The Class Re-Action Podcast is finally back, with Episode 20

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We finally got around to getting Episode 20 of the Class Re-Action Podcast out. Fly! Be free! We are tweaking the format a bit to see if it helps with publication frequency. First, shows will be shorter - in the 20-30 minute range. Second, “special guests” will be, well, special. We aren’t going to hold off on publishing a show because invited guests are too busy to record. We promise to try to publish consistently, rain or shine. Mostly shine, we hope.

How long do "on-duty" meal periods have to be? 30 minutes.

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This really feels like the setup for a bad joke that only employment lawyers in California would get. Question: How long does an “on-duty” meal period have to be? Answer: 30 minutes. Follow-up: But….it’s “on-duty.” Put your hand down. I’m not calling on you. In L’Chaim House, Inc. v. Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (July 31, 2019), the Court of Appeal (First Appellate District, Division One), the Court was called upon to review a wage and hour citation by the DLSE. The Court summarized, “On appeal, L’Chaim claims that under the applicable Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) wage order, it may require its employees to work “on-duty” meal periods that, unlike periods when employees are ‘relieved of all duty,’ do not need to be at least 30 minutes long.” (Slip op., at 1.)

The Court’s discussion was more interesting than you might think, since the Court necessarily had to explain the difference between on-duty and off-duty meal periods, and what events can transform one into the other. This led to the Court’s rejection of the appellant’s position:

What L’Chaim misunderstands is that an on-duty meal period is not the functional equivalent of no meal period at all. On-duty meal periods are an intermediate category requiring more of employees than off-duty meal periods but less of employees than their normal work. Recognizing this, the trial court stated that even if L’Chaim’s employees were not entitled to “an uninterrupted meal period,” they “may at least be afforded 30[] minutes of limited duty enabling them to eat their meal in relative peace.” L’Chaim attacks the notion that its “employees may be given ‘limited duty’ while on a meal break” as creating “several absurd consequences.” According to L’Chaim, because employees do not clock out for on-duty meal periods, there is no way to track the length of those periods. In addition, “the creation of a new ‘limited duty’ requirement to [Wage Order No. 5, subdivision 11(E)] would force employers to delineate which tasks an employee is expected to perform during his or her on-duty meal period,” which L’Chaim claims “would be difficult and even potentially dangerous for the residents.”

But any such practical challenges are inherent in providing “on-duty meal periods” at all, not just periods of a particular length. Moreover, the question presented here is whether an on-duty meal period must be at least 30 minutes long, not how courts might evaluate the adequacy of the period under different factual scenarios. Thus, while we do not address what constitutes an acceptable on-duty meal period in the context of this case, what we can say is that employees of 24-hour residential care facilities for seniors are unambiguously entitled to “on-duty meal periods” under subdivision 11(E). L’Chaim’s interpretation would effectively read that requirement out of Wage Order No. 5.

Slip op., at 5. If this still doesn’t convince you, the Court made one final observation that seems pretty solid:

Finally, even if any doubt remained, we agree with the DLSE that section 512 compels the same conclusion. Under that statute, which L’Chaim does not address in its briefing, an employer is prohibited from “employ[ing] an employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with a meal period of not less than 30 minutes,” unless the employee works no more than six hours in a day and agrees to waive the meal period. (§ 512, subd. (a).) Although section 512 contains exceptions for workers in several industries, none of them apply here. And although the IWC has broad authority to “adopt or amend working condition orders with respect to . . . meal periods . . . for any workers in California consistent with the health and welfare of those workers,” at all relevant times—including when subdivision 11(E) was added to Wage Order No. 5—that authority has been specifically limited “as provided in Section 512.”

Slip op., at 7. The Wage Orders cannot negate Labor Code provisions. The balance of the decision is worth a quick read if you practice in this area.

The California Supreme Court lays down the law on "ascertainability" in Noel v. Thrifty Payless, Inc.

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I’m testing out opening sentences. The first candidate is: “The objective import of Noel v. Thrifty Payless, Inc. (July 29, 2019) is easy to ascertain.” You can see how that’s an option. It includes “objective,” as in the class definition must state the class with objective characteristics. And it drops in “ascertain,” as in this is a decision about the ascertainability requisite for certification. I like it. No second option for you.

