District Court (E.D. Cal.) certifies a collective action of grape farm workers

United States District Court Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill (Eastern District of California) granted a motion to certify a collective action of grape farm workers pursuant to he Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 210 et seq.  Gomez v. H & R Gunlund Ranches, Inc., 2010 WL 5232973 (E.D.Cal. Dec 16, 2010).  The Court applied the more common two-stage certification approach used in FLSA actions.  The Court rejected the defendant's argument that the plaintiffs were obligated to provide evidence that other would opt-in if given the opportunity to do so.  The Court then issued instructions on required revisions to the proposed notice, including removal of all references to state law claims.  The Court refused to grant the defendant's request to limit the plaintiffs' ability to communicate with opt-in Plaintiffs.  The Court also refused to preclude additional notice through Spanish language media, noting that maximizing notice was beneficial and rejecting the argument that such media, often used in class actions, would somehow constitute a violation of professional responsibility rules.

District Court declines to decertify class because of alleged conflict-based inadequacy of counsel

United States District Court Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill (Eastern District of California) denied a renewed motion to decertify a class of former members of Calcot that marketed their cotton in a Seasonal Pool.  Andrews Farms v. Calcot, LTD., 2010 WL 3341963 (E.D.Cal. Aug. 23, 2010).  Defendants argued that counsel was inadequate because of an irreconcilable conflict between the interests of a former named plaintiff represented by counsel and the interests of the certified class.  The Court found class counsel to be adequate and declined to apply a mechanical disqualification rule:

Because class actions are unique, “the traditional rules that have developed in the course of attorneys' representation of the interests of clients outside of the class action context should not be mechanically applied to the problems that arise in the settlement of class action litigation.” In re Agent Orange Prod. Liab. Liti., 800 F.2d 14, 19 (2nd Cir.1986). Class actions provide a particular problem with respect to the rules on conflict because “the potential for conflicts in the course of representing numerous class members is greatly enhanced.” In re Joint Eastern and Southern Dist. Asbestos Litig., 133 F.R.D. 425, 431 (S.D.N.Y.1990). Thus, “although automatic disqualification might promote the salutary ends of confidentiality and loyalty,” the courts do not apply such rules automatically in a class action context, because automatic disqualification “would have a serious adverse effect on class actions.” In re Agent Orange, 800 F.2d at 18. Accordingly, to determine whether class counsel will represent the interests of the class vigorously, the Court must employ “a balancing of the interests of the various groups of class members and of the interest of the public and the court in achieving a just and expeditious resolution of the dispute.” In re Joint Eastern and Southern Dist. Absestos Litig., 133 F.R.D. at 431 (quoting In re Agent Orange, 800 F.2d at 19).

Slip op., at 8.