Allstate tests new method for mooting class claims; falls short in Chen v. Allstate Ins. Co.

Normal people see laws as barriers. Lawyers see laws as an agility course.  After Pitts v. Terrible Herbst, Inc., 653 F.3d 1081 (9th Cir. 2011) and Gomez v. Campbell-Ewald Co., 768 F.3d 871 (9th Cir. 2014), aff’d, 136 S. Ct. 663 (2016), you'd have to forgive ordinary citizens for thinking that the question of whether you can moot a class action by offering up full individual relief to the putative class representative was pretty well settled. But where some see finality, Allstate insurance saw...opportunity.  Specifically, Allstate looked to Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez, 136 S. Ct. 663 (2016) for the secret to mooting class representative claims.  In Chen v. Allstate Inc. Co. (9th Cir. Apr. 12, 2016), the Ninth Circuit sent the wily insurance coyote back to the drawing board.

The plaintiffs filed a class action complaint against Allstate, alleging he received unsolicited automated telephone calls to his cellphone, in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Before a motion for class certification had been made, Allstate made an offer of judgment to the plaintiffs under Rule 68 of the F.R.C.P., depositing $20,000 in full settlement of individual monetary claims in an escrow account “pending entry of a final District Court order or judgment directing the escrow agent to pay the tendered funds to Pacleb, requiring Allstate to stop sending non-emergency telephone calls and short message service messages to Pacleb in the future and dismissing this action as moot.”  Slip op. at 4, 7.  Allstate extended the Rule 68 offer beyond 14 days and then moved for entry of judgment and dismissal.  One plaintiff accepted the offer while the motion was pending.

The district court denied the motion, holding that, under Pitts v. Terrible Herbst, Inc., 653 F.3d 1081 (9th Cir. 2011), the plaintiff's class allegations presented a justiciable controversy and rejected the notion that Pitts was no longer good law.  The district court later certified the issue for interlocutory appeal.

On appeal, Allstate asked the Court to take up the hypothetical issue raised in Campbell-Ewald, which was whether the deposit of the full amount of a plaintiff's individual claim in an account payable to the plaintiff, followed by entry of judgment for the plaintiff in that amount, is sufficient to moot the case.  Allstate argued that the judgment it consented to would offer complete relief, the district should be compelled to enter judgment on those terms, mooting the plaintiff's individual claims, and the remaining class allegations would then be insufficient to preserve a live controversy.  While the Court agreed with the first contention, it rejected the second and third contentions.

The Court began by reviewing the relief that Allstate had consented to in the district court.  Considering both the monetary and injunctive aspects of that relief, the Court found that complete individual relief was offered.  Slip op., at 12-14.

Next, the Court considered whether the decision in Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 133 S. Ct. 1523 (2013) vitiated Pitts.  The Court concluded that it did not:

In Gomez, 768 F.3d at 875–76, however, we squarely rejected that very argument. Because Genesis Healthcare concerned collective actions brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) rather than class actions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, Gomez held Pitts was not clearly irreconcilable with Genesis Healthcare. See id. Although Genesis Healthcare “undermined some of the reasoning employed in Pitts . . . , courts have universally concluded that the Genesis discussion does not apply to class actions.” Id. at 875. “In fact, Genesis itself emphasizes that ‘Rule 23 [class] actions are fundamentally different from collective actions under the FLSA.’” Id. at 875–76 (alteration in original) (quoting Genesis Healthcare, 133 S. Ct. at 1529).

Slip op., at 16.  The Court then held that it was bound by Gomez, which was decided en banc.

Next, the Court went further, holding that even if Pitts were not controlling, the Court would reject an attempt to moot the action prior to a fair opportunity to move for class certification.  The Court noted that placing funds in an escrow account was not the same as the actual receipt of all relief by a plaintiff.  This will likely just bait the next enterprising defendant into actually tendering the funds into an account in the name of the plaintiff to see if the outcome is any different (remember, there are no obstacles, only new paths).

