So, it turns out that the answer to my question is GOAT, not goat (he says with tongue planted firmly in cheek). ZB, N.A., et al. v. Superior Court (Lawson) (September 12, 2019) was issued this morning, and, unsurprisingly I think, the Supreme Court dropped an off speed pitch over the plate and froze everybody. You could see the windup with the italics added by the Court to this passage:
Before the enactment of the PAGA, section 558 gave the Labor Commissioner authority to issue overtime violation citations for “a civil penalty as follows: [¶] (1) For any initial violation, fifty dollars ($50) for each underpaid employee for each pay period for which the employee was underpaid in addition to an amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages. [¶] (2) For each subsequent violation, one hundred dollars ($100) for each underpaid employee for each pay period for which the employee was underpaid in addition to an amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages.” (Id., subd. (a), italics added.)
Slip op, at 1-2. See that? It’s the tell for what’s coming:
What we conclude is that the civil penalties a plaintiff may seek under section 558 through the PAGA do not include the “amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages.” Although section 558 authorizes the Labor Commissioner to recover such an amount, this amount –– understood in context –– is not a civil penalty that a private citizen has authority to collect through the PAGA. ZB’s motion concerned solely that impermissible request for relief. Because the amount for unpaid wages is not recoverable under the PAGA, and section 558 does not otherwise permit a private right of action, the trial court should have denied the motion. We affirm the Court of Appeal’s decision on that ground. On remand, the trial court may consider striking the unpaid wages allegations from Lawson’s complaint, permitting her to amend the complaint, and other measures.
Slip op., at 2-3. So that’s it then.
There is, of course, a bit more, given that the Opinion is 30 pages long, but after the procedural history, the balance of the discussion is a detailed example of statutory construction. For instance, the Court finds that the wages referred to in Section 558 must be treated as a compensatory wage, else the provision would be internally inconsistent with Section 1197.1. Read it, if for no other reason than to see the thoroughness with which a sentence can be parsed, and persuasively I might add.
The Court was unanimous in its decision.
It isn’t entirely clear who you would call the “winner” here, given the disconnect between affirming the Court of Appeal and the practical result, but James L. Morris, Brian C. Sinclair and Gerard M. Mooney, of Rutan & Tucker, represented the Petitioners, who no longer have to deal with the potential for an award of unpaid wages as part of Section 558 penalties under PAGA.