Posts belonging to Category Settlements



Nationwide Settlements Get a Reprieve as 9th Cir. En Banc Court Agrees to Rehear Hyundai

In early 2018, the Ninth Circuit dropped a live grenade into the already-besieged class action bar by issuing In re Hyundai and Kia Fuel Economy Litigation, 881 F.3d 679 (9th Cir. 2018) (slip op. available here) (“Hyundai”). In Hyundai, a divided panel, over Judge Nguyen’s strong dissent, threatened to obliterate nationwide class actions in the Ninth Circuit. Inventing a new predominance requirement not found anywhere in Rule 23, the Hyundai majority held that a district court may certify a nationwide class alleging violations of California law only after “apply[ing] the California governmental interest test.” Slip op. at 49. Under this test, if there are material differences in the 50 states’ consumer protection laws, then predominance is not satisfied. Id. at 50. In practice, Hyundai erected a near-insurmountable obstacle for nationwide class action settlement, as state consumer protection laws invariably differ.

Thankfully, the impending class action apocalypse has been put on hold. On July 27, 2018, the en banc court of the Ninth Circuit granted the parties’ petition for rehearing, rendering the panel decision non-precedential. Rehearing in the en banc court took place on September 27, 2018, and comes after public interest organizations, pro-business groups, and academics joined forces, forming a formidable alliance to advocate for en banc review.* As set forth in the amicus briefs and the settling parties’ petitions, the Hyundai panel flouted decades of Ninth Circuit authority, including the seminal Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., 150 F.3d 1011 (9th Cir. 1998), which has guided lower courts on settlement approval and did not require a conflict-of-law test to satisfy predominance. Hyundai’s reasoning was also directly at odds with the influential Third Circuit en banc decision Sullivan v. DB Investments, Inc., 667 F.3d 273, 308 (3d Cir. 2011), which held that state law variations do not matter for settlements since no trial will commence.

The amici also warn that, if nationwide settlements can no longer be certified, not only will consumers be disempowered, but defendants would be unable to get their peace. Instead, defendants will be forced to defend suits in piecemeal fashion, perhaps a suit in every state. This defeats the purpose of the class device—efficiency—by multiplying litigation involving the same products and similar claims.

Although the order granting rehearing is obviously good news for the settling parties and consumers, reversal is not certain, partly due to the unusual nature of the Ninth Circuit en banc practice. While the full en banc court votes on whether to rehear the matter, the rehearing itself is handled by the Chief Judge and ten non-recused active judges who are randomly drawn. Depending on the makeup of the en banc court, the Hyundai panel decision may yet be affirmed. However, close observers expect that the en banc court will curtail, if not completely reverse, the panel’s broad holding. One possibility is that the en banc court will adopt the reasoning of Sullivan and hold that state law variations are not relevant to settlements, which would be a clear win for consumers. But, the en banc court could also hold that state law variations can only be a basis for denying approval of class action settlements if raised by an objector (and variations in state law were not raised by objectors in this case), which would be a Pyrrhic victory, benefiting professional objectors and no one else. Whatever the result, both consumers and businesses hope that the en banc court will ultimately limit the damage caused by the heedless panel decision.

*Capstone Law APC, working with Glancy Prongay and Murray LLP, submitted an amicus brief supporting rehearing en banc in this case on behalf of retired District Judge Stephen G. Larson and Professor David Rosenberg of Harvard Law School. The author of this post was the primary author of that amicus brief.

Authored By:
Ryan Wu, Partner
CAPSTONE LAW APC

The Restoration of Eggert by Hernandez v. Restoration Hardware

California Code of Civil Procedure section 902 provides that “[a]ny party aggrieved” may appeal a judgment. For the past half century, courts and commentators have regarded settlement objectors as “aggrieved” parties with standing to appeal. See Trotsky v. Los Angeles Fed. Sav. & Loan Assn., 48 Cal. App. 3d 134, 139-40 (1975). This practice essentially tracked federal appellate procedure and appeared non-controversial; indeed, few would have foreseen this precedent would be overturned in favor of an even older, seemingly-forgotten precedent (see Eggert v. Pac. States S. & L. Co., 20 Cal. 2d 199 (1942)) by the California Supreme Court in Hernandez v. Restoration Hardware, Inc., No. S233983 (Jan. 29, 2018) (slip op. available here) (holding that unnamed class members may not appeal a class judgment, settlement, or attorney fees award unless they intervene in the action or move to vacate the judgment).

