abilene Cotton Oil Co., 204 U. S. 426, 446 (1907)).

Slip op., at 9.  After spending some time criticizing the dissent for disputing the majority's characterization of the legislative purpose in passing the FAA, the Court rejected the Discover Bank rule as a rule interfering with the FAA.  In doing so, the Court candidly declared all consumer contracts to be contracts of adhesion:

California’s Discover Bank rule similarly interferes with arbitration. Although the rule does not require classwide arbitration, it allows any party to a consumer contract to demand it ex post. The rule is limited to adhesion contracts, Discover Bank, 36 Cal. 4th, at 162–163, 113 P. 3d, at 1110, but the times in which consumer contracts were anything other than adhesive are long past.

Slip op., at 12.  Troubling comment pepper the Court's opinion.  For instance the Court observes, "And faced with inevitable class arbitration, companies would have less incentive to continue resolving potentially duplicative claims on an individual basis."  Slip op., at 13.  So what this evidently means is that, if a company faces only sporadic, individual challenges to its misconduct, it will have some incentive to buy those few people off, but if it faces a whole class, it will fight tooth and nail to retain its ill-gotten goods.  Charming.  What a great reason to favor arbitration agreements and bar class actions.

Wrapping up, the Court said, "States cannot require a procedure that is inconsistent with the FAA, even if it is desirable for unrelated reasons."  Slip op., at 17.  One might observe two things at this point:  (1) There is a notable absence of conservative protection of federalism where the federal government is imposing dispute resolution procedures on state law claims in state courts, and (2) setting aside the unconstitutionality of federal interference in state dispute resolution procedures related to their substantive law, the federal government can certainly impose procedures that are inconsistent with the FAA.

Justice Thomas "reluctantly" concurred.  In his view, "As I would read it, the FAA requires that an agreement to arbitrate be enforced unless a party successfully challenges the formation of the arbitration agreement, such as by proving fraud or duress."  Slip op., concurrance, at 1-2.

Justice Breyer delivered the dissenting opinion, crisply defining the subjectivity of this debate in his summary of the issue:

The Federal Arbitration Act says that an arbitration agreement “shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” 9 U. S. C. §2 (emphasis added). California law sets forth certain circumstances in which “class action waivers” in any contract are unen­ forceable. In my view, this rule of state law is consistent with the federal Act’s language and primary objective. It does not “stan[d] as an obstacle” to the Act’s “accomplish­ment and execution.” Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U. S. 52, 67 (1941). And the Court is wrong to hold that the federal Act pre-empts the rule of state law.

Slip op., dissent, at 1.  The dissent found good support for its position in other California decisions:

The Discover Bank rule does not create a “blanket policy in California against class action waivers in the consumer context.” Provencher v. Dell, Inc., 409 F. Supp. 2d 1196, 1201 (CD Cal. 2006). Instead, it represents the “appli­ cation of a more general [unconscionability] principle.” Gentry v. Superior Ct., 42 Cal. 4th 443, 457, 165 P. 3d 556, 564 (2007). Courts applying California law have enforced class-action waivers where they satisfy general uncon­ scionability standards. See, e.g., Walnut Producers of Cal. v. Diamond Foods, Inc., 187 Cal. App. 4th 634, 647–650, 114 Cal. Rptr. 3d 449, 459–462 (2010); Arguelles-Romero v. Superior Ct., 184 Cal. App. 4th 825, 843–845, 109 Cal. Rptr. 3d 289, 305–307 (2010); Smith v. Americredit Financial Servs., Inc., No. 09cv1076, 2009 WL 4895280 (SD Cal., Dec. 11, 2009); cf. Provencher, supra, at 1201 (considering Discover Bank in choice-of-law inquiry). And even when they fail, the parties remain free to devise other dispute mechanisms, including informal mechanisms, that, in con­text, will not prove unconscionable. See Volt Information Sciences, Inc. v. Board of Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior Univ., 489 U. S. 468, 479 (1989).

Slip op., dissent, at 2-3.  The dissent then questioned the majority's asseration that individual, rather than class, arbitration is a "fundamental attribute" of arbitration:

When Congress enacted the Act, arbitration procedures had not yet been fully developed. Insofar as Congress considered detailed forms of arbitration at all, it may well have thought that arbitration would be used primarily where merchants sought to resolve disputes of fact, not law, under the customs of their industries, where the parties possessed roughly equivalent bargaining power.

Slip op., dissent, at 6.  If fact, the dissent spent a good deal of time challenging the assertions of the majority, which appear thinly supported in some areas:

the majority provides no convincing reason to believe that parties are unwilling to submit high-stake disputes to arbitration. And there are numerous counterexamples.

