CLASS ACTION DEFENSE BLOG
Welcome to Michael J. Hassen's Blog. Here you will find over 2,000 articles related to class actions.
Plaintiff’s Pre-Class Certification Discovery Request for Contact Information of Putative Class Members Properly Limited to Employees who Worked in the Same Store Location as Plaintiff California Court of Appeal Holds
The decision of the California Court of Appeal in Williams v. Superior Court (Marshalls), No. B259967 (Cal. Ct. App. May 15, 2015) will have California employers breathing a sigh of relief, at least for representative actions involving multiple locations.
In Williams, the California Court of Appeals for the Second Appellate District (which includes Los Angeles County) upheld the decision of the trial court denying Plaintiff’s motion to compel the disclosure of the names and contact information for all putative class members in a representative wage and hour action brought under California’s Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”).
Plaintiff Michael Williams alleged in his PAGA action that Marshalls failed to provide its employees with meal and rest breaks, accurate wage statements, reimbursement for business-related expenses, and earned wages as required by California law.
At the outset of the case and prior to Plaintiff sitting for his own deposition, Plaintiff served interrogatories seeking production of the names and contact information for all non-exempt employees of Marshalls. Defendant objected to the requests and Plaintiff moved to compel.
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Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) Compels Enforcement of Class Action Waiver in Contract Even if Cost of Pursuing Federal Claim will be Prohibitively Expensive to Arbitrate U.S. Supreme Court Holds
Plaintiffs – a group of merchants who accept American Express cards – filed a putative class action against American Express alleging of the Sherman Act and seeking treble damages under the Clayton Act; the class action complaint alleged that American Express violated federal antitrust laws by “us[ing] its monopoly power in the market for charge cards to force merchants to accept credit cards at rates approximately 30% higher than the fees for competing credit cards.” American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, __ U.S. __, __ S.Ct. __, 2013 WL 3064410, *1-2 (June 20, 2013). Plaintiffs’ contract with American Express “contains a clause that requires all disputes between the parties to be resolved by arbitration” and further provides that “[t]here shall be no right or authority for any Claims to be arbitrated on a class action basis.” Id., at *1 (citing In re American Express Merchants’ Litig., 667 F. 3d 204, 209 (2d Cir. 2012)). Accordingly, American Express moved under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) to compel arbitration of Plaintiffs’ individual claims, id., at *2. Plaintiffs opposed dismissal of their class action complaint, submitting an expert witness declaration that estimated the cost of proving Plaintiffs’ antitrust claims could “exceed $1 million,” while the maximum recovery for any individual plaintiff would be less than $40,000. Id. The district court rejected Plaintiffs’ argument, granted the motion to compel arbitration of the individual claims and dismissed the class action complaint. Id. The Second Circuit reversed, holding that because pursuit of Plaintiffs’ antitrust claims would be prohibitively expensive if pursued individually, the class action waiver was unenforceable. Id. (citing In re American Express Merchants’ Litig., 554 F. 3d 300, 315-16 (2d Cir. 2009)). The Supreme Court reversed.
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State Courts Erred in Denying Defense Motion to Compel Arbitration Under FAA (Federal Arbitration Act) because They Failed to Consider Whether Any Claims were Subject to Arbitration
Plaintiffs filed a putative class action in Florida state court against various defendants, including KPMG LLP, for damages suffered as a result of investments made with Bernard Madoff; the class action named the investment funds, the entity that managed the funds, and KPMG as auditor. KPMG LLP v. Cocchi, 565 U.S. ___ (November 7, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. With respect to KPMG, the class action alleged negligent misrepresentation, professional malpractice, aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty, and violation of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA). _Id._, at 2. KPMG moved to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) on the grounds that the audit services agreement between it and the funds’ management company contained an arbitration clause. _Id._ The trial court denied the motion, and the state appellate court affirmed on the ground that “‘[n]one of the plaintiffs…expressly assented in any fashion to [the audit services agreement] or the arbitration provision.’” _Id._, at 2-3 (citation omitted). However, the state courts apparently found it sufficient to conclude that neither the FDUTPA claim nor the negligent misrepresentation claim were subject to arbitration, without analyzing whether the professional malpractice or breach of fiduciary duty claim were subject to arbitration. _Id._, at 3. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed.