In Restoration Hardware, the plaintiffs in a class action alleged that the home furnishings store violated the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act by requesting and recording customer zip codes. After years of litigation, the court certified the class, and ordered the parties to notify class members that they had the option to remain in the certified class and be bound by the judgment, or to exclude themselves from the class and not be bound to the judgment. The notice also advised class members they had the option of appearing through counsel if they wished to remain in the class. In response, class member Francesca Muller appeared through her counsel, Lawrence W. Schonbrun (who also represented the objector in Laffitte v. Robert Half Intern. Inc., 1 Cal. 5th 480 (2016)). After a bench trial, the court awarded the class over $36 million in penalties and ordered the parties to meet and confer regarding an appropriate claims process to distribute the award to the class. The parties stipulated to treat the award as a common fund that included class member payments and any attorneys’ fees, costs, class representative enhancements, and administrative costs associated with administering the claims process. The plaintiffs then moved for attorneys’ fees equal to 25% of the total judgment recovered for the class. At the hearing, Muller (who was served with the moving papers) objected to the attorneys’ fees sought by class counsel. The court overruled her objection and entered a judgment that tracked the parties’ proposed claims procedure. Muller appealed.

Citing Eggert, the plaintiffs argued that Muller lacked standing to appeal because she had neither moved to intervene nor to vacate the judgment. Muller argued that Eggert should be disregarded because it was decided before the 1966 revisions to rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure—persuasive authority in modern California class action jurisprudence (see, e.g., Arias v. Superior Court, 46 Cal. 4th 969, 989 (2009)). She also relied on Trotsky and its progeny to support her contention that class members gain standing to appeal by objecting. The Court of Appeal disagreed and ruled that it was bound to follow Eggert, and that neither Trotsky, Consumer Cause, Inc., nor Wershba made any attempt to reconcile their opinions with Eggert.

On appeal to the California Supreme Court, Muller once again argued that she had standing to appeal under Trotsky, and that California law should be updated to mirror Rule 23 and federal appellate practice, which generally permit class member objectors to appeal. The state Supreme Court disagreed, finding that, first, the right to appeal judgments in state civil actions, including class actions, is entirely statutory, and, pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure section 902 and Eggert, unnamed class members may only become parties of record to class actions by making a timely complaint in intervention before final judgment or by filing a motion to set aside and vacate the class judgment under section 663. Second, Trotsky’s failure to address section 902’s requirements for the right to appeal a settlement, or to distinguish or otherwise reconcile its holding with Eggert, renders the opinion unpersuasive. Third, California state common law, legislation, and procedural rules of court differ significantly from the federal common law and procedural rules, and California’s legislature has chosen to continue Eggert’s rule despite changes in federal class action rules.

In addition to the above rulings, the California Supreme Court also cited several policy reasons for upholding Eggert, including the public policy in favor of discouraging professional objectors: “Meritless objections can disrupt settlements by requiring class counsel to expend resources fighting appeals, and, more importantly, delaying the point at which settlements become final. These . . . professional objectors, are thought to harm the class members whose interests they claim to protect. . . . .  [B]y feeding off the fees earned by class counsel who took the risk of suing defendants on a purely contingent basis, . . . professional objectors create a disincentive for class counsel to take on such risky matters.” Slip op. at 15 (internal citations omitted).

This is the first of the state high court’s opinions to use the term “professional objector,” and its use suggests that the court is now taking proactive measures to curb the abuse of class action procedures by serial objectors, who have been, for too long, exploiting their appellate rights under Trotsky to extort generous side settlements.

Authored by:
Eduardo Santos, Senior Counsel
CAPSTONE LAW APC

Victoria’s Secret Settles On-Call Claims for $12M for 44K Class Members

Late last year, Hon. George H. Wu of the Central District of California granted final approval of a $12 million class action settlement in the action Casas, et al. v. Victoria’s Secret Stores, LLC, et al., No. 2:14-cv-06412 (C.D. Cal., Nov. 21, 2017) (slip op. available here). The settlement came while a decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was still pending, regarding whether the plaintiffs’ allegations about Victoria’s Secret’s call-in scheduling policy were sufficient to state a claim for failure to provide reporting time pay. It resolves a more than three-year-long journey of litigation on behalf of a class of nearly 44,000 non-exempt employees in California from July 9, 2010, to August 11, 2017.

Although the settlement releases several other wage-and-hour claims, one of the core claims at issue was the plaintiffs’ allegation that Victoria’s Secret’s call-in scheduling practices violated California law. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the retailer’s policy and practice of requiring its store employees to call in to work two hours before the start of their scheduled shifts to see if they would need to come in resulted in, among other things, a failure to pay minimum wages, applicable overtime wages, and reporting time pay. The plaintiffs further alleged that employees would be disciplined if they did not call when they were scheduled to do so.

