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Central District Remands Class Action Based on Local Controversy Exception to CAFA

In CAFA Jurisdiction, Class Actions, Remand on August 13, 2010 at 6:58 pm
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In Coleman v. Estes Express Lines, Inc., No. CV 10-2242 ABC (AJWx), — F. Supp. 2d —-, 2010 WL 3156850 (C.D. Cal. July 19, 2010) a wage and hour plaintiff brought a motion to remand, after the case was removed pursuant to CAFA.  The Court granted Plaintiff’s remand motion.

While Defendants have demonstrated that more than $5,000,000 is in controversy under CAFA, Plaintiff has demonstrated that CAFA’s Local Controversy exception applies in this case. Therefore, the Court must decline to exercise jurisdiction. See Serrano, 478 F .3d at 1022. Plaintiff’s motion is GRANTED and this case is REMANDED to Los Angeles Superior Court.

Plaintiffs were represented by Mark P. Estrella, Miriam L. Schimmel, Robert E. Byrnes, Sue Jin Kim of Initiative Legal Group APC and Payam Shahian of Strategic Legal Practices APC.

Defendants were represented by David L. Terry, David L. Woodard of Poyner Spruill LLP and Sarah N. Drechsler and Timothy M. Freudenberger of Carlton Disante & Freudenberger LLP.

The judge is Hon. Audrey B. Collins.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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Northern District Approves $4.5 Million Settlement Against RadioShack in Expense Reimbursement Case, With $1.5 Million in Fees, and $5,000 Incentive Payments to Each Lead Plaintiff

In Attorney's Fees, Class Actions, Expense Reimbursement, Settlement on August 13, 2010 at 6:20 pm
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Magistrate Judge Edward M. Chen (whose confirmation to the Northern District of California bench has unfortunately been stalled for far too long) approved the class settlement and attorney fee application in Stuart v. RadioShack Corp., 2010 WL 3155645, No. C-07-4499 EMC (N.D. Cal. Aug. 9, 2010).

This class action was initiated in state court in June 2007, alleging that RadioShack had improperly failed to reimburse its employees for expenses they incurred in using their personal vehicles to perform inter-company transfers (“ICSTs”). Plaintiffs claimed for reimbursement pursuant to California Labor Code § 2802 and for a violation of California Business & Professions Code.  Subsequently Plaintiffs added a claim for recovery of penalties under the California Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”).  The case was removed in August 2007. And in February 2009, Judge Chen granted the motion for class certification, certifying a class consisting of “all persons employed by RadioShack within the State of California, at any time from June 3, 2003, to the present, who drove their personal vehicles to and from RadioShack stores to carry out ICSTs and who were not reimbursed for mileage.”  On October 1, 2009–nine days before trial was scheduled to begin–the parties reached a settlement.

Under the Settlement Agreement, RadioShack will pay a total of $4.5 million for the release by the class, as an all-inclusive sum (proceeds to be distributed to the class, attorney’s fees and litigation expenses, costs of claim administration, incentive payments to the class representatives, and the PAGA award to the state), without reversion of any of the $4.5 million to RadioShack.

After attorney’s fees, litigation expenses, costs of claim administration, incentive payments, and the PAGA award to the state have been deducted from the $4.5 million, the remainder for distribution to the class members and/or donation to charity is $2,796,563.31.

Each class member’s award “depends on the number of weeks that the class member worked.”

The Court found that, importantly, “the amount available to the class after deductions for, e.g., fees and costs–i.e., $2,796,563.31–is not far off what the class might be awarded if it were to prevail on the merits after a trial.” Id. *4.

Plaintiffs’ counsel asked for an award of $1.5 million  (i.e., one-third of the total settlement amount), plus litigation expenses which total $78,436.69.

The Court has reviewed the expenses and determined that they are reasonable. The Court notes that the sum is not excessive given that this litigation has been ongoing for more than three years.

Attorneys Fees Application

The attorneys presented a fee application claiming $1.5 million as a lodestar for fees–excluding work performed in preparing for final approval and any post-judgment work that may be needed.  The $1.5 million sum represents 2,116.69 hours of work over a period of more than three years, at hourly rates of the billing attorneys ranging from $600 to $1,000.