Finally, the Court considered whether to order the district court to enter judgment.  The Court concluded that doing so would be inconsistent with Campbell-Ewald, which affords a putative class representative with a live claim a fair opportunity to show certification is warranted:

Even if that is true, however, Campbell-Ewald clearly suggests it would be inappropriate to enter judgment under these circumstances. As Campbell-Ewald explained, “[w]hile a class lacks independent status until certified, a would-be class representative with a live claim of her own must be accorded a fair opportunity to show that certification is warranted.” Campbell-Ewald, 136 S. Ct. at 672 (emphasis added) (citation omitted) (citing Sosna, 419 U.S. at 399). Accordingly, when a defendant consents to judgment affording complete relief on a named plaintiff’s individual claims before certification, but fails to offer complete relief on the plaintiff’s class claims, a court should not enter judgment on the individual claims, over the plaintiff’s objection, before the plaintiff has had a fair opportunity to move for class certification.

Slip op., at 22-23.  The Court noted the long-recognized principle that class relief is the only feasible relief in many circumstances and concluded that "a district court should decline to enter a judgment affording complete relief on a named plaintiff’s individual claims, over the plaintiff’s objection, before the plaintiff has had a fair opportunity to move for class certification." Slip op., at 26.

The Court affirmed the district court.

If you anticipate that the Supreme Court will take up the first case to test its Genesis Healthcare hypothetical, don't hold your breath. If anything, the Supreme Court would want to see more than one Circuit tackle the issue and see if a significant split develops before wading back into these waters. That doesn't mean that enterprising defendants won't look for another way to moot class claims before certification.

Watching how they make the sausage...Eastern District set to try Taco Bell wage & hour class actions

Class actions don't make it to trial all that often.  But when they get close, things can get pretty ugly.  In Medlock, et al. v. Taco Bell Corp., et al., the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California (Magistrate Stanley A. Boone presiding) issued an Order on nine motions in limine filed by the Plaintiffs. See 2016 WL 430438 (February 4, 2016).

In Medlock, the Court certified three classes, on claims for meal period violations, rest period violations, and improper time record adjustments.  With trial approaching on February 22, 2016, the Plaintiffs filed nine motions in limine to exclude expert testimony (motions 1 and 2), rates of meal and rest period violation (motion 3), challenges to the authenticity of raw time clock data (motion 4), evidence of job performance or discipline (motion 5), evidence related to elements of class certification (motion 6), evidence of explicit instructions to class members to skip meal or rest periods (motion 7), evidence of the likeability of working at Taco Bell (motion 8), and alterations to the testimony of Taco Bell's Rule 30(b)(6) designee.  The court denied all motions other than motion 6, and that motion was limited to ordering that the defendants could not discuss the Rule 23 elements before the jury.

Considering the evidence the Court described as potentially probative, it appears that the jury will get to hear the kitchen sink of Defendants' reasons why meal and rest periods were missed. 

And yes, I am not dead.

Ninth Circuit joins the list of other Circuits rejecting Norris-LaGuardia and NLRA-based challenges to individual arbitration requirements

While I'm sad to report it, I am not particularly surprised at this point. Today, in Johnmohammadi v. Bloomingdale’s, Inc. (9th Cir. June 23, 2014), the Ninth Circuit came rather close to joining other Circuits when it rejected a challenge to the enforcement of an arbitration clause that precludes collective enforcement of claims in any forum, whether judicial or arbitral. While they Court recognized that there was some support for the plaintiff's position, it also found on the facts that the protections called for by the plaintiff were unavailable. A key passage is as follows:

Johnmohammadi contends that filing this class action on behalf of her fellow employees is one of the “other concerted activities” protected by the Norris-LaGuardia Act and the NLRA. There is some judicial support for her position. See, e.g., Eastex, Inc. v. NLRB, 437 U.S. 556, 565–66 (1978); Brady v. Nat’l Football League, 644 F.3d 661, 673 (8th Cir. 2011); Mohave Elec. Coop, Inc. v. NLRB, 206 F.3d 1183, 1189 (D.C. Cir. 2000); Salt River Valley Water Users’ Ass’n v. NLRB, 206 F.2d 325, 328 (9th Cir. 1953). But we need not decide whether Johnmohammadi has correctly interpreted this statutory phrase. To prevail, she must still show that Bloomingdale’s interfered with, restrained, or coerced her in the exercise of her right to file a class action. In our view, Bloomingdale’s did none of these things.

