Haro v. City of Rosemead confirms that "opt-in" class actions are unavailable under California's class action statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 382

In a case of flirting with issues of first impression, the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division Eight) was asked to review an order denying plaintiffs' motion for class certification pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 382. The plot twist? Haro v. City of Rosemead (June 9, 2009) concerns plaintiffs' attempt to certify pursuant to section 382 a claim for violation of 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), a part of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA). After concluding that FLSA claims cannot be certified under section 382 as a matter of law, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.

The Court first summarized the FLSA provision at issue in the appeal:

Section 216(b) goes on to provide that an action under this provision may be brought against any employer in a federal or state court “by any one or more employees for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated. No employee shall be a party plaintiff to any such action unless he gives his consent in writing to become such a party and such consent is filed in the court in which such action is brought.” The italicized sentence is colloquially referred to as an “opt-in” provision (7B Wright et al., Fed. Practice and Procedure (3d ed. 2005) § 1807, p. 472) and it is this opt-in provision that this purported appeal addresses.

(Slip op., at p. 2.) The Court then expressed the tension between the FLSA's "opt-in" procedure and the "opt-out" mechanism of California's class action statute:

As one court has put it: “There is a fundamental, irreconcilable difference between the class action described by Rule 23 and that provided for by FLSA § 16(b). In a Rule 23 proceeding a class is described; if the action is maintainable as a class action, each person within the description is considered to be a class member and, as such, is bound by judgment, whether favorable or unfavorable, unless he has 'opted out' of the suit. Under § 16(b) of FLSA, on the other hand, no person can become a party plaintiff and no person will be bound by or may benefit from judgment unless he has affirmatively 'opted into' the class; that is, given his written, filed consent.” (LaChapelle v. Owens-Illinois, Inc., supra, 513 F.2d at p. 288, fn. omitted.)

The fact that the opt-in feature is irreconcilable with a class action has not only been reaffirmed as a matter of federal civil procedure (Whalen v. W.R. Grace & Co. (3d Cir. 1995) 56 F.3d 504, 506, fn. 3), at least one California court has held that the opt-in feature cannot be adopted in California class actions. (Hypertouch, Inc. v. Superior Court (2005) 128 Cal.App.4th 1527, 1550 (Hypertouch).)

(Slip op., at p. 3.) After concurring in the analysis supplied by Hypertouch, the Court then added yet another reason why "opt-in" class actions are not available in California:

We add to the foregoing the observation that it is no small matter that California Rules of Court, rule 3.766, which governs notice to class members, makes no provision for notice when the class members opt into, rather than out of, the class. Rule 3.766 addresses the contents of the notice and the manner of giving notice in considerable detail; notice in class actions is not a simple matter. The same is true of notice to persons “similarly situated” in FLSA actions. Evidently, there may be as many as three distinct procedures employed by federal courts in dealing with notice in FLSA cases. Some courts employ a two-step process that extends to the time that discovery is complete, others follow class action procedures and yet others have adopted the old procedures employed in the pre-1966 spurious class action cases. (Thiessen v. General Electric Capital Corp. (2001) 267 F.3d 1095, 1102-1103.) Given such disparities, it is unthinkable that if California class actions under section 382 include opt-in classes, the giving of notice in such classes would not be regulated by rule 3.766. Putting the same point more directly, given the potential complexities with notice to persons “similarly situated” in opt-in FLSA actions, the fact that rule 3.766 does not deal with opt-in notices is a very clear indication that there are no opt-in class actions in California.

(Slip op., at p. 9.) In an interesting procedural close to the opinion, the Court dismissed the appeal because it could not meet the "death knell" standard for the appeal of the denial of class certification:

First. Appellants cannot maintain their FLSA action with the opt-in feature as a class action under section 382. (Hypertouch, supra, 128 Cal.App.4th 1527, 1550.) In other words, as a matter of California law appellants are not entitled to a class action certification.

Second. Ordinarily, under the death knell doctrine the appellate court will review the merits of the decision denying certification. That is not true of this case; neither the trial court nor this court addressed the substantive merits of class action certification in this case.

Third. The order denying class certification is not the death knell of appellants‟ action. The order does not produce a terminal result, i.e., there is no reason why the action cannot go forward with appellants as plaintiffs. Specifically, there is nothing to prevent this action going forward as an opt-in, collective FLSA action. While there may or may not be issues about the statute of limitations, there is no question that this FLSA action as it is presently constituted can go forward to trial.

(Slip op., at p. 11.) In case anyone missed it, no "opt-in" class actions can be certified in California under Code of Civil Procedure section 382.