Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Plaintiffs' Wage & Hour Play: Stick with the Policy

Jones v. Farmers Insurance Exchange, No. B237765 (D2d3 Nov. 26, 2013)

Finding that the plaintiff’s wage and hour case implicated a class-wide policy, the court of appeal reverses a trial court’s denial of class certification.

Plaintiff Kwesi Jones was an automotive claims adjuster for defendant Farmers.  After Jones was fired, for repeatedly claiming wages for time that Farmers deemed un-compensable, Jones sued Farmers in a putative class action. Jones alleged that Farmers had a policy whereby its automobile claims adjusters were required to do some computer-based work administrative work while at home at the beginning of the day, but Farmers didn’t start paying them until they arrived on the scene of their first adjustment of the day. Farmers denied it had such a policy, and argued that idiosyncratic issues about the administrative work prevented common issues from predominating, and that precluded class certification. Farmers also argued that Jones was an inadequate class representative, given that, although Jones’s attorney submitted a declaration attesting to Jones’s adequacy, Jones did not personally submit a declaration explaining that he was aware of his obligations as a class rep and prepared to fulfill them. The trial court denied certification on both grounds. The trial court also refused to permit Plaintiff to amend his class definition and theory in an amended certification motion. Plaintiff appealed.

Like in Division Seven’s recent opinion in Benton, the court held that the case was controlled by reasoning from the Supreme Court’s 2012 opinion in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court. The court noted that under Brinker, the focus of the predominance inquiry must be on the plaintiff’s theory of the case.  Here, Jones’s theory was that Farmers had a uniform policy of failing to compensate. Although Farmers denied that such a policy existed, its denial was an issue that could be addressed on a class-wide basis. The various other individualized issues raised by Farmers and relied upon by the trial court all dealt with whether individual class members could recover damages. Because that did not implicate Jones's core theory, the trial court erred in focusing on these issues in finding that a lack of predominant common issues.

As to Jones’s adequacy, the court held that his failure to personally submit a declaration explaining that he was aware of his duties as a class representative was substantial evidence sufficient to justify the trial court’s denial of the motion on that ground. But the remedy for Jones’s inadequacy was to let counsel try to locate a more suitable plaintiff, not to deny the motion outright. So the court ordered a remand to permit class counsel to do just that.  (And in a footnote, the court also suggests that Jones could also just submit his own declaration to establish that he was, in fact, an adequate class rep.)

Finally, the trail court did not err in refusing to permit the plaintiff to file an amended motion. Jones’s appeal did not show that he would have been entitled to certification of a broader class than what was alleged in the operative complaint. Consequently, there was no prejudice in denying the opportunity to amend, and thus no reversible error on that ground.

Reversed and remanded.

1 comment:

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