Slip op., at 8.

Romo v. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. to be reheard en banc


Romo v. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. was described as the end of the world by business interests when the Ninth Circuit held that attorneys could avoid CAFA removal by filing separate cases with fewer than 100 plaintiffs in each case to avoid the mass action provision in CAFA.  The Ninth Circuit is going to give those poor business interests a second bite at the apple; today the Ninth Circuit issued an order that the matter be reheard en banc.

9th Circuit concludes that unaccepted Rule 68 offers don't moot claims


A recent guest on the Class Re-Action podcast concluded that Rule 68 claims were underutilized.  As it turns out, at least in the Ninth Circuit, that may not be the case, since defendants might not achieve what they would like from unaccepted Rule 68 offers.  In Diaz v. First American (9th Cir. Oct. 4, 2013), the Court examined whether an unaccepted Rule 68 offer renders a claim moot.  Aware of a split of authority, the Ninth Circuit held that it does not.

The case originated as a putative consumer class action related to a home warranty plan.  After several claims for relief were dismissed, the plaintiff moved for class certification.  That motion was denied.  First American then made an offer of judgment on the plaintiff's remaining individual claims – for misrepresentation, breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing – pursuant to Rule 68.  The offer included an expiration date, and the plaintiff did not accept prior to that date.  First American then moved to dismiss the action as moot.  The trial court found that the offer would have fully satisfied the remaining individual claims and dismissed.

After noting that the Supreme Court has not answered the issue, the Ninth Circuit examined the Circuit position, concluding that it had yet to be answered by the Circuit: 

In Pitts v. Terrible Herbst, Inc., 653 F.3d 1081, 1091–92 (9th Cir. 2011), we held “that an unaccepted Rule 68 offer of judgment – for the full amount of the named plaintiff’s individual claim and made before the named plaintiff files a motion for class certification – does not moot a class action” (emphasis added), but we did not squarely address whether the offer mooted the plaintiff’s individual claim. We assumed that an unaccepted offer for complete relief will moot a claim, but we neither held that to be the case nor analyzed the issue. See id. at 1090–92. In GCB Communications, Inc. v. U.S. South Communications, Inc., 650 F.3d 1257, 1267 (9th Cir. 2011), we noted that a case will “become moot” when “an opposing party has agreed to everything the other party has demanded,” but we did not address the effects of an unaccepted Rule 68 offer, an issue not presented in that case. We therefore treat this as an open question in this circuit.

Slip op., at 8.   The Court then examined the different approaches in the Seventh, Sixth and Second Circuits.  After noting a split between them, the Court observed that four justices of the Supreme Court had offered guidance:

As noted, the majority in Genesis Healthcare did not reach whether an unaccepted offer that fully satisfies a plaintiff’s claim is sufficient to render the claim moot. See Genesis Healthcare, 133 S. Ct. at 1528–29. In a dissenting opinion, however, Justice Kagan, writing for all four justices who reached the question, agreed with the Second Circuit that “an unaccepted offer of judgment cannot moot a case.” Id. at 1533 (Kagan, J., dissenting); accord Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae Supporting Affirmance, Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 133 S. Ct. 1523 (2013) (No. 11-1059), 2012 WL 4960359, at *10–15.

Slip op., at 11.   The Court quoted extensively from Justice Kagan's dissent:

"We made clear earlier this Term that '[a]s long as the parties have a concrete interest, however small, in the outcome of the litigation, the case is not moot.' Chafin v. Chafin, 133 S. Ct. 1017, 1023 (2012) (internal quotation marks omitted)."