Noel is a putative class action brought on behalf of retail purchasers of an inflatable outdoor pool sold in packaging that was allegedly misleading about the pool’s characteristics. The trial court denied the representative plaintiff’s motion for class certification on the basis that the plaintiff did not supply evidence showing how class members might be individually identified when the time came to do so. The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court, reasoning that such evidence was necessary to ensure that proper notice would be given to the class. The Supreme Court said, “Nah, brah.”

The Supreme Court reviewed the history of the “ascertainability” requisite. The first view of the requisite focuses on the nature of the definition of the class:

One view of ascertainability concentrates on the proposed class definition itself. This viewwas applied in Bartold v. Glendale Federal Bank (2000) 81Cal.App.4th 816 (Bartold), superseded by statute on another point as stated in Markowitz v. Fidelity Nat. Title Co. (2006) 142Cal.App.4th 508, 524. The Bartold court explained that “[a] class is ascertainable if it identifies a group of unnamed plaintiffs by describing a set of common characteristics sufficient to allow a member of that group to identify himself or herself as having a right to recover based on the description.” (81 Cal.App.4th at p.828.) This basic view of ascertainability has been reiterated by numerous other Courts of Appeal, including the courts in Estrada, supra, 154 Cal.App.4th at page 14 and Aguirre, supra, 234 Cal.App.4th at pages 1299 to 1300. (See also Aguirre, at p. 1300 [listing cases].) A similar formulation regards a class as ascertainable when it is defined “in terms of objective characteristics and common transactional facts” that make “the ultimate identification of class members possible when that identification becomes necessary.” (Hicks, supra, 89Cal.App.4that p.915.)

Slip op., at 21. The second formulation of the requisite was summarized as follows:

The second basic view of ascertainability entails a more exacting inquiry. One such articulationregards the ascertainabilityrequirementas calling for an examination into“(1) the class definition, (2) the size of the class and (3) the means of identifying class members.” (Miller v. Woods (1983) 148 Cal.App.3d 862, 873 (Miller); see also Noel, supra, 17 Cal.App.5th at p. 1324, Sotelo, supra, 207 Cal.App.4th at p. 648; Reyes v. Board of Supervisors (1987) 196 Cal.App.3d 1263, 1274.) Consistent with this view, it has been said that “[c]lass members are ‘ascertainable’ where they may be readily identified without unreasonable expense or time by reference to official records.” (Rose v. City of Hayward (1981) 126 Cal.App.3d 926, 932 (Rose).) On its face, the quoted language from Rose could be understood as specifying a sufficient, as opposed to a necessary, basis for finding an ascertainable class within the Miller framework. But some courts, drawing from Rose’s focus on the mechanics of identifying class members, have gone further and required a class plaintiff to make a specific factual or evidentiary showing in order to show an ascertainable class.

Slip op., at 21-22. The Court then looked at the similar divide in the federal system, focusing extensively on the Seventh Circuit’s analysis of the requisite in Mullins v. Direct Digital, LLC, 795 F.3d 654 (7th Cir. 2015). After that extensive review of competing approaches, the Supreme Court concluded that the process protection provided by an objective and clear class definition was more significant to the ascertainability requirement than the goal of notice to each class member. From that conclusion a clear rule followed:

As a rule, a representative plaintiff in a class action need not introduce evidence establishing how notice of the action will be communicated to individual class members in order to show an ascertainable class.

Slip op., at 38. The Court expressly disapproved of strict reliance upon Rose as stating the requirement for an ascertainability showing. Slip op., at 41, n. 15.

The Court observed that a trial court could consider how notice will be provided to a class as a separate inquiry into, e.g., manageability. Slip op., at 42. It emphasized, however, that notice was not an aspect of the ascertainability showing. The decision of the Court was unanimous.

Christopher Wimmer and Peter Roldan of Emergent Legal and Leslie Brueckner and Karla Gilbride of Public Justice represented the successful Plaintiff and Appellant.

