Tag Archives: class action

Fair Labor Standard Act and Individual Liability

In Torres et al. v. Gristedes Operating Corp. et al., Case No. 11-4035 (July 9, 2013), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that a mayoral candidate, a supermarket owner, and an executive can be individually liable for settlement payments arising of a Fair Labor Standard Act class action.

In this case, the parties settled the class action.  A class action is a discrimination case brought by a few plaintiffs on behalf of many employees.  All of the members who agreed to be part of the class (the individuals who were discriminated against) receive their part of the settlement.  In order for a fair disbursement, the Judge must adopt the settlement.

Under the settlement, the defendants agreed to pay $3.5 million to the class.  However, the defendants defaulted on the payments.  The judge’s order allowed the class to enforce the settlement.  Defendants, who sought to change the settlement, stated that they were not bound by the settlement because they were not “employers.”

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.  The Court noted that the defendants exercised “operational control” that affected the class’ employment.  For example, based of their decisions, the employees’ wages were affected.  Because defendants were employers, defendants were bound by the settlement.  Based on this decision, defendants now have to pay the owed money.

via Labor Employment Law Blog: Second Circuit Imposes Individual Liability on New York Mayoral Candidate for Fair Labor Standards Act Settlement.

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Judge OKs $1.6B settlement in Toyota class action

You may remember this story that exploded all over the news.  Around the end of 2009 and start of 2010, the news reported that some Toyota cars had sudden-acceleration defects.

Toyota recently settled a federal class action.  U.S. District Court Judge James V. Seina approved of the federal class action settlement.  The settlement approved is for $1.6 billion, which includes attorney fees and costs calculated at $227 million.  The class members are said to receive anywhere between $125 to $10,000 each.

Toyota has denied liability for the alleged sudden-acceleration problem with the vehicles, as provided in the language of the settlement.  The ABA reports that a spokeswoman for Toyota stated,

This agreement allows us to resolve a legacy legal issue in a way that provides significant value to our customers and demonstrates that they can depend on Toyota to stand behind our vehicles,

It is important to note that Toyota is still facing trials in more than 80 state court lawsuits over the alleged sudden-acceleration defects.

via Judge OKs $1.6B pact in Toyota class action as trial begins in first wrongful death case – ABA Journal.

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Sup. Ct. allows Class Action Arbitration under FAA

In Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, No. 12-125 (2013), the Supreme Court ruled that an arbitrator can require a class action arbitration.

The gist of the case is that Sutter, a pediatrician, had a fee-for-services contract, which required arbitration for all contractual disputes.  When Oxford failed to promptly pay him and other physicians, Sutter filed a class action in New Jersey.  After filing, the court compelled arbitration.  The arbitrator concluded that the contract called for class action arbitration.  Sutter appealed to higher courts, but these appeals were denied.

The Supreme Court explained its decision as follows.  First, the parties agreed to go to arbitration in their contract.  Second, an arbitrator looks at the contract, makes a decision based on the contractual language, and this decision is binding.  Thirdly, and most importantly, the Supreme Court explained that judicial review is limited to whether the arbitrator interpreted the contract, not whether the court agreed with the decision.  Consequently, because the arbitrator considered the contract, the arbitrator’s decision stands.  They only way to vacate an arbitral decision is when an arbitrator strayed from his task of interpreting the contract.  In other words, not when he performed his task poorly.

As a note: In prior decisions (Steelworkers Trilogy/Misco) in the labor context under the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), the Supreme Court had ruled that a contractual language had to explicitly allow class actions in the arbitration clause.  Here, the arbitration clause did not do so.

This raises the question of how the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) reconciles with LMRA arbitrations when they are both present.  In this case, only the FAA was involved.

via Workplace Prof Blog: SCOTUS OKs Class Arbitration.

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Supreme Court and collective action dismissals

The Supreme Court has recently decided a collective action case that affects how the litigation process can be cut promptly by defendants.  In summary of the details below, a plaintiff loses its interest in a collective action when an offer completely satisfies the plaintiff’s claim.  Further, if the plaintiff does not move for certification, even though the lawsuit had already started, the plaintiff’s case ends if the claim is no longer alive.