Slip op., at 11.   Continuing, the Court quoted further from the dissent in Genesis:

"When a plaintiff rejects such an offer – however good the terms – her interest in the lawsuit remains just what it was before. And so too does the court’s ability to grant her relief. An unaccepted settlement offer – like any unaccepted contract offer – is a legal nullity, with no operative effect. As every first-year law student learns, the recipient’s rejection of an offer 'leaves the matter as if no offer had ever been made.' Minneapolis & St. Louis R. Co. v. Columbus Rolling Mill, 119 U.S. 149, 151 (1886). Nothing in Rule 68 alters that basic principle; to the contrary, that rule specifies that '[a]n unaccepted offer is considered withdrawn.' Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 68(b). So assuming the case was live before – because the plaintiff had a stake and the court could grant relief – the litigation carries on, unmooted."

Slip op., at 12. 

So a friendly suggestion to the Third Circuit: Rethink your mootness-by-unaccepted-offer theory. And a note to all other courts of appeals: Don’t try this at home.

Slip op., at 13.  Concluding that Justice Kagan was correct in her explanation of how unaccepted Rule 68 offers work, the Court then held that the refusal to accept a Rule 68 offer did not moot the case.

It appears that it will take something more than a simple Rule 68 offer to impose mootness on plaintiffs' claims in the Ninth Circuit. 

PAGA claims of multiple employees are not a "common and undivided interest"


In  Urbino v. Orkin Servs. of California, Inc. (9th Cir. Aug. 13, 2013), the Ninth Circuit took up the question of whether PAGA claims aggregate for purposes of CAFA's damage prerequisite.  Plaintiff, a California citizen, worked in a nonexempt, hourly paid position for defendants, each of whom is a corporate citizen of another state, in California. Alleging that defendants illegally deprived him and other nonexempt employees of meal periods, overtime and vacation wages, and accurate itemized wage statements, plaintiff filed a representative PAGA action.  Defendants removed.  Plaintiff moved to remand.  The district court was obligated to decide whether the potential penalties could be combined or aggregated to satisfy the amount in controversy requirement. If they could, federal diversity jurisdiction would lie because statutory penalties for initial violations of California’s Labor Code would total $405,500 and penalties for subsequent violations would aggregate to $9,004,050. If not, the $75,000 threshold would not be met because penalties arising from plaintiff’s claims would be limited to $11,602.40.  Acknowledging a split of opinion, the district court found PAGA claims to be common and undivided and therefore capable of aggregation.

The Court examined the "common and undivided interest" exception to the rule that multiple plaintiffs cannot aggregate claims.  Observing that common questions do not create that common and undivided interest, the Court said:

But simply because claims may have “questions of fact and law common to the group” does not mean they have a common and undivided interest.  Potrero Hill Cmty. Action Comm. v. Hous. Auth., 410 F.2d 974, 977 (9th Cir. 1969). Only where the claims can strictly “be asserted by pluralistic entities as such,” id., or, stated differently, the defendant “owes an obligation to the group of plaintiffs as a group and not to the individuals severally,” will a common and undivided interest exist, Gibson v. Chrysler Corp., 261 F.3d 927, 944 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Morrison v. Allstate Indem. Co., 228 F.3d 1255, 1262 (11th Cir. 2000)).

Slip op., at 8.

The defendants then argued that the interest asserted by plaintiff was not his, but was actually the state's interest.  The Court's majority did not find that argument compelling:

To the extent Plaintiff can—and does—assert anything but his individual interest, however, we are unpersuaded that such a suit, the primary benefit of which will inure to the state, satisfies the requirements of federal diversity jurisdiction. The state, as the real party in interest, is not a “citizen” for diversity purposes. See Navarro Sav. Ass’n v. Lee, 446 U.S. 458, 461 (1980) (courts “must disregard nominal or formal parties and rest jurisdiction only upon the citizenship of real parties to the controversy.”); Mo., Kan. & Tex. Ry. Co. v. Hickman, 183 U.S. 53, 59 (1901); see also Moor v. Cnty. of Alameda, 411 U.S. 693, 717 (1973) (explaining that “a State is not a ‘citizen’ for purposes of the diversity jurisdiction”).

Slip op., at 9.   By the way, this cleverly avoids deciding an unnecessary issue that is of some consequence in the world of arbitration.  It does, however, suggest a point upon which the California Supreme Court will likely have to express an opinion when it decides whether PAGA claims are excused from arbitration clause enforcement or, alternatively, from arbitration clauses that preclude “class” claims.