Despite its April 27, 2011 decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S.Ct. 1740 (2011), some state courts have continued to find “creative” ways to avoid its mandate. “The Federal Arbitration Act reflects an ‘emphatic federal policy in favor of arbitral dispute resolution.’” KPMG, at 3 (citations omitted, italics added). “Agreements to arbitrate that fall within the scope and coverage of the [FAA]…must be enforced in state and federal courts.” Id., at 1 (italics added). Thus, “State courts…‘have a prominent role to play as enforcers of agreements to arbitrate.’” Id. (citation omitted). And because the FAA “has been interpreted to require that if a dispute presents multiple claims, some arbitrable and some not, the former must be sent to arbitration even if this will lead to piecemeal litigation,” id. (citation omitted), “[a] court may not issue a blanket refusal to compel arbitration merely on the grounds that some of the claims could be resolved by the court without arbitration,” id. (citation omitted).
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District Court Applied Wrong Legal Criteria in Certifying Gender Discrimination Class Action Requiring Remand for Reconsideration based on Standards Enunciated in Wal-Mart v. Dukes Ninth Circuit Holds
Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Costco Wholesale alleging that it discriminates in its promotional practices based on gender. Ellis v. Costco Wholesale Corp., ___ F.3d ___, 2011 WL 4336668 (9th Cir. September 16, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 17693, 17697]. The class action complaint was filed after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) dismissed a charge that Costco engaged in gender discrimination in its practice of promoting employees. The class action complaint alleges violations of Title VII, and sought to be brought on behalf “of a Title VII class of all women employed by Costco in the United States denied promotion to [assistant general managers] and/or [general managers] positions.” _Id._, at 17702-03. The class action “sought class-wide injunctive relief, lost pay, and compensatory and punitive damages.” _Id._, at 17703. Plaintiffs moved the district court to certify the lawsuit as a class action based, in part, on the declarations of three experts – a statistician, a labor economist, and a sociologist – who opined that Costco’s female employees were “promoted at a slower rate” and were “underrepresented” in management positions relative to their male peers. _Id._ Costco opposed class action treatment, based in part on the declarations of 200 employees and the declarations of its own experts. _Id._ The district court granted class certification, _id._, at 17703-04. The Ninth Circuit granted Costco’s request for leave to file an interlocutory appeal, and proceeded to affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand the matter for further proceedings. _Id._, at 17697.
Briefly, Costco operates 350 warehouses, each containing a general manager (GM), two or three assistant general managers (AGM), and three or four senior staff managers (who are themselves divided into four categories consisting of front end managers, administration managers, receiving managers, and merchandise managers). Ellis, at 17699. The company “promotes almost entirely from within its organization” and “[o]nly current Costco AGMs are eligible for GM positions.” Id. No written policy exists explaining the criteria that Costco considers in selecting employees for consideration or in making its promotion decisions. Id., at 17699-700. Among senior staff managers, however, Costco generally rotates managers among the various categories as part of its belief that this exposure trains and develops employees for future positions as AGMs and GMs. Id., at 17700.
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Supreme Court Decision in Concepcion Compelled Granting AT&T’s Motion to Compel Arbitration of Individual Claims because FAA Preempts California Laws Barring Class Action Arbitration Waivers
Plaintiff filed a putative class action against cellular telephone service provider, AT&T Mobility, alleging violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL), False Advertising Law (FAL), Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) and breach of contract. Kaltwasser v. AT&T Mobility LLC, ___ F.Supp.2d ___, 2011 WL 4381748 (N.D.Cal. September 20, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiff renewed his cell service with AT&T based on the company’s representations that it had the “fewest dropped calls.” _Id._, at 2. Because he alleges that this representation was false, plaintiff filed this lawsuit. AT&T moved to compel arbitration and to dismiss the class claims on the grounds that the service contract included an arbitration clause with a class action waiver. _Id._ In April 2008, the district court denied AT&T’s motion finding the class action waiver unconscionable under _Discover Bank v. Superior Court_, 36 Cal.4th 148 (Cal. 2005). _Id._, at 2-3. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to have his lawsuit certified as a class action; the district court delayed ruling on the motion pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in _AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion_, 131 S.Ct. 1740 (2011). _Id._, at 1. Based on _Concepcion_, the federal court denied plaintiff’s motion and ordered his claims to be arbitrated on an individual basis. _Id._, at 1-2.
After providing a general discussion of the FAA and Concepcion, the district court noted Concepcion’s holding that “California’s Discover Bank rule is preempted by the FAA.” Kaltwasser, at 5 (quoting Concepcion, at 1753). Plaintiff, however, argued that Concepcion did not require reconsideration of the district court’s prior order denying AT&T’ s motion to compel arbitration because (1) “Concepcion left intact a vindication-of-rights doctrine under federal common law” permitting him to avoid arbitration “if he can show that the costs involved in proving his claims exceed the damages he can potentially recover”; (2) “Concepcion did not affect public policy principles of contract law” which hold that “‘a law established for a public reason cannot be contravened by a private agreement’”; and (3) AT&T waived its right to arbitration. Id., at 5-6. The district court disagreed.
