calwages.com

Archive for the ‘Attorney’s Fees’ Category

Relatively Formulaic Factual Allegations Held Sufficient to Satisfy Rule 8 Pleading Under Twombly; FLSA Held a Proper Predicate to UCL Claim; Fees Prayer Under C.C.P. § 1021.5 Stricken

In Attorney's Fees, C.C.P. § 1021.5, FLSA, Rule 8, Unfair Competition Law on November 16, 2010 at 8:23 am
CALABASAS, CA - JULY 18:  The Countrywide Fina...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The United States District Court for the Central District of California held that (1) relatively formulaic pleadings in a wage and hour case were sufficient to meet the pleading requirements of Rule 8, even under Twombly and Iqbal; (2) the FLSA is a proper predicate for a UCL claim; and (3) plaintiffs’ prayer for attorneys fees under Cal. Code Civ. Proc. section 1021.5 should be stricken. Whitaker v. Countrywide Financial Corp., No. CV CAS 09-5898 (PJWx), 2010 WL 4537098 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 1, 2010).

Background

A putative class action was brought on behalf of current and former employees of Countrywide Financial Corporation and Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. (the “Countrywide Defendants”) against the Countrywide Defendants and Bank of America, the alleged successor employer and/or successor in liability to the Countrywide Defendants. Id. *1. The FAC alleges claims for: (1) failure to pay overtime in violation of Cal. Labor Code s 510 and s 1194 and IWC Wage Order 4-2001; (2) Cal. Labor Code s 203 waiting penalties; (3) failure to provide an accurate itemized wage statement pursuant to Cal. Labor Code s 226; (4) failure to pay minimum wage in violation of Cal. Labor Code s 1194 and IWC Wage Order No. 4-2001; (5) failure to pay minimum and overtime wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. s 206(a); and (7) unfair competition pursuant to Cal. Business & Professions Code, s 17200 et seq. Id. Defendants moved to dismiss or strike plaintiffs’ first amended complaint.  Id.

Discussion

Defendants argued that plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed because they are factually devoid and simply “parrot the statutory language and proffer purely conclusory allegations”, thereby running afoul of the standards set out in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). Read the rest of this entry »

Judge Illston of Northern District Approves $3.5 Million Non-Reversionary Settlement of Meal and Rest Break Class Action, With Award of 25% of Fund in Attorneys Fees, and Incentive Award of $20,000 to Each Class Representative

In Attorney's Fees, Class Actions, Incentive Award, Meal and Rest Breaks, Settlement on October 6, 2010 at 9:25 am
Seal of the en:United States District Court fo...
Image via Wikipedia

The Northern District of California granted final approval of a settlement in a meal and rest break class action in Ross v. US Bank National Association, No. C 07-02951 SI, 2010 WL 3833922 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 29, 2010).  The complaint was filed on behalf of all hourly employees who worked at a California U.S. Bank in-store branch.  See Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement (“MPA”) at 1.  Plaintiffs alleged that they and other hourly paid employees have not been provided a legally compliant meal and rest period on Sundays and worked off the clock pre and post shift and during their meal breaks. Id. The parties settled the case, and the settlement agreement provides for the payment of compensation to each Participating Class Member based on his or her total workweeks in a Class position during a certain period.  Ross, 2010 WL 3833922, *1.   The court approved a non-reversionary settlement of $3,500,000 for approximately 3,300 settlement class members.  MPA at 2.

Attorneys’ Fees and Costs

Plaintiffs’ counsel sought an award of 30% of the settlement fund,  $1,050,000.00, as attorneys’ fees.  Ross, 2010 WL 3833922, *1.   Plaintiffs estimate that the total time spent litigating this case, including time overseeing claims administration, will be approximately 2647.7 hours.  Id. Plaintiffs’ counsel listed hourly rates ranging from $185 an hour to $650 an hour.  MPA at 14.  The court reduced the award to 25%: Read the rest of this entry »

Second District Reverses Class Action Judgment Relating to Bonuses Allegedly Due After Merger

In Attorney's Fees, Bonuses, Class Actions, Collateral Estoppel, Trial on September 28, 2010 at 10:52 pm
Fiber Optic Candle
Image by Chris Tengi via Flickr