The dissent, like the majority opinion, is also relatively short, but it is also well argued.

Thanks to the tipster for directing me to the decision (since I don't know whether you want to be identified, you remain anonymous).

NOTE:  This is an updated version of an earlier post on this case.  The older post has been removed. 

Ninth Circuit confirms that Lowdermilk is overruled and damage caps won't save you from CAFA (Rodriquez v. AT&T Mobility)


In Rodriguez v. AT&T Mobility Services LLC (9th Cir. Aug. 27, 2013), the plaintiff brought a putative class action against AT&T Mobility Services, LLC, on behalf of himself and all other similarly situated retail sales managers of AT&T wireless stores in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.  The plaintiff asserted various claims related to alleged unpaid wages, overtime compensation, and damages for statutory violations, filing in Los Angeles County Superior Court in a doomed effort to escape federal court.  AT&T removed the case to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2).  Plaintiff moved to remand the case to state court, arguing that defendant could not establish subject-matter jurisdiction because the total amount in controversy did not exceed $5 million.  Plaintiff cited his First Amended Complaint, in which he alleged as much, that “the aggregate amount in controversy is less than five million dollars.” To bolster his position, in that pleading, he also “waive[d] seeking more than five million dollars ($5,000,000) regarding the aggregate amount in controversy for the class claims alleged.”  The district court rejected AT&T’s argument and ordered remand to state court.  The trial court did not address the parties’ calculations of amount in controversy.

The Ninth Circuit recognized the applicability of the U.S. Supreme Court's first CAFA decision, Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Knowles, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1345 (2013).  As to Standard Fire, the parties agreed that Standard Fire mandated reversal of the district court's remand order, which was issued before Standard Fire was decided.  The Ninth Circuit directed the district court to reconsider the remand motion. Slip op., at 7.

On the second issue involved in the appeal, the burden of proof, the Court held that Standard Fire overruled Lowdermilk v. U.S. Bank National Association, 479 F.3d 994 (9th Cir. 2007), which had imposed a "legal certainty" standard, instead of a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, for defeating a pleading’s allegations of amount-in-controversy:

The reasoning behind Lowdermilk's imposition of the legal certainty standard is clearly irreconcilable with Standard Fire. We hold that Standard Fire has so undermined the reasoning of our decision in Lowdermilk that the latter has been effectively overruled. A defendant seeking removal of a putative class action must demonstrate, by a preponderance of evidence, that the aggregate amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum. This standard conforms with a defendant's burden of proof when the plaintiff does not plead a specific amount in controversy.

Slip op., at 14.  The Court went on to observe that a “lead plaintiff of a putative class cannot reduce the amount in controversy on behalf of absent class members, so there is no justification for assigning to the allegation weight so significant that it affects a defendant's right to a federal forum under § 1332(d)(2).”  Slip op., at 15.

With this decision in mind, a lead plaintiff is taking a serious chance with their adequacy if there is an attempted waiver of any recovery exceeding $5 million that cannot be supported down the road as having been based on a good faith calculation of recoverable damages.

In American Express Co., et al. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, et al. (June 20, 2013), the Supreme Court tries to take class arbitration off life support

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This one made me too sad to write about it quickly.  I had to grieve first.  Another day, another chance for the United States Supreme Court to pork litigants with an arbitration ruling.  In today's chapter, American Express Co., et al. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, et al. (June 20, 2013), we have the last saga in a long-running case addressing effective vindication of statutory rights.   Merchants who accept American Express cards brought a class action against Amex for violations of the federal antitrust laws. According to the merchants, American Express used its monopoly power in the market for charge cards to force merchants to accept credit cards at rates approximately 30% higher than the fees for competing credit cards. This tying arrangement, they said, violated §1 of the Sherman Act. They sought treble damages for the class under §4 of the Clayton Act.  The agreement with Amex contains a clause that requires all disputes between the parties to be resolved by arbitration. The agreement also provides that“[t]here shall be no right or authority for any Claims to be arbitrated on a class action basis.” In re American Express Merchants’ Litigation, 667 F. 3d 204, 209 (CA2 2012).  The Court of Appeal reversed an order compelling arbitration, agreeing with the merchants that the expense required to prove antitrust claims was so high that no individual merchant would be able to vindicate their statutory rights without the ability to aggregate claimants in a class action.