Slip op., dissent, at 8.    And the dissent also observed:

Because California applies the same legal principles to address the unconscionability of class arbitration waivers as it does to address the unconscionability of any other contractual provision, the merits of class proceedings should not factor into our decision. If California had applied its law of duress to void an arbitration agreement, would it matter if the procedures in the coerced agreement were efficient?

Slip op., dissent, at 9.  It is with irony not lost on me that the dissent concluded as follows:

[F]ederalism is as much a question of deeds as words. It often takes the form of a concrete decision by this Court that respects the legitimacy of a State’s action in an individual case. Here, recognition of that federalist ideal, embodied in specific language in this particular statute, should lead us to uphold California’s law, not to strike it down. We do not honor federalist principles in their breach.

Slip op., dissent, at 12.  So Concepcion ends with the "liberal" justices decrying the death of federalist principles.  I think we need to revisit the "strict constructionist" labels that get tossed around.  Maybe Posner really has it right when he says, essentially, that every judge does whatever they damn well want, reverse engineering a justification that makes them feel good about their decision.

I've seen a number of theories floated around for responding to Concepcion.   In Marks v. United States, 430 U.S. 188 (1977), the Supreme Court oexplained how the holding of a case should be viewed where there is no majority supporting the rationale of any opinion: “When a fragmented Court decides a case and no single rationale explaining the result enjoys the assent of [the majority], the holding of the Court may be viewed as that position taken by those Members who concurred in the judgments on the narrowest grounds.” Marks, 430 U.S. at 193.  I don't think it likely that California courts will parse the holdings of the Court and the concurring opinion for a narrower holding.  Justice Thomas said that, even though he differs slightly in the reasoning, the result will generally be the same.  Marks isn't going to accomplish what plaintiffs would like it to accomplish.

Calling for legislative action is just silly.  Either something gets through Congress or it doesn't.  If it does, it may moot all of this, but the assumption must be that it won't.  With that in mind, non-legislative responses to Concepcion should occupy the plaintiffs' class action bar.

I've suggested on several occasions that I favor the argument that the FAA is unconstitutional when applied to state law claims in state courts.  I believe, and will believe even if a Court says otherwise, that the FAA is exclusively a procedural statute regulating how substative claims are to be resolved.  Unless the federal government would purport to pre-empt contract law of the states, a dubious effort in its own right, I believe the Commerce Clause goes too far when it treads upon the sovereignty of states deciding their own dispute resolution procedures.  Procedural rules are no place for some form of partial pre-emption.  But I also doubt that any Court would have the stomach to declare the FAA unconstitutional as applied to state law claims in state courts.

I have a project in the works that may affect how far Concepcion applies in, at least, the wage & hour context.  Once it is in the can and safe from intermeddlers, I'll report in detail on that project and what I view as better ways to keep Concepcion in its proper place.

Breaking News: Supreme Court invalidates Discover Bank in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion

Today, in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion (April 27, 2011), the Supreme Court held, 5-to-4, that California's Discover Bank rule is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act.  What a thing to wake up to after sleeping extra to try and recover faster from being sick.  I'll write more about the deaths of class arbitration and state's rights later.  So much for federalism.  This is truly the era of the Central Planning Bureau.

Northern District Court certifies under 23(b)(2) a class of shift workers alleging meal period violations at a Shell refinery

United States District Court Judge Claudia Wilken (Northern District of California) granted a motion for class certification in a suit alleging failure to comply with California's meal period requirements and pay an additional hour of pay for each instance of a violation.  Gardner v. Shell Oil Co., 2011 WL 1522377 (N.D.Cal. Apr 21, 2011).  The particularly interesting aspect of this case is the Court's decision to permit certification under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(2):

"Claims for money relief may be certified as part of a Rule 23(b)(2) class, but the rule ‘does not extend to cases in which the appropriate final relief relates exclusively or predominantly to money damages.’ "  Wang v. Chinese Daily News, Inc., 623 F.3d 743, 753 (9th Cir.2010) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Dukes, 603 F.3d at 615 n. 38).

Citing Allison v. Citgo Petroleum Corp., 151 F.3d 402, 412–16 (5th Cir.1998), Defendants contend that monetary relief in this case predominates because Plaintiffs seek damages for alleged unpaid wages and waiting-time penalties. However, the Ninth Circuit has expressly rejected the Allison approach to determining whether monetary relief in a given case disqualifies the class from certification under Rule 23(b)(2). In Wang, the Ninth Circuit explained, “In Dukes, we rejected as ‘deficient’ ... the Allison ‘incidental damages standard’ that permits certification of claims for monetary relief under Rule 23(b)(2) only when they are ‘incidental to requested injunctive or declaratory relief,’ because it is unduly restrictive.” 623 F.3d at 753–54. In this circuit, Rule 23(b)(2) is interpreted to require “only that claims for monetary relief not predominate over claims for injunctive relief” and certification is acceptable when the claims are on “equal footing.” Id. at 754.

