Those corporate employers are nothing if not a tenacious lot. They keep challenging class action allegations at the pleading stage despite a substantial weight of authority finding that approach to be improper in most class actions. In Gutierrez v. Commerce Club, Inc. (August 23, 2010), the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division One) reviewed a trial court order sustaining a demurrer to class allegations without leave to amend in a suit alleging, among other things, that the plaintiffs and other similarly situated members of the putative class were injured by the Club's unlawful policy and practice of denying meal and rest breaks to certain hourly, non-union employees.
After stating the procedural history in fair detail, the Court restated some of the purposes for class action litigation:
The wisdom of permitting the action to survive a demurrer is elementary. "'Class action litigation is proper whenever it may be determined that it is more beneficial to the litigants and to the judicial process to try a suit in one action rather than in several actions. . . . It is clear that the more intimate the judge becomes with the character of the action, the more intelligently he may make the determination. If the judicial machinery encourages the decision to be made at the pleading stages and the judge decides against class litigation, he divests the court of the power to later alter that decision . . . . Therefore, because the sustaining of demurrers without leave to amend represents the earliest possible determination of the propriety of class action litigation, it should be looked upon with disfavor.' [Citation.]" (Tarkington, supra, 172 Cal.App.4th at p. 1511; see also Prince, supra, 118 Cal.App.4th at p. 1326.)
Slip op., at 7-8. The Court then agreed with the defendant that there have been occasions where class allegations were resolved at the demurrer phase. But the Court went on to explain that wage & hour cases were not amongst those relatively rare examples:
The Club is correct that there are circumstances in which granting a motion to strike or sustaining a demurrer without leave to amend a class action complaint will be appropriate. A review of the cases in which courts have approved the use of demurrers to determine the propriety of class actions, however, reveals that the majority of those actions involved mass torts or other actions in which individual issues predominate.
Slip op., at 8. In contrast to mass tort actions, the Court found that wage & hour cases were generally unsuited to evaluation of class claims on the pleadings:
There is no discernible difference between this action and the wage and hour cases (or their type) at issue in Prince and, more recently, in Tarkington. As we explained in Prince and reiterated in Tarkington, such cases "'routinely proceed as class actions' because they usually involve '"a single set of facts applicable to all members,"' and '"one question of law common to class members."'" (Tarkington, supra, 172 Cal.App.4th at p. 1511, quoting Prince, supra, 118 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1327–1328.) As long as the lead plaintiff "'alleges institutional practices . . . that affected all of the members of the potential class in the same manner, and it appears from the complaint that all liability issues can be determined on a class-wide basis,'" no more is required at the pleading stage. (Tarkington at p. 1511.)
Slip op., at 9. The Court finished its discussion with emphasis:
We return again to and rely upon the well-established principle, that "only in mass tort actions (or other actions equally unsuited to class action treatment) [should] class suitability . . . be determined at the pleading stage. In other cases, particularly those involving wage and hour claims, [such as the instant action,] class suitability should not be determined by demurrer." (Prince, supra, 118 Cal.App.4th at p. 1325, italics added; see also Tarkington, supra, 172 Cal.App.4th at p. 1512.)
Slip op., at 11.
While their message should be clear, somehow I doubt that it will appreciably reduce that massive waste of resources devoted to pleadings challenges.