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District Court Applied Wrong Legal Standard in Finding Named Plaintiffs and Their Counsel to be Adequate Representatives of the Proposed Class under Rule 23(a)(4) and thus Abused its Discretion in Certifying Class and Approving Nationwide Class Action Settlement Third Circuit Holds
Several putative class actions were filed against various defendants, including Community Bank of Northern Virginia (CBNV), Guarantee National Bank of Tallahassee (GNBT) and Residential Funding Corporation (RFC), arising out of “the alleged predatory lending scheme of the Shumway/Bapst Organization (‘Shumway’), a residential mortgage loan business involved in facilitating the making of high-interest, mortgage-backed loans to debt-laden homeowners.” In re Community Bank of N. Va. & Guar. Nat’l Bank of Tallahassee Second Mortgage Loan Litig., 622 F.3d 275 (3d Cir. 2010) [Slip Opn., at 10]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaints, Shumway entered into relationships with CBNV and GNBT in order to circumvent state-law restrictions on fees that it could charge; the alleged scheme permitted Shumway to make it appear as if the fees were paid to depository institutions (which are not subject to the fee restrictions) when in reality they were being funneled to Shumway. Id. RFC allegedly aided this conspiracy by purchasing CBNV and GNBT loans on the secondary market, even though it allegedly knew that these institutions were acting as mere “straw parties” for Shumway. Id., at 11. The class actions were consolidated, see id., at 11-12, and ultimately a proposed nationwide class action settlement was reached, id., at 13. Certain members of the class objected to the proposed class action settlement, and certain class members sought leave to intervene in the consolidated class action lawsuit; the district court denied the motion to intervene and overruled the objections to the class action settlement. Id., at 9. The Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of intervention, but reversed and remanded the approval of the class action settlement. Id. The district court again approved the class action settlement, and again the objectors appealed: “The Objectors contend that the failure [to make claims against the defendants under the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act (HOEPA)] renders the named plaintiffs and class counsel inadequate class representatives.” Id. The Circuit Court again reversed.
We do not discuss in detail the Circuit Court’s 100-page opinion. In sum, the Third Circuit concluded that “by approaching the adequacy-of-representation questions on remand as though it were ruling on a motion to amend pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c) or a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)6)[,] [the district court] applied the wrong legal standard in ruling on class certification under Rule 23.” In re Community Bank, at 9. Accordingly, the Court “reluctantly” vacated the district court order certifying the class action and approving the class action settlement, and again remanded the matter for further proceedings. Id. The Third Circuit also noted, “we continue to reject (i) the claim that the District Court abused its discretion in denying the Objectors’ renewed motion to intervene, and (ii) their renewed petition for mandamus to recuse the District Judge in this case.” Id.
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Class Action Treatment of Sex Discrimination in Promotion Claim Against Wal-Mart not Proper because Commonality Requirement not Met and because Rule 23(b)(2) Class Inappropriate given Monetary Relief Sought Supreme Court Holds
Plaintiffs filed a putative labor law class action against Wal-Mart Stores, alleging systematic discrimination against women in pay and promotion in violation of Title VII. Wal-Mart v. Dukes, 564 U.S. ___ (June 20, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 1]. The class action sought injunctive and declaratory relief, but also sought monetary damages in the form of backpay. _Id._ The theory underlying the class action against Wal-Mart was not that the company had “any express corporate policy against the advancement of women” but, rather, that Wal-Mart’s local managers “[exercised] discretion over pay and promotion…disproportionately in favor of men, leading to an unlawful disparate impact on female employees.” _Id._, at 4. As the Supreme Court explained, “The basic theory of the case is that a strong and uniform ‘corporate culture’ permits bias against women to infect, perhaps subconsciously, the discretionary decisionmaking of each one of Wal-Mart’s thousands of managers – thereby making every woman at the company the victim of one common discriminatory practice.” _Id._ The district court certified a nationwide class action against Wal-Mart consisting of approximately 1.5 million current and former female employees, _id._, at 1. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the class action certification order, _id._ The Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed.
