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U.S. Supreme Court Reverses Class Certification, Rejecting Damages Model

In 23(b)(3) Class, Certification, Class Actions, Class vs. Merits Discovery, Damages, Damages Experts, Experts, Use of Experts to Show Class Damages on March 27, 2013 at 4:07 pm
Comcast Cables

Comcast Cables (Photo credit: dmuth)

In a class action ruling that may impact employers’ attacks on wage & hour class certification motions, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5 to 4 ruling today reversing certification of a proposed antitrust class action.  See Comcast Corp., et al. v. Behrend, et al., No. 11-864, 569 U.S. ___ (Mar. 27, 2013).  Justice Scalia, writing for the Court, concluded that the class was improperly certified under Rule 23(b)(3) because plaintiff’s damages model fell short of establishing that damages can be measured classwide.  The District Court and Third Circuit approved certification of a class of more than 2 million current and former Comcast subscribers who sought damages for alleged violations of the federal antitrust laws.

At the trial court level, plaintiffs proposed four theories of antitrust impact, only one of which–the “overbuilder” theory–the trial court accepted.  To establish damages, plaintiffs relied solely on the testimony of Dr. James McClave, who designed a regression model comparing actual cable prices in one area with hypothetical prices that would have prevailed but for defendant’s allegedly anticompetitive practices.  Dr. McClave acknowledged that the model did not isolate damages resulting from any one theory of antitrust impact.  Id. at 4.

The Supreme Court held that the class was improperly certified.

By refusing to entertain arguments against respondents’ damages model that bore on the propriety of class certification, simply because those arguments would also be pertinent to the merits determination, the Court of Appeals ran afoul of our precedents requiring precisely that inquiry. And it is clear that, under the proper standard for evaluating certification, respondents’ model falls far short of establishing that damages are capable of measurement on a classwide basis. Without presenting another methodology, respondents cannot show Rule 23(b)(3) predominance: Questions of individual damage  calculations will inevitably overwhelm questions common to the class.

The Court reasoned that the “model failed to measure damages resulting from the particular antitrust injury on which petitioners’ liability in this action is premised.”  Id. at 8.  Justice Scalia emphasized that “it may be necessary for the court to probe behind the pleadings before coming to rest on the certification question, . . . Such an analysis will frequently entail overlap with the merits of the plaintiff ’s underlying claim.” Id. at 6 (internal quotations omitted).

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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Second District Reverses Arbitration Order in Wage & Hour Case, Citing Lack of Bilaterality

In Arbitration, Class-wide Arbitration, Concepcion on March 20, 2013 at 5:48 pm
BgKahuna squeezes his way inside. Abandoned an...

BgKahuna squeezes his way inside. Abandoned and decaying Ambassador Apartments in Gary, Indiana (Photo credit: slworking2)

Yesterday, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District reversed the lower court’s order granting a petition to compel arbitration.  Compton v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. B236669, — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2013 WL 1120619 (2d Dist. Mar 19, 2013).  Plaintiff was a property manager who filed a putative wage & hour class action complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court.  She was required to sign an arbitration agreement that also barred arbitration of class claims.  The trial court granted defendants’ petition to compel arbitration.

Normally an order compelling arbitration is not appealable.  But the Court of Appeal determined it had jurisdiction, citing the “death knell” doctrine:

An order compelling arbitration is not appealable. (Elijahjuan v. Superior Court (2012) 210 Cal.App.4th 15, 19.) The parties argue over whether this matter is appealable under the “death knell” doctrine, which applies when an order effectively terminates a class action. Rather than parse the case law on that issue, we conclude that we have jurisdiction to treat this nonappealable order as a petition for writ of mandate in this unusual case because: (1) the unconscionability issue is one of law based on undisputed facts and has been fully briefed; (2) the record is sufficient to consider the issue and it appears that the trial court would be only a nominal party; (3) if we were to dismiss the appeal, and the ultimate reversal of the order is inevitable, it would come in a post-arbitration award after the substantial time and expense of arbitrating the dispute; and (4) as a result, dismissing the appeal would require the parties to arbitrate nonarbitrable claims and would be costly and dilatory.

