Faulkinbury v. Boyd & Associates: California Appellate Court Reverses Denial of Certification

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California’s Court of Appeal continues to articulate a measured, well-reasoned class action jurisprudence, most recently by taking a second look at its own order affirming a trial court’s denial of class certification. See Faulkinbury v. Boyd & Assocs., Inc., ___ Cal. Rptr. 3d ___ (Cal. Ct. App. 2013) (slip opinion available here).

In the underlying action, the plaintiffs sued on behalf of some 4,000 fellow security guards, alleging nonpayment of overtime as well as meal and rest break violations. The trial court denied certification across the board, and on appeal the certification as to the overtime claims was granted. However, pre-Brinker, the Court of Appeal affirmed the denial of certification for the meal and rest break claims. See Faulkinbury v. Boyd & Assocs., Inc., 185 Cal. App. 4th 1363 (2010).

The California Supreme Court later granted review and held pending further decision in its landmark Brinker decision (53 Cal. 4th 1004). Upon review in light of Brinker, the Court of Appeal has now ordered that the same meal and rest break claims be certified. Increasingly, despite having been assessed as something of a draw when it was issued, Brinker is looking like a net benefit to workers seeking to enforce California’s meal and rest break statutes, with Faulkinbury vividly illustrating what workers faced both before and after Brinker.

While the court’s pre-Brinker analysis was barely indistinguishable from a rough finding on the merits (“the trial court reasonably could conclude there was insufficient evidence of classwide denial of off-duty meal breaks” (185 Cal. App. 4th at 1383)), the post-Brinker analysis focused on the plaintiff’s theory of liability, consistent with Brinker and other similarly-reasoned authority. The court found persuasive evidence that the defendant’s meal break policy “was uniformly and consistently applied to all security guard employees.” As such, citing Brinker, the court held that “‘[c]laims alleging that a uniform policy consistently applied to a group of employees is in violation of the wage and hour laws are of the sort routinely, and properly, found suitable for class treatment.’” Slip op. at 13 (internal citation omitted).

This most recent Faulkinbury decision is notable in making direct reference to and relying on Justice Werdegar’s Brinker concurrence, noting that “if an employer’s records show no meal period for a given shift, a rebuttable presumption arises that the employee was not relieved of duty and no meal period was provided, shifting the burden to the employer to show the meal period was waived.” Slip op. at 10, citing Brinker, 53 Cal. 4th at 1052 (Werdegar, J, concurring). Thus, rather than giving rise to individual questions that destroy the predominance necessary for certification because such records speak to the “why” behind missed breaks, the Werdegar concurrence, and now Faulkinbury, sensibly regards such evidence as tending to validate a plaintiff’s theory of meal break liability.

The Faulkinbury panel included Acting Presiding Justice William F. Rylaarsdam, Associate Justice Richard D. Fybel, and Associate Justice Eileen Moore. Justice Fybel wrote the unanimous opinion.