After reviewing the billing records submitted by counsel as well as the declarations regarding the hourly rates of counsel, the court found that the number of hours was reasonable given the length of the lawsuit and the vigorous disputes over the course of the litigation (e.g., regarding RadioShack’s defense that it had no duty to reimburse until an employee made a request for reimbursement).

The court did express some “concerns about the $1,000 hourly rate” claimed by one of the attorneys.  “Based on the Court’s experience, this is an inordinately large hourly rate, even if the Court were to assume that [the attorney] has fifty years of experience.”  But the Court concluded that “given the 2,116.69 hours incurred, the average hourly rate for a fee award of $1.5 million total is $708, an amount that the Court deems appropriate, particularly when no multiplier is being sought on top of the lodestar.”

Compared to the percentage of the fund, the court noted that “the total settlement amount to be paid by RadioShack (with no possibility of reversion), the fee award represents one-third of the settlement amount.”  The court found that this was “well within the range of percentages which courts have upheld as reasonable in other class action lawsuits.”

The court also approved an incentive award of $5,000 for each of the two class representatives, for a total of $10,000.  The Court concluded that the incentive payments were appropriate and reasonable.  “Although the class representatives did not enter this litigation until late in the proceedings, due consideration must be given to the fact that they were willing and ready to go to trial.”  The court noted that if the “class representatives had asked for a larger sum, the Court might well have reached a different conclusion, but the $5,000 sought for each representative was viewed as “relatively modest.”

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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Southern District of California Denies Remand in Case Asserting CAFA Jurisdiction

In CAFA Jurisdiction, Class Actions on August 13, 2010 at 5:22 pm
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In Johnson v. U.S. Vision, Inc., No. 10-CV-0690 BEN (CAB), 2010 WL 3154847 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 9, 2010) the Southern District of California faced a remand motion in a wage and hour case that had been removed pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441, 1453.

Judge Roger T. Benitez denied the motion to remand.  Defendant presented a calculation of damages, supporting its calcualtions with declaration from, among other people, the Assistant Controller, Operations, for U.S. Vision, Inc., responsible for enforcing Defendants’ payroll policies and procedures.  The declaration set forth Plaintiff’s most recent hourly rate of pay, as well as the specific number of optical managers and optechs employed during the Class Period, average hourly rates of pay for managers and optechs, number of employees who separated their employment with Defendants, and number of possible wage statements for each employee per year.

Plaintiff argued that Defendants miscalculated the amount in controversy because:

Defendants erroneously assumed “each class member was damaged to the same extent that Plaintiff Johnson was, and that every putative class member, among other things, worked off the clock and incurred a break violation every single day of the entire class period.” Mot. 6. Plaintiff emphasizes that Defendants have access to more specific figures to calculate the amount in controversy and that “each [class] member can be identified using information contained in Defendants’ payroll, scheduling and personnel records.” Compl. ¶ 39.

But the Court held that absent a “persuasive argument that Defendants are required to prove actual damages in order to remove this action, however, the Court must consider the amount put in controversy by the Complaint, not the ultimate or provable amount of damages.”  (citing Rippee v. Boston Market Corp., 408 F. Supp. 2d 982, 986 (S.D. Cal. 2005).)  The Court found that, having based their calculations on allegations provided in the Complaint, Defendants proved with a legal certainty that CAFA’s jurisdictional threshold is satisfied.

Despite Plaintiff’s attempt to provide supplemental information in the motion to remand, Defendants were entitled to, and did, use the factual allegations in the Complaint to calculate the amount in controversy. See Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 567 (9th Cir. 1992) (holding that defendant must use specific factual allegations or provisions in the complaint to support its argument of proper removal). The Court finds that Defendants provided detailed and competent evidence supporting their calculations and showing, to a legal certainty, that the jurisdictional threshold under CAFA is met. To the extent subsequent events show that jurisdiction would not be proper, the Court can address remand at that time. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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