Plaintiffs in the present case, like those in Wang, have a substantial claim for injunctive relief because they seek to end long-standing employment policies. Id. The claims for injunctive and monetary relief are closely related because back wages are sought for those who were deprived of lawful meal periods due to the policies Plaintiffs seek to enjoin. As a result of this close relationship, the request for monetary relief does not introduce “new and significant legal and factual issues,” nor raise particular due process or case management concerns. Id. Furthermore, courts have held that back wages are a form of relief that may be permitted in a Rule 23(b)(2) action. Dukes, 603 F.3d at 618–19 (holding that back pay in a Title VII case is fully consistent with certification of a Rule 23(b)(2) class action and noting that “every circuit to have addressed the issue has acknowledged that Rule 23(b)(2) does allow for some claims for monetary relief.”). In Dukes, the Ninth Circuit reasoned that back pay in the Title VII context generally involves relatively uncomplicated factual determinations and few individualized issues, and is an integral component of Title VII's “make whole” remedial scheme. Id. at 619. Nor are waiting-time penalties so significant or complex that they render Plaintiffs' monetary claim predominant over their request for injunctive relief. Accordingly, class certification under Rule 23(b)(2) is warranted.

Slip op., at 6.  The balance of the opinion discusses predominance, and the Court concluded that common issues predominate and certified a Rule 23(b)(3) class as well.

The slip opinion on Westlaw does not identify the counsel involved in this uncommon attempt at 23(b)(2) certification in the wage & hour context, and I don't have time to track that down.  Thus, I don't know who to applaud.  If you do, given them a pat on the back.

District Court Magistrate Judge grants motion to compel deposition of withdrawing named plaintiff who was not a putative class member

United States Magistrate Judge Suzanne H. Segal (Central District of California) granted defedants' motion to compel the deposition of a named plaintiff that had filed a motion for voluntary dismissal and was not a putative class member.  Dysthe, et al. v. Basic Research, L.L.C., et al., ___ F.R.D. ___, 2011 WL 1350409 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 8, 2011).  The named plaintiffs Shalena Dysthe, Eric Hall and Chaunte Weiss filed a class action complaint alleging that various defendants made purportedly false claims concerning the efficacy of Relacore weight-loss products.  [I am shocked, shocked to hear of false claims related to the efficacy of a weight-loss product.]  When the defendants sought to schedule depositions, they were notified that Hall intended to dismiss his claims with prejudice.  The defendants responded that they would stipulate to the dismissal after the deposition.  Motions ensued.  Defendants argued that Hall's testimony was still relevant to certification.  Plaintiffs argued that Hall wouldn't even be a class member when his claims were dismissed with prejudice.

The Court explained, "Generally, to depose putative or absent class members, a party must show that 'discovery is both necessary and for a purpose other than taking undue advantage of class members.'"  Slip op., at 3.  Then the Court observed that, because Hall had not been dismissed, the showing required for discovery from putative class members was not applicable; Hall was still a party.  Even when dismissed, the Court found that Hall's testimony regarding his experience with Relacore would be highly relevant.

District Court holds defendant to four corners of complaint when granting motion to remand

United States District Court Judge William Alsup (Northern District of California) granted a motion by plaintiff Pineda to remand a class action back to the California Superior Court from whence it came.  Pineda v. Bank of America, N.A., 2011 WL 1134467 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 28, 2011).  "Wait, isn't that case name very similar to a recent decision from the California Supreme Court regarding statutes of limitation in Labor Code section 203 cases?"  So right you are.  That's why this isn't a garden-variety remand order.  In this case, the defendant argued that it analyzed the complaint back in 2007 and concluded that the amount in controversy should have been calculated on the basis of a one-year statute of limitation.  But when the California Supreme Court held otherwise, Bank of America claimed that it learned for the first time that the case was removable.  Judge Alsup rejected that argument, observing that the parties agreed that the complaint alleged a four-year statute of limitation, and under that four-year statute, the amount in controversy exceeded $5 million.  The time to remove expired back in 2007, when the defendant was in possession of a complaint that, within its four corners, alleged an amount in controvery high enough to invoke CAFA jursidiction.