At the pleading stage, the district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ reporting time claim based on an analysis of the plain meaning of Wage Order 7-2001’s reporting time requirements and legislative history, finding that Victoria’s Secret’s call-in policy did not violate the Wage Order. The applicable section of the Wage Order provides:

Each workday an employee is required to report for work and does report, but is not put to work or is furnished less than half said employee’s usual or scheduled day’s work, the employee shall be paid for half the usual or scheduled day’s work, but in no event for less than two (2) hours not more than four (4) hours, at the employee’s regular rate of pay, which shall not be less that the minimum wage.

Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11070(5)(A) (emphasis added). The district court had analyzed the meaning of the phrase “report for work and does report” and found that it means to “actually, physically show up at the workplace.” Tentative Order on Defendant’s Motion to Dismissed Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint (adopted as final), at 7. However, since Victoria’s Secret’s employees did not have to physically report to work and only had to call-in, the district court determined that the Wage Order did not provide a remedy and dismissed the claim with prejudice, while also noting that the policy was “somewhat unfriendly to employees and disrespects their time.” Id.

After dismissing the reporting time claim, the district court stayed the action to allow the plaintiffs to file an interlocutory appeal of the court’s order. The issue was fully briefed on appeal and, in October 2016, the parties presented oral argument before a Ninth Circuit panel. During oral argument, the panel commented that the issue would be more appropriately decided by the California Supreme Court and suggested that the Ninth Circuit would ultimately decide to certify the question for the California Supreme Court to answer. However, before the Ninth Circuit came to a decision on certification of the issue, the parties settled, leaving the question open for other pending litigation involving call-in scheduling policies.

Authored by:
Brandon Brouillette, Associate
CAPSTONE LAW APC

Cifuentes v. CEVA Logistics U.S.: $1.75M Settlement for 65 Class Members

CEVA Logistics US Inc., a delivery company, agreed to pay $1.75 million to settle a class action brought by 65 drivers for unpaid minimum wages, unpaid overtime, and business expenses premised on misclassification of the drivers as independent contractors. Cifuentes v. CEVA Logistics U.S., Inc., No. 3:16-cv-01957-H-DHB (S.D. Cal.), see Order Granting Preliminary Approval and Order Granting Final Approval of Class Settlement here and here, respectively. The final approval of the settlement comes approximately 14 months after Plaintiff Cifuentes commenced his suit in the Southern District of California. Cifuentes brought the wage-and-hour class action “on behalf of all individuals who have performed one or more deliveries in California for CEVA, while being classified as an independent contractor.” Preliminary Approval Order, at 2. The plaintiff claimed that the delivery company “improperly categorized class members as independent contractors, rather than as employees, and as a result denied them the rights and protections afforded by the California Labor Code,” which include meal and rest periods, accurate and itemized wage statements, and reimbursements for reasonable business expenses. Id. Cifuentes also claimed that CEVA “failed to compensate class members for all hours worked, overtime, and full wages upon departure from the company.”  Id.

The CEVA settlement translates to an average recovery of $15,855.26 for each of the 65 drivers and checks are issued automatically, without any requirement for a claim form. The court noted that the “settlement is outstanding when compared with other wage and hour settlements approved in recent years by federal courts sitting in California.” Final Approval Order, at 9. In finding that the settlement class met the predominance and superiority requirements of Rule 23(b)(3), U.S. District Judge Marilyn L. Huff held that the “common question of whether the class members were misclassified as independent contractors predominates over all individual issues, because once that issue is determined on a class-wide basis, the only remaining issues would be determining the amount of damages that each class member is entitled to.” Id. at 7. The court also found typicality and numerosity requirements satisfied because the settlement class consists 65 individuals, all of whom “held the same position with CEVA and claim the same injuries.” Id. at 6. Further, the court found the adequacy requirement satisfied and awarded class counsel $583,333 in fees, which represents approximately three times the anticipated lodestar, finding that a “multiplier of three is well within the accepted range for common fund cases where class counsel has taken the case on a contingency fee arrangement.” Id. at 12-13. Finally, the named plaintiff was awarded $7,500 incentive payment for his services as a class representative.

The settlement joins a growing number of settlements reached in California class actions brought by misclassified delivery drivers alleging wage-and-hour violations. This line of cases and plaintiff-favorable results suggest that, in California, companies must use great caution in classifying, or continuing to classify, their drivers as independent contractors. In addition, this should encourage independent contractors and workers in other industries and positions that share similar characteristics to come forward to assert their rights and protections under the California Labor Code.

Authored by:
Suzy Lee, Associate
CAPSTONE LAW APC