Monday, November 9, 2015

But Can They Handle the Proof?

Alberts v. Aurora Behavioral Health Care, No. B248748 (D2d1 Oct. 16, 2015)

This is a wage and hour class action brought by nurses at two mental hospitals. The trial court denied class cert for lack of commonality grounds, but the court of appeal reverses. The court finds that plaintiffs presented enough evidence that the hospitals had a practice of understaffing that—when combined with the professional and ethical obligations mental health nurses have to their patients—resulted in the routine denial of meal and rest breaks and de facto requirements to work off the clock. At the end of the day, the claims depend on a common contention about whether the hospital’s practices and policies fulfilled its obligations under the Labor Code. That was sufficient to establish commonality, notwithstanding the fact that the evidence submitted at class certs showed that the denials of breaks and the unpaid overtime were far from universal within the class. 

The court notes, however, that on remand, the trial court should consider whether the common issues actually predominate and whether the case is manageable as a class action. Justice Rothschild, concurs, reiterating this point. He notes that the alleged illegality here does not arise from on official policy, but from a de facto one. While he agrees with the court that whether or not that existed is a common question, he points out that a de facto policy case is likely to implicate much more individualized proof of liability. In those instances, the line between a voluntarily missed break and a by-the-circumstances compelled one is blurry. Moreover, the record in this case revealed a lot of complexity in the number of class members, variety in job duty and location, and variety in the class members' actual experiences with meal and break issues. Under those circumstances, managing a trial of the case could prove pretty difficult. So Justice Rothschild suggests that the trial court should take a hard look on issues of manageability and predominance on remand before agreeing to certification.


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