What this might imply is that plaintiffs in a collective action would need to move promptly when seeking certification.  The question, however, is: would you have enough supporting evidence by then?

In Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 11-1059 (2013), the Supreme Court held that a collective action (FLSA) is moot when the named plaintiff has no continuing personal interest in the outcome of the lawsuit and no motion for conditional certification has been filed.

The District Court, finding that no other individuals had joined her suit and the Rule 68 offer that was ignored fully satisfied her claim, dismissed the lawsuit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.  The Third Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed.  However, the Supreme Court agreed with the District Court, and thus reversed the Court of Appeals’ opinion.

The Supreme Court explained that Sosna v. Iowa, 419 US 393 (1975) and United States Parole Comm’n v. Geraghty, 445 US 388 (1980), held that a class action that was erroneously denied relates back to the time of the erroneous denial — as long as the named plaintiff’s claim remains live at the time of the denial of the class certification.

The Supreme Court, here, found that the named plaintiff had not moved for conditional certification and her claim became moot.  Consequently, the relate back provision did not apply in her case.

As to the Rule 68 offer, the Supreme Court held that the purposes of a collective action would not be frustrated by the offer.  The plaintiff alleged that the Rule 68 had the effect to “pick off” the named plaintiffs before the collection action’s process had run its course.  The Supreme Court explained that in Deposit Guaranty Nat. Bank v. Roper, 445 US 326 (1980), when the Rule 68 offer did not provide complete relief, the named plaintiffs could appeal because they retained an ongoing, personal economic stake in the lawsuit.

Here, however, the named plaintiff conceded that the Rule 68 offer offered complete relief, and plaintiff asserted no continuing interest in shifting attorney’s fees and costs.

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Class action plaintiff can’t avoid federal court

The SCOTUS blog reports on Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Knowles, 11-1450 (2013).  Here, the Supreme Court held that federal courts aren’t bound by plaintiffs in proposed class actions who try to keep cases in state court by stipulating to the amount in controversy.

The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in a unanimous opinion by Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Lead plaintiffs don’t have the authority to bind others prior to class certification and their stipulations don’t make “a critical difference,” Breyer said.

At issue were provisions in the Class Action Fairness Act giving federal courts original jurisdiction in class actions when the aggregated amount in controversy exceeds $5 million and there are more than 100 class members.

Lead plaintiff Greg Knowles had filed his suit in Miller County, Ark., and stipulated that the amount in controversy was less than $5 million. His would-be class action against Standard Fire Insurance Co. had alleged the insurer underpaid claims for hail damage. According to the complaint, “hundreds, and possibly thousands” of people in Arkansas had similar claims.

A federal court considering Knowles’ bid to send the case back to state court had found that the amount in controversy would have exceeded $5 million, absent the stipulation.

Breyer said Knowles’ stipulation does not remove the case from the scope of the federal class-action law. “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,” Breyer wrote. “For this reason, we believe the district court, when following the statute to aggregate the proposed class members’ claims, should have ignored that stipulation.”

via SCOTUS: Class action plaintiff can’t avoid federal court by stipulating to amount in controversy – ABA Journal.

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Donning and Doffing: paying for changing “work clothes”?

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to decide the Donning and Doffing issue as, how does Section 203(o) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) define “changing clothes.”

In Sandifer v. U.S. Steel, a class of 800 members filed a collective action against U.S. Steel Corp.  The issue on the 7th Circuit Court was whether workers deserved overtime pay for the time spent changing into work clothes and walking from locker rooms to their work site.

The FLSA ordinarily requires that workers be paid at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked, and time and a half for hours worked over 40 hours in a week.  However, Section 203(o) provides that any time spent changing “clothes” at the beginning or end of each workday may be excluded from working time by the express terms of, or custom or practice under, a bona fide collective bargaining agreement.  In Sandifer, the collective bargaining agreement did not require compensation for changing time.