The 5 Justice majority opinion, authored by Justice Scalia, focused its analysis on the meaning of the “effective vindication” exception to the requirements of the FAA, concluding that it did not apply to a prohibitively expensive process for resolving claims on an individual basis only:

But the fact that it is not worth the expense involved in proving a statutory remedy does not constitute the elimination of the right to pursue that remedy. See 681 F. 3d, at 147 (Jacobs, C. J., dissenting from denial of rehearing en banc). The class-action waiver merely limits arbitration to the two contracting parties. It no more eliminates those parties’ right to pursue their statutory remedy than did federal law before its adoption of the class action for legal relief in 1938, see Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 23, 28 U. S. C., p. 864 (1938 ed., Supp V); 7A C. Wright, A. Miller, & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure §1752, p. 18 (3d ed. 2005). Or, to put it differently, the individual suit that was considered adequate to a
ssure “effective vindication” of a federal right before adoption of class-action procedures did not suddenly become “ineffective vindication” upon their adoption.

Slip op., at 7.  The majority, in referring in later discussion to Concepcion, made it very clear that, while you may have a “right” conferred by statute, you have no right to insist on an effective method to enforce that “right.”

The dissent, authored by Justice Kagan, offers a passionate but ultimately unavailing criticism of the majority’s holding:

Here is the nutshell version of this case, unfortunately obscured in the Court’s decision. The owner of a small restaurant (Italian Colors) thinks that American Express (Amex) has used its monopoly power to force merchants to accept a form contract violating the antitrust laws. The restaurateur wants to challenge the allegedly unlawful provision (imposing a tying arrangement), but the same contract’s arbitration clause prevents him from doing so. That term imposes a variety of procedural bars that would make pursuit of the antitrust claim a fool’s errand. So if the arbitration clause is enforceable, Amex has insulated itself from antitrust liability—even if it has in fact violated the law. The monopolist gets to use its monopoly power to insist on a contract effectively depriving its victims of all legal recourse.

Slip diss. op., at 1.  The dissent began by positing an uncontroversial proposition: “We would refuse to enforce an exculpatory clause insulating a company from antitrust liability—say, ‘Merchants may bring no Sherman Act claims’—even if that clause were contained in an arbitration agreement.” Slip diss. op., at 2.  But the dissent then observed, “If the rule were limited to baldly exculpatory provisions, however, a monopolist could devise numerous ways around it.”  Slip diss. op., at 3.

Applied as our precedents direct, the effective- vindication rule furthers the purposes not just of laws like the Sherman Act, but of the FAA itself. That statute reflects a federal policy favoring actual arbitration—that is, arbitration as a streamlined “method of resolving dis- putes,” not as a foolproof way of killing off valid claims. Rodriguez de Quijas v. Shearson/American Express, Inc., 490 U. S. 477, 481 (1989). Put otherwise: What the FAA prefers to litigation is arbitration, not de facto immunity. The effective-vindication rule furthers the statute’s goals by ensuring that arbitration remains a real, not faux, method of dispute resolution. With the rule, companies have good reason to adopt arbitral procedures that facili- tate efficient and accurate handling of complaints. With- out it, companies have every incentive to draft their agreements to extract backdoor waivers of statutory rights, making arbitration unavailable or pointless. So down one road: More arbitration, better enforcement of federal statutes. And down the other: Less arbitration, poorer enforcement of federal statutes. Which would you prefer?  Or still more aptly: Which do you think Congress would?

Slip diss. op., at 5-6.  The balance of the dissent is an effective and scathing dismantling of the majority reasoning.  In conclusion, Justice Kagain writes:  “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And to a Court bent on diminishing the usefulness of Rule 23, everything looks like a class action, ready to be dismantled.” Slip diss. op., at 14.  But it is for naught at this point.  The majority opinion is the one that will rule day, and it is the one that should cause great concern if not checked legislatively.