And, as I noted when reporting on Pineda previously, this matter is handled by Gregory Karasik at Spiro Moss.

Reasonable lodestar hourly rates in the Northern District of California

For those keeping track of such things, United States District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel (Northern District of California) found "reasonable attorneys fees based on rates of $650 for partner services, $500 for associate attorney services and $150 for paralegal services. See Suzuki v. Hitachi, 2010 WL 956896 *3 (N.D.Cal. March 12, 2010)."  Faigman v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 2011 WL 672648 (N.D.Cal. Feb 16, 2011).  The opinion also noted that counsel requesting a higher rate should provide information supporting the departure from those presumptively reasonable hourly rates.

Ninth Circuit holds that district courts are limited to the complaint in deciding certain local controversy criteria for CAFA remand

On November 30, 2010, the Ninth Circuit agreed to hear a discretionary appeal in Coleman v. Estes Express Lines, Inc.  See prior post.  The Ninth Circuit accepted the appeal and provided some guidance in the Ninth Circuit as to whether such appeals should be taken.  Today, the Ninth Circuit issued its Opinion on the underlying issue.  Coleman v. Estes Express Lines, Inc. (9th Cir. Jan. 25, 2011).  Asked to decide whether a federal district court is limited to the complaint in deciding whether two of the criteria for the local controversy exception are satisfied, the Court held that the district court is so limited.

Coleman moved for remand under the local controversy exception. Estes opposed, arguing that two of the criteria for the local controversy exception were not satisfied. "First, Estes argued that Estes West had insufficient funds to satisfy a judgment, and that 'significant relief' therefore had not been 'sought' from it. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4)(A)(i)(II)(aa). Second, Estes argued that Estes Express had almost complete control over the operations of Estes West, and that Estes West’s 'alleged conduct' therefore did not 'form a significant basis for the claims asserted by the proposed plaintiff class.' Id. § 1332(d)(4)(A)(i)(II)(bb)."  Slip op., at 5.  Estes then supplied a declaration to support its contentions.  The District Court refused to consider the declaration, finding that the complaint satisfied the criteria for remand.

Looking at the plain language of the statute, the Court found support for the concept that the pleadings govern the analysis:

The first criterion is whether “significant relief is sought” from a defendant who is a citizen of the state in which the suit is filed. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4)(A)(i)(II)(aa) (emphasis added). The word “sought” focuses attention on the plaintiff’s claim for relief — that is, on what is “sought” in the complaint — rather than on what may or may not be proved by evidence. The second criterion is whether the defendant’s “alleged conduct forms a significant basis for the claims asserted by the proposed plaintiff class.” Id. § 1332(d)(4)(A)(i)(II)(bb) (emphasis added). Like the word “sought,” the word “alleged” makes clear that the second criterion is based on what is alleged in the complaint rather than on what may or may not be proved by evidence.

Slip op., at 8.

The Court then reviewed the legislative history and concluded that it supported the construction applied by the Court.  The Court commentd in passing that the declaration supplied by Estes was probably insufficient even if the District Court could have considered it.

The Court ended with a note about variations in pleading standards between state and federal courts:

We are aware of the difficulties that can be created by different pleading requirements in state and federal courts. A plaintiff filing a putative class action in state court need satisfy only the pleading standards of that court. It is therefore possible that if a putative class action is removed from state to federal court under CAFA the complaint, as originally drafted, will not answer the questions that need to be answered before the federal court can determine whether the suit comes within the local controversy exception to CAFA jurisdiction. In that circumstance, the district court may, in its discretion, require or permit the plaintiff to file an amended complaint that addresses any relevant CAFA criteria.

Slip op., at 21-22. The Court then affirmed the remand.

District Court (E.D. Cal.) certifies a collective action of grape farm workers

United States District Court Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill (Eastern District of California) granted a motion to certify a collective action of grape farm workers pursuant to he Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 210 et seq.  Gomez v. H & R Gunlund Ranches, Inc., 2010 WL 5232973 (E.D.Cal. Dec 16, 2010).  The Court applied the more common two-stage certification approach used in FLSA actions.  The Court rejected the defendant's argument that the plaintiffs were obligated to provide evidence that other would opt-in if given the opportunity to do so.  The Court then issued instructions on required revisions to the proposed notice, including removal of all references to state law claims.  The Court refused to grant the defendant's request to limit the plaintiffs' ability to communicate with opt-in Plaintiffs.  The Court also refused to preclude additional notice through Spanish language media, noting that maximizing notice was beneficial and rejecting the argument that such media, often used in class actions, would somehow constitute a violation of professional responsibility rules.