In this collective action, the class argued that Section 203(o) exclusion was inapplicable because their work attire did not constitute “clothes,” but rather “safety equipment.”  The alleged work clothes in this case included: flame-retardant pants and jacket, work gloves, metatarsal boots, hard hats, safety glasses, ear plugs, and a “snood” (a hood that covers the top of the head, the chin, and the neck).

The district court held that the FLSA did not require compensation for clothes-changing time.  The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.  The 7th Circuit explained that the articles seems to be clothing.  The 7th Circuit stated that the articles of clothing were both, clothing and personal protective equipment,

Protection – against sun, cold, wind, blisters, stains, insect bites, and being spotted by animals that one is hunting – is a common function of clothing, and an especially common function of work clothes worn by factory workers.  It would be absurd to exclude all work clothes that have a protective function… and thus limit the exclusion largely to actors’ costumes and waiters’ and doormen’s uniforms.  Remember that the section covers not only clothes-changing time but also washing-up time, and workers who wear work clothes for self-protection in a dangerous or noxious work environment are far more likely to require significant time for washing up after work than a waiter.”

(emphasis added).

In addition, the 7th Circuit relied heavily on the fact that the collective bargaining agreement did not imply that workers were to be compensated for the time spent changing into work clothes, and washing up and changing back.

via Courthouse News Service.

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Sup. Ct. March Calendar

Next month, the Supreme Court will be hearing high profile cases – including the gay marriage debate (California’s Proposition 8 and DOMA), as well as voter registration laws.  In addition, the Supreme Court will hear a variety of important issues, such as class arbitration waivers, generic pharmaceutical regulations, and reimbursement or payment under the Takings Clause.

The following are the oral arguments scheduled for March.

Monday March 18

Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona:

  1. Whether the 9th Circuit erred in creating a new, heightened preemption test under Art. 1, Sec. 4, Cl. 1 of the U.S. Constitution (“the Elections Clause”) that is contrary to the Supreme Court’s authority and conflicts with other circuit court decisions; and
  2. Whether the 9th Circuit erred in holding that under that test the National Voter Registration Act preempts an Arizona law that requests persons who are registering to vote to show evidence that they are eligible to vote.

Bullock v. Bankchampaign

  1. What degree of misconduct by a trustee constitute “defalcation” under Sec. 523(a)(4) of the Bankruptcy Code that disqualifies the errant trustee’s resulting debt from a bankruptcy discharge, and whether it includes actions that result in no loss of trust property.

Tuesday March 19

Sebelius v. Cloer

  1. Whether a person whose petition under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is dismissed as untimely may recover from the United States an award of attorney’s fees and costs.

Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett

  1. Whether the 1st Circuit erred when it created a circuit split and held – in clear conflict with this Court’s decisions in PLIVA v. Mensing, Riegel v. Medtronic, and Cipollone v. Ligget Group – that federal law does not preempt state law design-defect claims targeting generic pharmaceutical products because the conceded conflict between such claims and the federal laws governing generic pharmaceutical design allegedly can be avoided if the makers of generic pharmaceuticals simply stop making their products.

Wednesday March 20

Horne v. Dept. of Agriculture

  1. Whether the 9th Circuit erred in holding, contrary to the decisions of 5 other circuit courts of appeals, that a party may not raise the Takings Clause as a defense to a “direct transfer of funds mandated by the Government,” E. Enterp. v. Apfel, but instead must pay the money and then bring a separate, later claim requesting reimbursement of the money under the Tucker Act in the Court of Federal Claims; and
  2. Whether the 9th Circuit erred in holding, contrary to the decision of the Federal Circuit, that it lacked jurisdiction over petitioner’s takings defense, even though petitioners, as “handlers” of raisin under the Raisin Marketing Order, as statutory required under 7 USC 608c(15) to exhaust all claims and defenses in administrative proceedings before the United States Department of Agriculture, with exclusive jurisdiction for review in federal district court.