By way of background, the Supreme Court noted that Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the United States, operating 4 types of retail stores (Discount Stores, Neighborhood Markets, Sam’s Clubs and Superstores) that are “divided into seven nationwide divisions, which in turn comprise 41 regions of 80 to 85 stores apiece,” each with 40-53 separate departments and anywhere 80-500 employees. Wal-Mart, at 1-2. Decisions regarding pay and promotion “are generally committed to local managers’ broad discretion, which is exercised ‘ in a largely subjective manner.’” Id., at 2, quoting 222 F.R.D. 137, 145 (N.D. Cal. 2004). With respect to the individual named plaintiffs, Betty Dukes began working for Wal-Mart in 1994 and was eventually promoted to customer service manager before being demoted all the way down to greeter due to “a series of disciplinary violations.” Id., at 3. Dukes admitted that she violated company policy, but claimed that her demotions were “retaliation for invoking internal complaint procedures and that male employees have not been disciplined for similar infractions.” Id. Christine Kwapnoski worked at Sam’s Club “for most of her adult life” and held various positions, “including a supervisory position,” but she claimed that her male manager yelled at her and other female employees (but not at men) and told her to dress better, wear makeup and “doll up.” Id. Edith Arana worked at Wal-Mart from 1995-2001, and in 2000 repeatedly asked her store manager about management training “but was brushed off.” Id. She followed internal complaint procedures and was advised to bypass her store manager and apply directly to the district manager for management training, but she elected not to do so. Id. Arana was fired in 2001 for failing to comply with the company’s timekeeping policy. Id.
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Trial Court Order Requiring Starbucks to Identify and Disclose Job Applicants with Marijuana Convictions Violates the Privacy Rights Sought to be Redressed by Putative Class Action California Appellate Court Holds
Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Starbucks for allegedly violating California marijuana laws by asking prospective employees to disclose, on a preprinted form, whether they had suffered any marijuana convictions. Starbucks Corp. v. Superior Court, ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Cal.App. April 25, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 2]. The class action complaint was premised on the fact that “[I]n the mid-1970s, the California Legislature reformed the state’s marijuana laws to require the ‘destruction’ by ‘permanent obliteration’ of all records of minor marijuana convictions that were more than two years old. Employers were prohibited from even asking about such convictions on their job applications, with statutory penalties of the greater of actual damages, or $200 per aggrieved applicant.” _Id._ The class action sought $26 million on behalf of 135,000 job applicants, alleging that Starbucks “failed to adequately advise job applicants not to disclose minor marijuana convictions more than two years old.” _Id._, at 2-3. During the litigation, the Court of Appeal held that the plaintiffs lacked standing to prosecute the class action “because none had any marijuana convictions to reveal.” _Id._, at 2 (citing _Starbucks Corp. v. Superior Court_ (2008) 168 Cal.App.4th 1436). Accordingly, the trial court subsequently granted Starbuck’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the named plaintiffs as class representatives. _Id._ However, rather than dismissing the lawsuit, the trial court ruled that plaintiffs could “file a first amended complaint to include only job applicants with marijuana convictions” as class members, and could “conduct further discovery to find a ‘suitable’ class representative.” _Id._ Toward that end, Starbucks was ordered “to randomly review job applications until it identifies job applicants with prior marijuana convictions” and to then disclose those names to plaintiffs’ counsel “unless they affirmatively opt out to a neutral administrator.” _Id._ Starbucks again sought writ review and the Court of Appeal reversed.
This case is surprisingly simple. As the Court of Appeal summarized its opinion, “By providing for the disclosure of job applicants with minor marijuana convictions, the discovery order ironically violates the very marijuana reform legislation the class action purports to enforce. We fail to understand how destroying applicants’ statutory privacy rights can serve to protect them.” Starbucks, at 2-3.
By way of background, the trial court believed plaintiffs had standing to prosecute this putative class action: “None of the plaintiffs had been convicted of a marijuana-related crime. But they contended that California law allowed any job applicant to receive a minimum statutory penalty of $200 per applicant if they filled out an improper job application.” Starbucks, at 3. The trial court agreed with plaintiffs, and found that every job applicant was entitled to receive the $200 statutory penalty “even those who never had sustained a marijuana conviction,” id. The appellate court disagreed, holding that “neither plaintiffs nor the tens of thousands of job applicants they purported to represent were entitled to recover statutory penalties where they did not have any marijuana convictions to disclose.” Id. Rather, “Only an individual with a marijuana-related conviction falls within the class of people the Legislature sought to protect.” (168 Cal.App.4th at 1449.)