The Court concluded that the arbitration agreement was unconscionably one-sided because (1) it exempted from arbitration claims the employer would more likely bring, such as claims for injunctive or equitable relief from trade secret disclosures; (2) it limited the time to demand arbitration to a period shorter than the relevant statutes of limitation; (3) it retained the statute of limitations period for itself  and (4) it suggested that the arbitrator had the discretion not to award mandatory attorney’s fees under the Labor Code.

The Court determined that it was not violating Concepcion by enforcing Armendariz’s bilaterality rule.

Concepcion did not discuss the modicum of bilaterality standard adopted by Armendariz, which is not a class action case. And Concepcion did not overrule Armendariz. We both agree with and are therefore bound to follow our Supreme Court and apply Armendariz to this case. (Truly Nolen of America v. Superior Court, supra, 208 Cal.App.4th at p. 507.) Accordingly, we conclude that Concepcion does not apply to invalidate Armendariz’s modicum of bilaterality rule, at least in this context.

Justices and Judge

Justice Laurence D. Rubin wrote the opinion for the Court, with Justice Madeleine I. Flier concurring.  Presiding Justice  Tricia A. Bigelow dissented.  Judge Michael Johnson, Los Angeles Superior Court.

Attorneys

R. Rex Parris Law Firm, R. Rex Parris, Alexander R. Wheeler, Kitty Szeto and John M. Bickford; Lawyers for Justice and Edwin Aiwazian, for Petitioner.

Jackson Lewis, Thomas G. Mackey and Brian D. Fahy for Real Parties in Interest.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

U.S. Supreme Court Rules a Putative Class Action Plaintiff May Not Stipulate Around CAFA Amount in Controversy

In Breaking News, CAFA, Class Actions on March 19, 2013 at 6:38 pm
U.S. Supreme Court building.

U.S. Supreme Court building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a ruling today with substantial implications for wage & hour class actions, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court held that a putative class representative’s stipulation that he and the class would seek less than $5 million in damages does not defeat federal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (“CAFA”).  Standard Fire Insurance Co. v. Knowles, No. 11-1450, 586 U.S. __ (Mar. 19, 2013).

The question presented concerned a class-action plaintiff who stipulates, prior to certification of the class, that he, and the class he seeks to represent, will not seek damages that exceed $5 million in total. Does that stipulation remove the case from CAFA’s scope?

Justice Breyer writing for the Court concluded no, reasoning that stipulations must be binding, and a “plaintiff who files a proposed class action cannot legally bind members of the proposed class before the class is certified.”

 We do not agree that CAFA forbids the federal court to consider, for purposes of determining the amount in controversy, the very real possibility that a nonbinding, amount-limiting, stipulation may not survive the class certification process. This potential outcome does not result in the creation of a new case not now before the federal court. To hold otherwise would, for CAFA jurisdictional purposes, treat a nonbinding stipulation as if it were binding, exalt form over substance, and run directly counter to CAFA’s primary objective: ensuring “Federal court consideration of interstate cases of national importance.” §2(b)(2), 119 Stat. 5. It would also have the effect of allowing the subdivision of a $100 million action into 21 just-below-$5-million state-court actions simply by including nonbinding stipulations; such an outcome would squarely conflict with the statute’s objective.

The Court concluded that “the stipulation at issue here can tie Knowles’ hands, but it does not resolve the amount-in-controversy question in light of his inability to bind the rest of the class.”

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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First District Invalidates Arbitration Agreement Citing Lack of Mutuality

In Arbitration on March 19, 2013 at 3:46 pm
"Mrs. F.S. Bliven in auto". Photo sh...

“Mrs. F.S. Bliven in auto”. Photo shows wife and daughter of Frank S. Bliven in a 1907 Franklin Model D roadster. Frank Bliven was a Washington, D.C. Franklin auto dealer. Discussion of this photo on Shorpy.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The California Court of Appeal struck down an arbitration agreement by a defendant in a putative class action, rejecting an argument that an unconscionability analysis that focuses on the lack of mutuality in an arbitration contract violates Concepcion. Natalini v. Import Motor, Inc., 213 Cal. App. 4th 587 (1st Dist., mod. February 5, 2013).

Relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in AT & T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion,  563 U.S. –––– , 131 S.Ct. 1740, 179 L.Ed.2d 742 (2011), appellant car dealer argued that an “unconscionability analysis that focuses on the lack of mutuality or bilaterality in an arbitration provision is ‘an example of applying a generally applicable contract defense in a manner which disfavors arbitration.'”  The First District declined to read Concepcion so broadly, and noted that:

Recent California and federal district court decisions addressing arbitration provisions very similar to that in the present case and in the identical car purchase context have not read  Concepcion so broadly.  (See  Trompeter v. Ally Financial, Inc. (N.D.Cal., June 1, 2012, No. C–12–00392 CW) 2012 WL 1980894 [p. *8] [nonpub. opn.]  ( Trompeter );   Smith v. Americredit Financial Services, Inc. (S.D.Cal., Mar. 12, 2012, No. 09cv1076 DMS (BLM)) 2012 WL 834784 [pp. *2–*4] ( Smith );   Lau v. Mercedes–Benz USA, LLC (N.D.Cal., Jan. 31, 2012, No. CV 11–1940 MEJ) 2012 WL 370557 [pp. *6–*7] ( Lau );  see also  Ajamian v. CantorCO2e, L.P. (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 771, 804, fn. 18, 137 Cal.Rptr.3d 773.)   Read the rest of this entry »

Applying Concepcion, U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down West Virginia High Court Rulings That Held Unenforceable All Predispute Arbitration Agreements That Apply to Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Claims Against Nursing Homes

In Arbitration, Preemption on February 21, 2012 at 5:13 pm
TAMPA, FL - MARCH 17:  Dalton Pepper #32 of th...

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In a per curiam opinion today applying the rule in Concepcion, the U.S. Supreme Court  reversed and remanded orders of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, which held unenforceable all predispute arbitration agreements that apply to claims alleging personal injury or wrongful death against  nursing homes.  Marmet Health Care Center, Inc., et al. v.  Clayton Brown, et al., Case Nos. 11–391 and 11–394, 565 U. S. ____ (Feb. 21, 2012).

The U.S. Supreme Court held that the “Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, by misreading and disregarding the precedents of this Court interpreting the FAA, did not follow controlling federal law implementing that basic principle.”  Id.  “When this Court has fulfilled its duty to interpret federal law, a state court may not contradict or fail to implement the rule so established.”

Background

In each of three negligence suits, a family member of a patient requiring extensive nursing care had signed an agreement with a nursing home on behalf of the patient.  Id. The agreements included arbitration clauses requiring the parties to arbitrate all disputes, other than claims to collect late payments owed by the patient.  Id. In each of the three cases, a family member of a patient who had died sued the nursing home in state court, alleging that negligence caused injuries or harm resulting in death. Id.

In a decision concerning all three cases, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia held that “as a matter of public policy under West Virginia law, an arbitration clause in a nursing home admission agreement adopted prior to an occurrence of negligence that results in a personal injury or wrongful death, shall not be enforced to compel arbitration of a dispute concerning the negligence.”  Id.

The state court considered whether the state public policy was pre-empted by the FAA:

The state court found unpersuasive this Court’s interpretation of the FAA, calling it “tendentious,” id., at 51a, and “created from whole cloth,” id., at 53a. It later concluded that “Congress did not intend for the FAA to be, in any way, applicable to personal injury or wrongful death suits that only collaterally derive from a written agreement that evidences a transaction affecting interstate commerce, particularly where the agreement involves a service that is a practical necessity for members of the public,”  id., at 84a.  The court thus concluded that the FAA does not pre-empt the state public policy against predispute arbitration agreements that apply to claims of personal injury or wrongful death against nursing homes.

Id.

Discussion

The Supreme Court held that the “West Virginia court’s interpretation of the FAA was both incorrect and inconsistent with clear instruction in the precedents of this Court.”  Id.  The Court held that the FAA includes “no exception for personal-injury or wrongful-death claims.”  Id.

Citing AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U. S. ___, ___ (2011), the Court wrote:

When state law prohibits outright the arbitration of a particular type of claim, the analysis is straightforward: The conflicting rule is displaced by the FAA.”  AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 6–7).  That rule resolves these cases. West Virginia’s prohibition against predispute agreements to arbitrate personal-injury or wrongful-death claims against nursing homes is a categorical rule prohibiting arbitration of a particular type of claim, and that rule is contrary to the terms and coverage of the FAA. See ibidSee also, e.g., Preston v. Ferrer, 552  U. S. 346, 356 (2008) (FAA pre-empts state law granting  state commissioner exclusive jurisdiction to decide issue the parties agreed to arbitrate); Mastrobuono v. Shearson  Lehman Hutton, Inc., 514 U. S. 52, 56 (1995) (FAA preempts state law requiring judicial resolution of claims  involving punitive damages);  Perry v.  Thomas, 482 U. S.  483, 491 (1987) (FAA pre-empts state-law requirement that litigants be provided a judicial forum for wage disputes); Southland Corp. v.  Keating, 465 U. S. 1, 10 (1984) (FAA pre-empts state financial investment statute’s  prohibition of arbitration of claims brought under that  statute).

