Bates v. Rubio's Restaurants, Inc. reminds defendants to be sure the class list is complete before the money starts flowing

While most of this opinion has nothing to do with class actions and everything to do with whether a judge can sua sponte reconsider a prior order and then recuse himself in the same minute order, Bates v. Rubio's Restaurant's Inc. (November 30, 2009) includes an important lesson for the administration of class action.  The Court of Appeal (Fourth Appellate District, Division Three) affirmed an interesting order of the trial court that had a significant effect on the constituency of a class in a settlement.  The concise summary of key events sets the stage for the discussion that follows in the opinion:

The parties in this wage and hour class action litigation entered into a $7.5 million settlement agreement, providing for three payments of $2.5 million to approved class members. After the initial $2.5 million payment was distributed among 529 approved class members, defendant and appellant Rubio‟s Restaurants, Inc. (Rubio‟s) realized it had not provided the names of all potential class members to the settlement administrator. One hundred forty potential class members had not received notification of the settlement.

After postjudgment briefing and status conferences, the court ruled that the 140 late-identified class members should receive notice and be folded into the settlement agreement. Later, the judge reconsidered his ruling sua sponte and vacated it. In the same minute order, the judge, citing Code of Civil Procedure section 170.1, subdivision (a)(6)(A)(i), then recused himself from any further proceedings in the matter, in the interests of justice.

Slip op., at 2.  Rubio's argued that the recusal negated the validity of the portion of the order vacating the prior ruling.  The Court of Appeal said that was nonsense, concluding that the trial court could properly rescing its earlier ruling and later, in the same minute order, recuse itself.

The only reason for all the fuss was the fact that 140 class members can file another class action and state with great certainty that they didn't receive notice of the prior settlement.  There's your class action angle.