Paige v. Consumer Programs: Court Interprets Brinker, Certifies Meal & Rest Class

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Central District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald has granted a motion to certify a class alleging meal and rest break violations under California law, and in the process has instructively interpreted the California Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Brinker v. Super. Ct., 53 Cal. 4th 1004 (2012). See Paige v. Consumer Programs, Inc., No. 07-2498 (C.D. Cal. Jul. 16, 2012) (order granting in part plaintiffs’ amended motion for class certification) (available here).

The action was stayed pending the issuance of Brinker, after which the parties submitted supplemental briefing as to whether, in light of Brinker, the plaintiff’s “meal and rest break claims satisfied the requirements of Rule 23(b)(1) or, in the alternative, Rule 23(b)(3).” Order at 2. As is typical of class certification motions that turn on whether the predominance of common questions is established, the court focused on the portions of Brinker that “examined whether, when assessing meal and rest break claims under California law, ‘individual questions or questions of common or general interest predominate.’” Order at 3, citing Brinker at 1017.

The parties’ supplemental briefing presented starkly different interpretations of Brinker’s implications as to predominance, with Judge Fitzgerald finding that, while “the Brinker court did not elaborate on every possible form of common proof that may satisfy a predominance assessment,” the plaintiff in Paige sufficiently “allege[d] the existence of various uniform policies that were consistently applied to purported class members,” and thereby established the requisite predominance. See Order at 3. For instance, each of the plaintiff’s declarants attested to the defendant regularly (though not always) scheduling shifts with only one employee on the premises. Id. Additionally, the defendant allegedly had policies dictating that “customers could not be turned away and employees could not leave the business operations unattended during open hours,” which accrued in favor of certification. Id. The plaintiff also presented evidence of “corporate records show[ing] break-free schedules of multiple employees.” Order at 4.

The defendant submitted a Notice of New Authority in order to draw the court’s attention to a ruling on a decertification motion concerning not the interpretation of Brinker but on whether the non-payment of meal and rest break violation premiums is a proper basis for class certification. See Notice of New Authority, Paige v. Consumer Programs, Inc., No. 07-2498 (C.D. Cal. Jul. 11, 2012) (No. 120) (available here). Despite not being bound by the ruling of a peer trial court, Judge Fitzgerald nonetheless “reviewed the order,” but stated that the purported new authority did not affect his reasoning as to certification and the interpretation of Brinker’s predominance doctrine. Order at 4.