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Trial Court did not Abuse Discretion in Denying Class Action Certification of Store Manager Misclassification Claim because Individual Questions Predominate California Appellate Court Holds
Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against their former employer, Big Lots Stores, alleging violations of California’s Labor Code for failure to pay them overtime or to compensate them for missed meal and rest periods. Mora v. Big Lots Stores, Inc., ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Cal.App. April 18, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, defendant “uniformly misclassifies its store manager as exempt employees based on their job description alone rather than on consideration of actual work performed, which involves a significant amount of time on nonexempt tasks.” _Id._ Specifically, plaintiff’s class action complaint alleged that Big Lots operates “closeout retail stores in California, [and] has intentionally and improperly designated certain employees as ‘exempt’ store managers in order to avoid payment of overtime wages and other benefits required by [California law].” _Id._ Plaintiffs’ counsel moved to certify the litigation as a class action; the trial court denied the motion finding “the company does not operate its stores in a standardized manner and has no systematic practice of misclassification of managers.” _Id._ Plaintiffs appealed. The California Court of Appeal affirmed.
The evidence presented by both sides was substantial. Plaintiffs cited defendant’s deposition testimony to establish that Big Lots “classified all its store managers in California as falling within the ‘executive exemption’” as its basis for failing to pay them overtime or provide meal and rest breaks. Mora, at 4, Plaintiffs also submitted declarations from 44 putative class members to “demonstrate that the basic job duties of store managers in California are the same regardless of location and that Big Lots runs all its stores in the state in a uniform and standardized manner.” Id. These declarations also stated that “Strict compliance with corporate manuals and actions plans, which set forth state-wide policies and procedures, is required; and such compliance is ensured by district managers, who supervise all store managers.” Moreover, “training of store managers is standardized, and their job performance is evaluated on the same basis and on the same form regardless of purported store-to-store differences.” Id. The declarations “averred that store managers are primarily engaged in nonexempt activities and routinely work more than 40 hours per week,” and that they “typically spend more than 75% of their time performing the same physical labor and routine clerical tasks” as nonexempt employees. Id., at 4-5. Finally, plaintiffs submitted an expert declaration in support of their motion for class action treatment. Id., at 5-6.
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District Court Failed to Consider the Manner in which a Class Action Trial would Proceed Prior to Granting Class Action Treatment, Requiring Reversal of Class Action Certification for Abuse of Discretion Fifth Circuit Holds
Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Chalmette Refining following the release of petroleum coke dust from the Chalmette Refinery. Madison v. Chalmette Refining, L.L.C., ___ F.3d ___ (5th Cir. April 24, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiffs (a group of school children and their parent and teachers) were exposed to the petroleum coke dust while reenacting a battle at the Chalmette National Battlefield, located adjacent to the refinery. _Id._ The class action complaint sought damages for “personal injury, fear, anguish, discomfort, inconvenience, pain and suffering, emotional distress, psychiatric and psychological damages, evacuation, economic damages, and property damages.” _Id._ Consistent with Fifth Circuit authority, the district court allowed the parties to conduct pre-certification discovery relevant to the propriety of class action treatment. _Id._ Defense attorneys deposed the five named plaintiffs, but plaintiffs’ counsel elected not to conduct discovery. _Id._ Plaintiffs then sought class action certification of a Rule 23(b)(3) class, which defendant opposed. _Id._, at 2-3. “Over two years later, the district court held a hearing on the motion to certify the class. At the conclusion of that hearing, and without any evidence being introduced, the district court orally granted Plaintiffs’ motion.” _Id._, at 3. Defendant petitioned the Fifth Circuit for leave to take an interlocutory appeal, which the Fifth Circuit granted. _Id._ Two months later (and after the Fifth Circuit had granted defendant’s petition for interlocutory appeal), the district court issued a written order granting class certification. _Id._ The Circuit Court reversed.
After summarizing the requirements for class action treatment under Rule 23, see Madison, at 3-4, the Circuit Court opened its analysis at page 4 with the following observation: “Recognizing the important due process concerns of both plaintiffs and defendants inherent in the certification decision, the Supreme Court requires district courts to conduct a rigorous analysis of Rule 23 prerequisites.” The Fifth Circuit stressed that the moving party bears the burden of satisfying the requirements of Rule 23, and that the district court must take “‘a close look at the case before it is accepted as a class action.’” Id., at 4 (quoting Amchem Prods. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 613 (1997)). The lower court, however, failed to perform such an analysis. Rather, the district court found it sufficient that “there is one set of operative facts that [will] determine liability” because “Plaintiffs were either on the battlefield and exposed to the coke dust or they were not.” Id., at 6.
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