Class Action Defense Cases-Blackwell v. SkyWest: California Federal Court Refuses To Certify Labor Law Class Action Against Airline

Sep 24, 2007 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Class Action Treatment of Labor Law Violation Claims not Warranted because Individual Issues Predominate over Common Issues thus Failing to Meet the Requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) California Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action in California state court against her employer, SkyWest Airlines alleging violations of various state labor laws including failure to pay overtime and failure to provide and/or compensate for meal breaks. Blackwell v. SkyWest Airlines, Inc., ___ F.Supp.2d ___, Slip Opn., at 2 (S.D. Cal. August 30, 2007). Defense attorneys removed the action to federal court on the basis of the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA), id. Plaintiff filed a motion with the district court to certify the litigation as a class action, id., at 1, seeking to represent five classes, id., at 4; the district court agreed with defense attorneys that class action treatment would be inappropriate and denied the motion.

The district court readily concluded that the proposed classes, consisting of an estimated 2600 members, satisfied the numerosity requirement of Rule 23(a)(1), Blackwell, at 5-6, and that plaintiff had established the commonality requirement of Rule 23(a)(2) for each proposed class, id., at 6-9. The federal court additionally found that plaintiff would adequately represent the proposed classes within the meaning of Rule 23(a)(4), id., at 13-14. However, the typicality test of Rule 23(a)(3) proved more problematic. The district court agreed with defense attorneys that plaintiff lacked standing to pursue the class action claim alleging inaccurate wage statements under Labor Code § 226(a) because she failed to file her class action complaint within one year of her last wage statement. Id., at 10-11. The court further found that plaintiff failed to provide sufficient evidence to support her class action allegation based on voluntary shift trades, id., at 11-12.

Turning to the requirements of Rule 23(b), the district court noted that “[t]he Ninth Circuit has adopted an ‘extremely conservative view’ [with respect to Rule 23(b)(1)], requiring a finding that either ‘(1) rulings in separate actions would subject defendant to incompatible judgments requiting inconsistent conduct to comply with the judgment; or (2) a ruling in the first of a series of separate actions will “inescapably alter the substance of the rights of others having similar claims.”’” Blackwell, at 15 (citation omitted). The court agreed with defense attorneys that plaintiff failed to establish that either test had been met, id., at 15-16. The federal court next held that a Rule 23(b)(2) class action would be inappropriate because the monetary relief sought by the class action complaint was not “merely incidental to the injunctive relief sought.” Id., at 16.

Plaintiff’s only hope, then, was to meet the requirements for certification of a class action under Rule 23(b)(3) – the “catchall” category which authorizes certification of a class action “whenever the actual interest of the parties can be served best by settling their differences in a single action.” Blackwell, at 17 (citation omitted). The district court rejected plaintiff’s attempt to “lump all five classes together in her discussion concerning whether the prerequisites of Rule 23(b)(3) are met,” finding that she “does not explain whether as to each class common questions predominate over individual issues.” Id., at 18. The federal court analyzed each class individually, and concluded that class action treatment was inappropriate for any of them. Id., at 18-23. Accordingly, the court denied plaintiff’s motion for class certification. Id., at 23.

NOTE: The district court denied plaintiff’s request for leave to conduct discovery to find an adequate class representative for the wage statement claim, citing the well-settled rule that such discovery is only appropriate if the plaintiff was once a member of the class she seeks to represent. Blackwell, at 11 (citing Lierboe v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 350 F.3d 1018 (9th Cir. 2003)).

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