Episode 6, which is a smidge longer than usual, is now available for streaming and direct download and through iTunes and the XBox music store soon after that. Thanks to Ken Sulzer of Proskauer and Eric Kingsley for contributing as guests.
In Urbino v. Orkin Servs. of California, Inc. (9th Cir. Aug. 13, 2013), the Ninth Circuit took up the question of whether PAGA claims aggregate for purposes of CAFA's damage prerequisite. Plaintiff, a California citizen, worked in a nonexempt, hourly paid position for defendants, each of whom is a corporate citizen of another state, in California. Alleging that defendants illegally deprived him and other nonexempt employees of meal periods, overtime and vacation wages, and accurate itemized wage statements, plaintiff filed a representative PAGA action. Defendants removed. Plaintiff moved to remand. The district court was obligated to decide whether the potential penalties could be combined or aggregated to satisfy the amount in controversy requirement. If they could, federal diversity jurisdiction would lie because statutory penalties for initial violations of California’s Labor Code would total $405,500 and penalties for subsequent violations would aggregate to $9,004,050. If not, the $75,000 threshold would not be met because penalties arising from plaintiff’s claims would be limited to $11,602.40. Acknowledging a split of opinion, the district court found PAGA claims to be common and undivided and therefore capable of aggregation.
The Court examined the "common and undivided interest" exception to the rule that multiple plaintiffs cannot aggregate claims. Observing that common questions do not create that common and undivided interest, the Court said:
But simply because claims may have “questions of fact and law common to the group” does not mean they have a common and undivided interest. Potrero Hill Cmty. Action Comm. v. Hous. Auth., 410 F.2d 974, 977 (9th Cir. 1969). Only where the claims can strictly “be asserted by pluralistic entities as such,” id., or, stated differently, the defendant “owes an obligation to the group of plaintiffs as a group and not to the individuals severally,” will a common and undivided interest exist, Gibson v. Chrysler Corp., 261 F.3d 927, 944 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Morrison v. Allstate Indem. Co., 228 F.3d 1255, 1262 (11th Cir. 2000)).
Slip op., at 8.
The defendants then argued that the interest asserted by plaintiff was not his, but was actually the state's interest. The Court's majority did not find that argument compelling:
To the extent Plaintiff can—and does—assert anything but his individual interest, however, we are unpersuaded that such a suit, the primary benefit of which will inure to the state, satisfies the requirements of federal diversity jurisdiction. The state, as the real party in interest, is not a “citizen” for diversity purposes. See Navarro Sav. Ass’n v. Lee, 446 U.S. 458, 461 (1980) (courts “must disregard nominal or formal parties and rest jurisdiction only upon the citizenship of real parties to the controversy.”); Mo., Kan. & Tex. Ry. Co. v. Hickman, 183 U.S. 53, 59 (1901); see also Moor v. Cnty. of Alameda, 411 U.S. 693, 717 (1973) (explaining that “a State is not a ‘citizen’ for purposes of the diversity jurisdiction”).
Slip op., at 9. By the way, this cleverly avoids deciding an unnecessary issue that is of some consequence in the world of arbitration. It does, however, suggest a point upon which the California Supreme Court will likely have to express an opinion when it decides whether PAGA claims are excused from arbitration clause enforcement or, alternatively, from arbitration clauses that preclude “class” claims.
The dissent, like the majority opinion, is also relatively short, but it is also well argued.
Thanks to the tipster for directing me to the decision (since I don't know whether you want to be identified, you remain anonymous).
NOTE: This is an updated version of an earlier post on this case. The older post has been removed.
In Rodriguez v. AT&T Mobility Services LLC (9th Cir. Aug. 27, 2013), the plaintiff brought a putative class action against AT&T Mobility Services, LLC, on behalf of himself and all other similarly situated retail sales managers of AT&T wireless stores in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The plaintiff asserted various claims related to alleged unpaid wages, overtime compensation, and damages for statutory violations, filing in Los Angeles County Superior Court in a doomed effort to escape federal court. AT&T removed the case to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2). Plaintiff moved to remand the case to state court, arguing that defendant could not establish subject-matter jurisdiction because the total amount in controversy did not exceed $5 million. Plaintiff cited his First Amended Complaint, in which he alleged as much, that “the aggregate amount in controversy is less than five million dollars.” To bolster his position, in that pleading, he also “waive[d] seeking more than five million dollars ($5,000,000) regarding the aggregate amount in controversy for the class claims alleged.” The district court rejected AT&T’s argument and ordered remand to state court. The trial court did not address the parties’ calculations of amount in controversy.
The Ninth Circuit recognized the applicability of the U.S. Supreme Court's first CAFA decision, Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Knowles, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1345 (2013). As to Standard Fire, the parties agreed that Standard Fire mandated reversal of the district court's remand order, which was issued before Standard Fire was decided. The Ninth Circuit directed the district court to reconsider the remand motion. Slip op., at 7.
On the second issue involved in the appeal, the burden of proof, the Court held that Standard Fire overruled Lowdermilk v. U.S. Bank National Association, 479 F.3d 994 (9th Cir. 2007), which had imposed a "legal certainty" standard, instead of a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, for defeating a pleading’s allegations of amount-in-controversy:
The reasoning behind Lowdermilk's imposition of the legal certainty standard is clearly irreconcilable with Standard Fire. We hold that Standard Fire has so undermined the reasoning of our decision in Lowdermilk that the latter has been effectively overruled. A defendant seeking removal of a putative class action must demonstrate, by a preponderance of evidence, that the aggregate amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum. This standard conforms with a defendant's burden of proof when the plaintiff does not plead a specific amount in controversy.
Slip op., at 14. The Court went on to observe that a “lead plaintiff of a putative class cannot reduce the amount in controversy on behalf of absent class members, so there is no justification for assigning to the allegation weight so significant that it affects a defendant's right to a federal forum under § 1332(d)(2).” Slip op., at 15.
With this decision in mind, a lead plaintiff is taking a serious chance with their adequacy if there is an attempted waiver of any recovery exceeding $5 million that cannot be supported down the road as having been based on a good faith calculation of recoverable damages.