The Second District reversed a trial court’s judgment in favor of employees in a class action trial.  Pearline Zalewa v. Tempo Research Corporation, B210429, 2010 WL 3735240 (Cal. Ct. App. 2d Dist. Sept. 27, 2010).  Defendant  fiber-optic equipment manufacturer was sued in a class action by its former employees who claimed that the manufacturer breached an obligation to pay them annual bonuses, an obligation that allegedly continued for years after they were laid off from work during a business downturn.  Id. The court concluded that the employees were not entitled to any recovery: “All but two of the employees relinquished their right to sue when they were laid off, in return for compensation that exceeded their earned severance pay. In any event, there was no promise made to pay bonuses to the employees after they were laid off.”  Id.

The Trial Court’s Judgment

The trial court conducted a bench trial in January 2008, finding that plaintiffs were entitled to recover a direct bonus under theories of breach of contract, promissory estoppel, accounting, and unfair business practices. Id. The court deemed the bonus payments to be “wages” under the Labor Code. Id. And because the bonus payments are wages, plaintiffs were awarded prejudgment interest and attorney fees under the Labor Code. Id. The court enumerated the amount of the award for each employee, less offsets for monies already paid by defendants, plus interest. Id. The total amount of the award, including interest, was approximately $99,000, and plaintiffs’ counsel was awarded attorney fees of $881,715.  Id. Read the rest of this entry »

First District Denies Alter Ego Liability Even Where Officer Pays Self and Wife, While Failing to Pay Wages and Commissions

In Alter Ego Liability, Attorney's Fees, Labor Code 218.5 on September 24, 2010 at 1:06 pm
I'm not hungry - I'm just greedy
Image by CaptPiper via Flickr

The Court of Appeal for the First District held that an officer’s failure to pay wages and commissions to an employee, while paying himself and his wife during the same period, is not the type of conduct that requires piercing the corporate veil.  Wymore v. Minto, No. A125476, 2010 WL 3687511 (Cal. Ct. App. 1st Dist. Sept. 22, 2010).

Nor do we see any merit to appellants’ various arguments that it would work an injustice to allow respondent to hide behind EWM because it was his decision, as a director and officer of EWM, not to pay appellants wages and commissions in 2007, while paying himself and his wife during the same calendar year. The fact that respondent, as the president of EWM, may have intentionally failed to pay appellants is not the type of conduct that requires piercing the corporate veil. Read the rest of this entry »

Fourth District Affirms Reduction of Fee Award to 12% of Fees Requested Under Labor Code Section 218.5

In Attorney's Fees, Lodestar on September 23, 2010 at 5:58 pm
El Cajon Classic Car & Hot Rod Cruise 062508 -32
Image by christopherallisonphotography.com via Flickr

The Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed a fee award of $7,475 (about 12% of requested fees) under Labor Code section 218.5, where plaintiff recovered only $3,290 in statutory waiting time penalties and the damages sought in his complaint and ultimately obtained at trial were substantially less than the jurisdictional maximum for a limited civil case.  Cochran v. El Cajon Motors, No. D055390, 2010 WL 3637540 (Cal. Ct. App. 4th Dist. Sept. 21, 2010).

Background

Defendant El Cajon Motors employed Cochran as a sales manager at its El Cajon Ford dealership until it terminated his employment in mid-January 2007. Id. *1. Read the rest of this entry »

Northern District Awards $618,812.82 in Compensatory Damages and Punitive Damages in Case Involving Labor Code and Human Trafficking Allegations

In Attorney's Fees, Damages, Default judgment, Punitive damages, Verdicts on September 16, 2010 at 4:27 pm

The Northern District granted a default judgment in a human trafficking and Labor Code case.  Canal v. Dann, No. 09-03366 CW, 2010 WL 3491136 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 2, 2010) (slip op.).