Granting the petition for certiorari, the Court vacated the judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia is and remanded the cases for proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

By CHARLES JUNG

Second District Affirms Denial of Class Certification in Meal and Rest Break Class Action, Holding That Employers Need Not Ensure Employees Take Breaks

In Certification, Class Actions, Meal and Rest Breaks on October 5, 2010 at 5:25 am
Chipotle Mexican Grill at 2608 Erwin Road next...
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In a putative meal and rest break class action, the Second District denied class certification, holding that “employers must provide employees with breaks, but need not ensure employees take breaks.”  Hernandez v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., No. B216004, 2010 WL 3789012 (Cal. Ct. App. 2d Dist. Sept. 30, 2010).  Plaintiff and appellant Rogelio Hernandez (Hernandez) Hernandez filed a class action lawsuit against Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (Chipotle) alleging that Chipotle violated labor laws by denying employees meal and rest breaks. Id. *1. The trial court denied class certification, and plaintiff appealed.  Id. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that it would not be “practical” to require “enforcement of meal breaks” since it “would place an undue burden on employers whose employees are numerous or who … do not appear to remain in contact with the employer during the day.”  Id. *7. “It would also create perverse incentives, encouraging employees to violate company meal break policy in order to receive extra compensation under California wage and hour laws.” Id.

Background

Chipotle is a fast food restaurant chain, and all employees are nonexempt, except for the salaried position of “restaurateur.” Id. *1. Chipotle’s written policies require managers to provide employees with meal and rest breaks, and employees are not permitted to self-initiate breaks and are prohibited from skipping breaks. Id. Chipotle directs employees to record their breaks. Read the rest of this entry »

Eastern District Finds Class-Wide Arbitration Agreement Unenforceable

In Arbitration, Class-wide Arbitration on September 27, 2010 at 5:20 am
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United States District Court for the Eastern District of California rejected defendant’s argument that Stolt-Nielson preempted Gentry, and the court held that a class-wide arbitration agreement was unenforceable as against an unpaid wage and overtime plaintiff.  Mathias v. Rent-A-Center, Inc., Civ. No. S-10-1476 LKK/KJM, 2010 WL 3715059 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 15, 2010) (slip op.).

Background

Ryan Mathias (“Mathias” or “plaintiff”) was employed by Rent-A-Center, Inc. (“RAC” or “defendant”) as an Assistant Manager, a position that was classified as a non-exempt or hourly position. Id. *1. As a condition of employment, plaintiff executed an arbitration agreement (“Agreement”), which Agreement contained a class action waiver and excluded arbitration private attorney general actions.  Id. Plaintiff filed a class action alleging eight claims arising from his employment with defendant, including claims for unpaid wages and overtime, unpaid rest and meal period premiums, and penalties arising from non-compliant wage statements under the California Labor Code and California Business and Professions Code. 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
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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 »

Second District Holds That, Pending Brinker, Employer Has a Duty to Provide Meal Breaks “as a Practical Matter”

In Meal and Rest Breaks on August 26, 2010 at 8:41 pm
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While the California Supreme Court will resolve this issue shortly, in Brookler v. Radioshack Corp., B212893, 2010 WL 3341816 (Cal. Ct. App. 2d Dist. Aug. 26, 2010), an unpublished opinion issued today, the Second District Court of Appeal held that “Unless and until our Supreme Court holds otherwise, we agree with the analysis in Cicairos which held an employer’s obligation under the Labor Code and related wage orders is to do more than simply permit meal breaks in theory; it must also provide them as a practical matter.”