Dan’s City Used Cars v. Pelkey

  1. Whether state statutory, common law negligence, and consumer protection act enforcement actions against two-motor carrier based on state law regulating the sale and disposal of a towed vehicle are related to a transportation service provided by the carrier and thus preempted by 49 USC 14501-c-1.

Monday March 25

Oxford Health Plans v. Sutter

  1. Whether an arbitrator acts within his powers under the Federal Arbitration Act (as the 2nd and 3d Circuits have held) or exceeds those powers (as the 5th Circuit has held) by determining that parties affirmatively “agreed to authorize class arbitration,” Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l Corp., based solely on their use of broad contractual language precluding litigation and requiring arbitration of any dispute arising under their contract.

Federal Trade Commission v. Actavis

  1. Whether reverse-payment agreements are per se lawful unless the underlying patent litigation was a sham or the patent was obtained by fraud (as the court below held), or instead are presumptively anticompetitive and unlawful (as the 3d Circuit has held).

Tuesday March 26

Hollingsworth v. Perry

  1. Whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the State of California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman; and
  2. Whether petitioners have standing under Art. III, Sec. 2 of the Constitution in this case.

Wednesday March 27

United States v. Windsor

  1. Whether Section 3 of the Defense Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws as applied to persons of the same sex who are legally married under the laws of their State; 
  2. Whether the Executive Branch’s agreement with the court below that DOMA is unconstitutional deprives this Court of jurisdiction to decide this case; and
  3. Whether the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives has Article III standing in this case.

via New March argument calendar : SCOTUSblog.

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Lawyer’s misconduct did not prevent class action certification

In a class action, lawyers’ conduct when contacting (or trying to contact) possible putative class members, is regulated by the court or federal statute.

In this case, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals determined  that class counsel’s faxing of unsolicited advertisement was misconduct.  The decision rested on the question of whether the law firm bribed a third-party in order to obtain a list of the possible putative class members.  Due to a lack of evidence that the payment of $5,000 was a bribe, the court allowed the class to be certified.

I raise this case because it raises the issue of attorney misconduct.  First of all, there are across-the-states ethics rules that govern attorneys’ conduct.  You can access ethics rules governing attorneys by going to the state court’s website and looking for the Board of Professional Responsibility or ethics rules.

As the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals highlighted multiple times, the law firm’s misconduct could possibly warrant disciplinary action.  The Court of Appeals commented that litigants and attorneys should report to the relevant bar authority (the Board of Professional Responsibility) instances of attorney misconduct.  Otherwise, the court warned, unpunished and inappropriate attorney conduct will continue.

In fact, there are ethical rules that discuss the reporting of misconduct.  In Minnesota, Rule 8.3 discusses the reporting of professional misconduct.  Rule 8.3 states, in relevant part,

(a) A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, shall inform the appropriate professional authority.

Secondly, in a class action, the class representatives through their class counsel must show that the class counsel can appropriately represent the class.  In other words, the court must decide that the law firm can properly represent the entire class (which may in the hundredths).

So, if a law firm possibly engaged in misconduct, i.e. shows a lack of integrity – is the law firm’s representation proper?  The court did state that unethical conduct (regardless of whether it is prejudicial) raises “serious doubt” as to counsel’s ability to adequately represent the class.

via Courthouse News Service.

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Wisconsin labor fight heats up

Public school teachers filed a class action against a public school district that claims it can cut their pay at will and fine them up to $2,500 if they don’t sign their contracts on time.

The class action, which has a putative class size of 230 teachers, alleges that the school district’s contracts have illegal and unenforceable provisions.  For example, the contract allows

  1. The district to fire or reduced the pay and benefits of tenured teachers for vague and undefined reasons;
  2. The district can fine tenured teachers $1,000 to $2,500 if they don’t sign the contract by the time the school district wants it, or seek release from the contract.