Plaintiff Zoraida Peña Cenal alleged that from July, 2006 to April, 2008, Peña Canal worked for Defendant Dann for fifteen hours a day, seven days a week, caring for Defendant’s three young children and cooking and cleaning for the household. Id. For all of this work, plaintiff alleged that Defendant paid Peña Canal only once: on Christmas day in 2006, Defendant gave Peña Canal $100. Id. *1

After Peña Canal escaped from Defendant, the U.S. Attorney charged Dann with five counts: forced labor, unlawful use of documents in furtherance of servitude, harboring an illegal alien for private financial gain, visa fraud and conspiracy to commit visa fraud.  Id. *2.  A jury convicted Dann on all counts, and the criminal court sentenced her to sixty months in prison and three years of supervised release, and ordered her to pay $123,740.34 in restitution. Id. The restitution amount was based upon the government’s calculation, which was derived from data submitted from the federal government’s Foreign Labor Certification Program, as evidence of the value of Peña Canal’s labor during the period at issue. Id. Read the rest of this entry »

Third District Affirms Arbitrator’s Award Denying Mandatory Attorneys’ Fees to Prevailing Plaintiff

In Arbitration, Attorney's Fees on September 4, 2010 at 6:32 am
Seniors Dancing, Mayfest
Image by StevenM_61 via Flickr

The Third District in Miller v. Lifestyles Senior Housing Managers et al., No. C059843, 2010 WL 3398750 (Cal. Ct. App. 3d Dist. Aug. 31, 2010), affirmed the trial court’s judgment confirming an arbitrator’s decision denying statutorily mandated attorneys fees to the prevailing plaintiff.  Id. *1. Read the rest of this entry »

Northern District Approves 28.9% Fee Award in Wage and Hour Class Action Settlement

In 23(b)(3) Class, Attorney's Fees, Class Actions, Settlement on August 14, 2010 at 12:50 pm
Seal of the United States Court of Appeals for...
Image via Wikipedia

Judge Jeffrey S. White approved a wage and hour class action settlement of a non-reversionary $1.8 million, inclusive of $520,000 in attorneys fees, in Ozga v. U.S. Remodelers, Inc., No. C 09-05112 JSW, 2010 WL 3186971 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 9, 2010).

Plaintiff filed a class action in the Alameda Superior Court on February 17, 2009, alleging that Defendant U.S. Remodelers Inc. violated the California Labor Code and violated California Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders by: (1) requiring its Installer employees to work substantial amounts of time without compensation; (2) regularly failing to provide Installers with meal and rest periods; and (3) refusing to reimburse expenses that Installers incurred in the performance of their work duties, including travel expenses and equipment costs.

Defendant removed the action to this Court, and Plaintiff subsequently moved to remand.  But before the hearing on the motion to remand, the parties reached a settlement, which was facilitated, in part, by a mediation that occurred on October 1, 2009, before Michael Loeb.  The parties also engaged in some discovery, and Class Counsel interviewed a number of Settlement Class members.

The Court finds that the terms of the Settlement are fair, adequate and reasonable. As noted, the settlement was reached after the parties engaged in discovery, conducted a meditation, and continued to engage in arms-length negotiations. The parties agreed to a Settlement payment of $1,800,000.00, none of which will revert to the Defendant. The overall reaction to the settlement has been positive. The Claims Administrator has received 156 claim forms from the 270 Class Members. (Id., ¶¶ 20-21.) Neither the Claims Administrator nor the Court received any objections to the Settlement. No Class Member appeared at the final approval hearing to object. According to the Claims Administrator, assuming the Court were to grant in full Plaintiff’s motion for attorneys’ fees and costs and service awards, approximately $1,108,917.72 would be available to distribute Class Members who submitted timely claim forms, for an average award of just over $7,000. (Id. ¶¶ 16-18.)

The Court approved costs to be paid to the Claims Administrator of $10,000.00 from the Settlement Fund.

Attorneys Fees, Costs, and Service Awards

Plaintiff brought an unopposed fee application, seeking $600,000.00 in attorneys’ fees, $11,274.89 in costs, and $10,000.00 in service awards to him and to class member Boris Moskovich.

Plaintiff’s counsel sought an award of attorneys’ fees based on the percentage method, asking for 33 1/3% of the Settlement Fund.  The court agreed to depart from the 25% benchmark.  See Vizcaino v. Microsoft Corp., 290 F.3d 1043, 1047 (9th Cir. 2002) (noting that 25% is benchmark and “usual” range of awards is 20-30%); Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., 150 F.3d 1011, 1029 (9th Cir. 1998) (stating that 25% is benchmark).  But the court would not vary from the benchmark to the degree requested by counsel.