Morry Brookler filed a class action complaint against Radioshack for its alleged failure to provide employees with a meal period of not less than 30 minutes during a work period of more than five hours.  Id. *1.  The trial court certified the class. Radioshack filed a second motion for decertification after issuance of the opinion in Brinker, 165 Cal. App. 4th 25 which the trial court granted. The California Supreme Court granted review in Brinker and the matter is currently pending. Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking News: California Supreme Court Rejects Private Right of Action for Plaintiffs in Tip Pooling Cases Under Labor Code section 351

In Breaking News, Private Rights of Action, Tip Pooling on August 9, 2010 at 2:30 pm
Hawaiian Gardens from the 605
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The California Supreme Court today issued its opinion in Lu v. Hawaiian Gardens Casino, Inc., an eagerly anticpiated decision where the issue was whether Labor Code section 351 provides a private cause of action for employees to recover any misappropriated tips from employers.  The Court concluded that “section 351 does not contain a private right to sue.”

Labor Code section 351 prohibits employers from taking any gratuity patrons leave for their employees, and declares that such gratuity is “the sole property of the employee or employees to whom it was paid, given, or left for.” Several appellate opinions have held that this prohibition, at least in the restaurant context, does not extend to employer-mandated tip pooling, whereby employees must pool and share their tips with other employees. (See Leighton v. Old Heidelberg, Ltd. (1990) 219 Cal. App. 3d 1062, 1067 (Leighton); see also Etheridge v. Reins Internat. California, Inc. (2009) 172 Cal. App. 4th 908, 921-922; Budrow v. Dave & Buster’s of California, Inc. (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 875, 878-884; Jameson v. Five Feet Restaurant, Inc. (2003) 107 Cal.App.4th 138, 143.)

Plaintiff Louie Hung Kwei Lu (plaintiff) was employed as a card dealer at defendant Hawaiian Gardens Casino, Inc. (the Casino), from 1997 to 2003. The Casino had a written tip pooling policy.  Plaintiff brought a class action against the Casino and its general manager. His complaint alleged that the Casino‟s tip pooling policy amounted to a conversion of his tips, and violated the employee protections under sections 221 (prohibiting wage kickbacks by employer), 351 (prohibiting employer from taking, collecting, or receiving employees‟ gratuities), 450 (prohibiting employer from compelling employees to patronize employer), 1197 (prohibiting payment of less than minimum wage), and 2802 (indemnifying employee for necessary expenditures). The complaint also alleged that the Casino‟s conduct giving rise to each statutory violation constituted an unfair business practice under the unfair competition law (UCL) (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200 et seq.).

The trial court granted the Casino‟s motion for judgment on the pleadings on the causes of action based on sections 351 and 450. It agreed with the Casino that neither section contained a private right to sue. The court also granted the Casino‟s successive motions for summary adjudication on the remaining causes of action. Plaintiff appealed.

The Court of Appeal held, “pursuant to the analysis in Leighton, that tip pooling in the casino industry is not prohibited by Labor Code section 351.” However, it reversed the trial court‟s order granting summary adjudication of the UCL cause of action based on section 351. While section 351 itself contains no private right to sue, the Court of Appeal concluded this provision may nonetheless serve as a predicate for a UCL claim because plaintiff presented triable issues of fact as to whether section 351 prohibited certain employees who participated in the tip pool from doing so because they were “agents” of the Casino.

Less than two months later, another Court of Appeal expressly disagreed with the holding on section 351 of the appellate court below. (See Grodensky v. Artichoke Joe’s Casino (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 1399, review granted June 24, 2009, S172237.) The Supreme Court granted review to resolve the conflict on this narrow issue.

The Court concluded that the statutory language does not “unmistakabl[y]” reveal a legislative intent to provide wronged employees a private right to sue.  Based on a review of section 351‟s legislative history, the Court also concluded that there is no clear indication that the legislative history showed an intent to create a private cause of action under the statute.

Justice Chin wrote the opinion for the California Supreme Court, with all other Jusitices concurring.  Judge David L. Minning of the Los Angeles Superior Court was the trial judge.

The attorneys for appellant were Spiro Moss, Dennis F. Moss, and Andrew Kopel.

David Arbogast submitted an amicus curiae brief for the Consumer Attorneys of California.

Respondents were represented by Tracey A. Kennedy and Michael St. Denis

Anna Segobia Masters and Jennifer Rappoport submitted an amicus curiae brief for the California Gaming Association on behalf of Defendants and Respondents.

Dennis F. Moss and Tracey A. Kennedy argued in front of the Court.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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