In Busk v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, Ninth Circuit joins others to hold that FLSA and Rule 23 Classes are not incompatible


Today the Ninth Circuit, in Busk v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. (9th Cir. April 12, 2013) joined other circuits in concluding that FLSA opt-in collective actions are not incompatible with state law claims asserted as Rule 23 class actions:

In sum, we agree with the other circuits to consider the issue that the fact that Rule 23 class actions use an opt-out mechanism while FLSA collective actions use an opt-in
mechanism does not create a conflict warranting dismissal of the state law claims.

Slip op., at 9.  I will write up a bit more later, but this holding should put an end to the wasteful motion practice around this issue in the Ninth Circuit.  Given the agreement manifesting between the Circuits, it is unlikely that we will see Supreme Court review of this issue any time soon.

Good news for Chinese Daily News when Ninth Circuit vacates certification under 23(b)(2), remands for further review of 23(b)(3) certification


The long-running saga of Wang v. Chinese Daily News, Inc. took its latest turn today, when the Ninth Circuit, on remand from the United States Supreme Court, issued the most decision in Wang v. Chinese Daily News, Inc. (9th Cir. Mar. 4, 2013).  The Ninth Circuit reversed various aspects of the District Court's certification order after applying Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011) to the District Court's decision.

First, the Court vacated the District Court's Rule 23(a)(2) analysis and directed the District Court to conduct the rigorous analysis required by Wal-Mart:

We vacate the district court’s Rule 23(a)(2) commonality finding and remand for reconsideration in light of Wal-Mart. On remand, the district court must determine whether the claims of the proposed class “depend upon a common contention . . . of such a nature that it is capable of classwide resolution — which means that determination of its truth or falsity will resolve an issue that is central to the validity of each one of the claims in one stroke.” Wal-Mart, 131 S. Ct. at 2551. Plaintiffs must show “significant proof that [CDN] operated under a general policy of [violating California labor laws].” Ellis, 657 F.3d at 983 (quoting Wal-Mart, 131 S. Ct. at 2553 (alteration omitted)). However, plaintiffs need not show that every question in the case, or even a preponderance of questions, is capable of classwide resolution. So long as there is “even a single common question,” a would-be class can satisfy the commonality requirement of Rule 23(a)(2).

Slip op., at 10.

Next, the Court quickly concluded that the monetary relief sought by the plaintiffs was not "incidental."  The Court reversed the District Court's order certifying the class under Rule 23(b)(2).

Finally, the Court remanded for further consideration as to whether certification was warranted under Rule 23(b)(3):

For two reasons, we remand to the district court for reconsideration of the propriety of class certification under Rule 23(b)(3). First, the district court’s conclusion that common questions predominate in this case rested on the fact, considered largely in isolation, that plaintiffs are challenging CDN’s uniform policy of classifying all reporters and account executives as exempt employees. See Wang, 231 F.R.D. at 612–13. In two recent decisions, we criticized the nature of the district court’s Rule 23(b)(3) predominance inquiry in this case. See In re Wells Fargo Home Mortg. Overtime Pay Litig., 571 F.3d 953, 958–59 (9th Cir. 2009); Vinole v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 571 F.3d 935, 944–48 & n.14 (9th Cir. 2009). We observed that the district court in this case “essentially create[d] a presumption that class certification is proper when an employer’s internal exemption policies are applied uniformly to the employees.” In re Wells Fargo Home Mortg. Overtime Pay Litig., 571 F.3d at 958. We wrote that such a presumption “disregards the existence of other potential individual issues that may make class treatment difficult if not impossible.” Id. The main concern of the predominance inquiry under Rule 23(b)(3) is “the balance between individual and common issues.” Id. at 959. “[A] district court abuses its discretion in relying on an internal uniform exemption policy to the near exclusion of other factors relevant to the predominance inquiry.” Vinole, 571 F.3d at 946.

Slip op., at 13.  The Court also noted that Brinker impacted the analysis of meal period claims and required evaluation by the District Court.