The Court concludes that counsel did achieve an excellent result for the class, that the reaction to the settlement has been overwhelmingly positive, and that Plaintiff faced significant risk in prosecuting this case given the uncertain state of California law in similar wage and hour cases. The Court also recognizes that other courts have awarded settlement fees of up to 33 1/3% in such cases. However, the parties reached this settlement quickly and did not engage in any motion practice. Seee.g.Navarro v. Servisair, 2010 WL 1729538 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 27, 2010) (finding that proposed award of 30% of settlement fund unjustifiably departed from benchmark based in part on speed with which parties reached a settlement). Moreover, the requested percentage would amount to award that is more than double the fees actually incurred by counsel. Compare Vasquez v. Coast Valley Roofing, Inc., 266 F.R.D. 482, 491 (E.D. Cal. 2010) (awarding 33 1/3% of settlement fund which was “significantly less” than asserted lodestar).

Thus the court found that an award of  $520,000.00 was reasonable.

The court found counsels’ requests for costs in the amount of $11,274.89 reasonable.

The court also approved service awards in the amount of $10,000.00 for the lead plaintiff and for a class member.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

Enhanced by Zemanta

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
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 26:  Customers patronize a ...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

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

Enhanced by Zemanta

Central District Approves $4,385,000 and 30% Attorney Fee Award in Class Settlement of Cicero v. DirecTV, Inc.

In Attorney's Fees, Class Actions, Settlement on August 5, 2010 at 10:47 am
A standard DirecTV satellite dish with Dual LN...
Image via Wikipedia

Judge Avern Cohn of the Central District of California approved a wage and hour class settlement in Cicero v. DirecTV, Inc., 2010 WL 2991486 (C.D. Cal. July 27, 2010) (not reported).  Judge Cohn approved a payout fund to class members of $4,385,000, a 30% attorney fee award of $1,950,000 to class counsel, and incentive awards of $7,500 and $5,000 the representative plaintiffs.

The class action claimed violations of California’s wage and hour laws.  The named plaintiffs are former satellite television installation and service technicians who brought this case individually and on behalf of all other similarly situated current and former satellite installation and/or service technicians against their former employers Mountain Center, Inc., and Ironwood Communications Inc. (currently DirecTV, Inc. doing business as DirecTV Home Services, collectively “Defendant”) for allegedly violating California’s labor and unfair competition laws. Named Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant violated applicable provisions of the Industrial Welfare Commission’s (“the IWC”) Wage Orders, the Labor Code, and the Business and Professions Code by: (1) failing to provide employees duty-free meal periods; (2) failing to reimburse employees for tools necessary to the performance of the employees’ work; (3) failing to pay wages for all hours worked, including hours worked in excess of eight per day and forty per week; (4) failing to pay all wages owed employees upon termination of the employment relationship; and (5) failing to provide accurate wage statements.

The parties engaged in two mediations of the matter before the Hon. William Cahill (Ret.) in March, 2009, and subsequently before the Hon. Diane Wayne (Ret.).

The Court approved the attorneys’ fees request, which represented 30% of the total gross settlement amount.  The Court noted that:

California recognizes the common fund doctrine for the award of attorneys’ fees. Under California and Ninth Circuit precedent, a court has discretion to calculate and award attorneys’ fees using either the lodestar method or the percentage-of-the-fund method. Wersha v. Apple Computer, Inc., 91 Cal.App. 4th 224, 253 (2001); Vizcaino v. Microsoft Corp., 290 F.3d 1043 (9th Cir.2002). The Court, in its discretion, finds that the percentage method is a fair, reasonable, and appropriate method for awarding attorneys’ fees in this case. . . .

Overall, although this percentage is slightly higher than the 25% benchmark for fees in class action cases, it is consistent with other wage and hour class actions where the recovery is less than $10 million. Moreover, there have been no objections to the amount of attorneys’ fees. The Court therefore finds that the amount of attorneys’ fees is warranted by the complexity of the case and Class Counsel’s dedication of extraordinary time and resources to the prosecution of this claim.

Id. **6-7.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

Enhanced by Zemanta