The class action further claims:

  • The 2012-13 contracts illegally allow the district to “make salary adjustments ‘due to disciplinary action and/or changes in full-time equivalency warranted by the district,'” in violation of Wis. Stat. § 118.21;
  • The contracts illegally allow the district to cut salary and benefits “if in the sole discretion of the district, the educator fails to meet the expectations referenced in the contract, acts in a manner that is not in the best interests of the district’s students, fails to abide by the terms of the Employee Handbook, fails to carry out the duties and responsibilities of the job description, or if the district decides to reduce the professional staff for financial or other lawful reasons,” in violation of Wis. Stat. § 118.21, § 118.21, and state contract law; and
  • The contracts illegally set up “a liquidated damages schedule that begins assessing damages on June 1,” with fines beginning at $1,000, escalating to 2,500, for failing to sign contracts by June 15, or seeking release from contract; this “unlawfully assesses damages to teachers seeking release from their contracts prior to the statutory date for acceptance.”

The contracts state “that failure to return a signed contract … would result in non-renewal of the teacher’s contract,” the teachers say: “A stigma is attached to being non-renewed by a school district, as it suggests that a teacher’s employment was not continued for performance reasons or misconduct.”

The class cites violation of Wisconsin Statute 118.21, under which the school district must fix teachers’ wages, violation of Wisconsin Statute 118.22, under which the school district must set the contract acceptance date at June 15, and violation of Wisconsin Statute 118.23, under which it can terminate permanent only employees for good cause.

via Courthouse News Service.

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VA Can’t Refuse To Treat Medical Conditions Of Inmates

The District Court for the Western District of Virginia refused to dismiss a class action alleging that a womens prison in Virginia fails to treat medical conditions as a way to cut costs.

Five prisoners at Fluvanna Correction Center for Women FCCW in Troy, Va., are leading the charge against the Virginia Department of Corrections VDOC, which they say routinely violates Eighth Amendment rights and shows deliberate indifference to medical needs.

U.S. District Judge Norman Moon denied the states motion to dismiss Tuesday.

“Plaintiffs allege that, as a result of cost-saving concerns, medical personnel at FCCW have failed, or refused, to invest the time or effort required to acknowledge, examine, diagnose and treat them with respect to existing or potentially serious medical problems and concerns,” he wrote. “Indeed, the complaint is replete with specific examples of how Plaintiffs have been adversely affected as a result of this concern.”

The decision states that officials with the Virginia Department of Corrections allegedly received hundreds of grievances, which should have notified them of a continuing problem at the prison facility.  Consequently, Judge Moon held that the class may proceed.

“Given that plaintiffs have alleged that the VDOC defendants remained inactive despite personal knowledge of information disclosing alleged ongoing deficiencies in medical care, plaintiffs Eighth Amendment claim may proceed against them directly.”

The complaint alleges the prison refused to treat medical conditions in the following examples of the putative class representatives.

  • The prison failed to give the proper dosage of medication prescribed to Cynthia Scott after she was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, a disease that formed nodules in her lungs, spleen and liver. Scott also allegedly developed a blood clot in her leg that was left untreated until it traveled to her lungs.
  • Bobinette Fearce, a second named plaintiff, says she has degenerative disc disease, causing her chronic pain. The prison doctors allegedly refused to give her enough Tylenol to alleviate her pain. She also claims to suffer from incontinence and must wear a diaper at all times, but an FCCW doctor said she is “too old to be afforded the surgery that would correct her bladder condition.”
  • Patricia Knight says that a stroke caused her to lose grip strength and made walking difficult. Because her conditions allegedly prevent her from performing any prison job, Knight says she cannot afford the $5 “co-pay” for prison medical visits and therefore gets little medical care.
  • Marguerite Richardson says she visited the medical staff when she developed a number of boils on her leg. A test found that she had a highly contagious antibiotic-resistant infection, but the prison waited five months to give her medication to treat the infection, the complaint states.
  • Rebecca Scott, the fifth plaintiff, allegedly suffers from recurring tonsillitis. She says an FCCW doctor told her he “does not believe in removal of tonsils by surgery,” that the prison has rejected her requests to see an outside specialist.

via Courthouse News Service.

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