COMPLEX TECH: The developer builds of Microsoft Edge built on Chromium are getting interesting

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It’s been a long time since I’ve posted any tech-related items. I was just using a newer browser I’ve been testing out and thought some of you might be interested in it. Microsoft is rebuilding their Edge browser with the open-sourced chromium browser engine. Google’s Chrome uses the same rendering engine. But I distrust Google (mightily) and have decided to move away from as many of Google’s services as possible (for example, I have stopped using gmail as a backup archive and email aggregator for my personal emails, switching to outlook.com instead). So that leaves the current Edge version in Windows 10 (okay), or Firefox (better with privacy but it continues to have erratic bugs), or all the other fringe browsers out there.

So, instead, I’m looking at the developer versions of Edge on chromium. You can download versions here. The beta channel will be the most stable, but it isn’t active yet. That leaves the weekly update developer channel or the “canary” version that gets daily builds. I decided that the canary channel was too wild west even for me, so I’m running the weekly update version. Given that it isn’t even the beta channel version, it’s surprisingly stable. Features are being added almost every week, in addition to the squashing of bugs. Sites render well. I may move to it as my full-time browser when it comes out of its developer/beta state.

Edge on chromium is far enough along, that it is now ready for enterprise evaluation, as mentioned by Windows Central.

Friends don’t let friends do Google.

In Newirth v. Aegis Senior Communities the Ninth Circuit addresses the federal standard for waiver of the righ to compel arbitration

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I haven’t seen this federal arbitration issue pop up too often, so it stands out when it does. In Newirth v. Aegis Senior Communities (9th Cir. July 24, 2019), the Ninth Circuit applied the federal waiver standard when reviewing the District Court’s denial of a motion to compel arbitration.

The Ninth Circuit reaffirmed prior Ninth Circuit precedent, holding that, under federal law, a party seeking to prove that the right to compel arbitration has been waived must carry the burden of showing: (1) knowledge of an existing right to compel arbitration; (2) intentional acts inconsistent with that right; and (3) prejudice to the person opposing arbitration from the inconsistent behavior. Fisher v. A.G. Becker Paribas Inc., 791 F.2d 691, 694 (9th Cir. 1986). The Court held that because defendant Aegis was aware of its right to compel arbitration, but made a choice not to do so in order to take advantage of the judicial forum, and because the plaintiffs were prejudiced by incurring costs in defending against a motion to dismiss, the district court was well within its right to conclude that Aegis waived the right to arbitrate.

The Court reached this conclusion despite noting that waiver of a contractual right to arbitration is not favored. Aegis didn’t help its position by filing a motion to compel arbitration and then withdrawing it to, instead, file a motion to dismiss. Oops.

Nuts and bolts...

For the few interested in these sorts of things, the site template theme that I had been using for quite a while was deprecated, no longer receiving support or updates. While I put off moving to a new theme for a while, it had to happen. Unfortunately, there was no way to fully configure a new theme to match all the customizing I had done in the old theme (things like custom css controls specific to the them because they address unique labels). The only option was to take a lot of notes about style settings and then jump in with both feet. I managed to get things fairly close, even making some changes I’ve wanted to make for some time but could not because they weren’t supported in the old theme. I still have some work to do to add a few missing things, but the content is basically all there. Anyhow, just wanted to explain what motivated some of the changes (as opposed to sheer boredom with the appearance).

The Ninth Circuit is interested in learning whether the California Supreme Court thinks Dynamex applies retroactively

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Here’s a tiny little nugget of interest. Today, in Vazquez v. Jan-Pro Franchising International, Inc. (9th Cir. July 22, 2019), the Ninth Circuit issued an Order granting a Petition for Panel Rehearing. That’s not the interesting part. The stated plan to certify a question to the California Supreme Court is, however, interesting:

The opinion in the above-captioned matter filed on May 2, 2019, and published at 923 F.3d 575, is WITHDRAWN. A revised disposition and an order certifying to the California Supreme Court the question of whether Dynamex Ops. W. Inc. v. Superior Court, 416 P.3d 1 (Cal. 2018), applies retroactively will be filed in due course.

Order, at 2. Do you feel like it never stops? That there is never a moment when you can say, “This is the wage and hour law of California.”? I do.

Battle Bot Injury Lawyers?

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So I’m driving in Las Vegas today, and I see this billboard off the freeway. The sign was slightly obscured by a closer pole, and, at first glance, I thought it said “Battle Bot Injury Lawyers.” That would be so spectacular. “Destructor smashes the treads on my bot Deep-Fried-Shreddar Cheese, and I want to sue!” I’d specialize in that.

Turns out that it was Battle BORN Injury Attorneys. Dang it!

Moon & Yang has launched the initial portions of its new website

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Moon & Yang, APC has a “soft” launch of it’s new website well underway. There are some bugs to sort out, but it’s slowly getting there (slower, at times, than I would like, as the frustrated e-mails to the development team will attest). I will be co-managing the firm’s blog on the website.

McCleery v. Allstate Ins. Co. affirms the denial of class certification in a complicated, multi-party suit alleging independent contractor misclassification

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I think it is not a stretch to opine that independent contractor misclassification is, by far, the easiest misclassification theory to pursue on a classwide basis (as compared to, for example, cases about the administrative exemption for store managers). In McCleery v. Allstate Ins. Co. (July 15, 2019), the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division One), in an opinion issued following a grant of rehearing for the second appeal in the matter, we see why there are limits to what is possible even in the comparatively straightforward arena of independent contractor misclassification. The fact summary suggests that this was too big a bite:

Property inspectors Timothy McCleery, Yvonne Beckner, Terry Quimby and April Boyles Jackson filed this action on behalf of themselves and similarly situated persons, alleging defendants Allstate Insurance Company and Farmers Group, insurers for whom the plaintiffs provided property inspection services, and CIS Group LLC/North American Compass Insurance Services Group (CIS), Advanced Field Services, Inc. (AFS), and Capital Personnel Services, Inc. (PMG), service companies contracting to provide inspection services, concocted a scheme to insulate themselves from labor laws by nominally employing plaintiffs as independent contractors while retaining control over all aspects of their work. Plaintiffs purport to represent a putative class of approximately 1,550 property inspectors in California.

Slip op., at 3-4. At the first go-round, the trial court denied certification, summarily rejected a statistical sampling plan, and concluded that individualized determinations were required for each class members. The Court of Appeal reversed, directing the trial court to consider whether proposed sampling and statistical methods could render some or all of the individualized issues manageable. After additional briefing and an extensive survey, the trial agreed that the survey was carefully crafted to maximize accuracy but still failed to address key individual issues:

However, the court found that plaintiffs’ statistical sampling alone did not render their claims manageable. It found that Dr. Krosnick’s survey results failed to specify for which insurers inspections were performed, or to explain whether the inspectors’ failure to take meal or rest breaks was due to preference or to the exigencies of the job. Also, the survey’s anonymity foreclosed the defendants from cross-examining witnesses to verify responses or test them for accuracy or bias.

Slip op., at 17. The trial court again denied certification and the plaintiffs again appealed.

While several issues were of concern to the Court, the inability of the defendants to examine any survey respondents (who were kept anonymous from the survey expert) was viewed as an impediment to the defendants’ ability to cross-examine the actual class members who participated in the survey:

In fact, plaintiffs expressly admit they intend to answer the ultimate question in this case based solely on expert testimony—testimony founded on multiple hearsay that defendants could never challenge. As Dr. Krosnick declared, “ Respondents are not testifying witnesses. Instead, . . . . [i]t is the expert who will offer opinions . . . , and the expert can be cross-examined.” But “[a]lthough an expert ‘may rely on inadmissible hearsay in forming his or her opinion [citation], and may state on direct examination the matters on which he or she relied, the expert may not testify as to the details of those matters if they are otherwise inadmissible.’ ” (Korsak v. Atlas Hotels, Inc. (1992) 2 Cal.App.4th 1516, 1525.)

Slip op., at 24-25. The plan to rely, almost exclusively according to the Court, on an anonymous, double-blind survey to prove liability was viewed as a bridge too far, no matter how scientifically the survey was crafted. The Court, citing Duran and Brinker, concluded that the trial court acted within its discretion when denying certification.

I admit to having some sympathy, as it is my experience that the similar insurance, lender, and real estate property inspection industries are carefully constructed in an attempt to support the notion that the end companies requesting the inspections and setting very detailed parameters for how those inspections are to occur are not employers of the people out performing those inspections for them. What this opinion will have the tendency to do is insulate the biggest companies because of the complex hairball of crossing middle-tier vendors they have created, while directing attention to the smaller middle-tier vendors that act as the go-betweens for the insurance, lender, and real estate companies.