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Lewis v. Starbucks Corp.

September 10, 2008

JONELLE LEWIS, ON BEHALF OF HERSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
STARBUCKS CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Jonelle Lewis ("Plaintiff") brought a class action lawsuit against Starbucks Corporation ("Defendant" or "Starbucks"), seeking reimbursement for mileage expenses under California Labor Code § 2802. Plaintiff filed a Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement on April 28, 2008. Defendant does not oppose Plaintiff's motion, and does not oppose class action certification for settlement purposes only.

For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement is GRANTED.*fn1

BACKGROUND

On or about December 2005, Plaintiff began working for Defendant as an assistant manager at the Starbucks coffee store located in Martell, California. Plaintiff was promoted to store manager in May 2006, and worked as a shift supervisor beginning in July 2006. Plaintiff resigned from Starbucks on March 9, 2007. During her employment with Defendant, Plaintiff alleges she regularly used her personal vehicle to perform work-related duties. Plaintiff alleges that she requested reimbursement from Starbucks for her mileage expenses on various occasions, and "was always advised that, as a matter of company policy, Starbucks does not reimburse employees for mileage expenses." Plaintiff further alleges that Starbucks' California shift supervisors, store managers, and assistant store managers regularly use their personal vehicles to perform work-related duties, and Starbucks does not reimburse those employees for their mileage expenses.

On March 12, 2007, Plaintiff, acting on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, filed her First Amended Complaint for Damages, Restitution, and Civil Penalties in this Court under diversity jurisdiction.

Plaintiff alleges four causes of action in her complaint: (1) Failure to Reimburse Business Expenses; (2) Failure to Pay All Wages Owed at Termination;*fn2 (3) Unfair Competition; and (4) Civil Penalties. Plaintiff's causes of action allege violations of California Labor Code §§ 201, 202, 203, 218, 218.5, 218.6, 2802, 2699, and 2699.3, as well as violations of California Business and Professions Code §§ 17200 and 17203. Plaintiff also asserts her right to recover attorney's fees pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure § 1021.5. All of Defendant's alleged violations stem from Plaintiff's allegation that Defendant failed to reimburse class members for mileage expenses incurred in the course of employment.

On April 28, 2008, Plaintiff moved for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement, and sought certification of the settlement class for settlement purposes only. The parties have engaged in discovery, including interrogatories, document requests, the deposition of Plaintiff by Defendant, and the Court's granting of a motion to compel Defendant to provide the names and addresses of class members. Prior to the release of this information by Defendant, the parties submitted to mediation before the Hon. Edward A. Infante (Ret.), resulting in a final Settlement, including Defendant's maximum payment of $3,000,000, resolving all claims asserted in this litigation.

There are approximately 30,000 class members, consisting of shift supervisors, store managers, and assistant store managers working for Defendant in California during the period from March 12, 2003 to March 19, 2008. In the Settlement Stipulation filed concurrently with this Motion, Plaintiff estimates class members who submit a claim will receive an average of $60.

On May 8, 2008, Defendant filed its Statement of Non-Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement. Defendant does not oppose class action certification for settlement purposes only.

STANDARD

A court may certify a class if a plaintiff demonstrates that all of the prerequisites of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) have been met, and that at least one of the requirements of Rule 23(b) have been met. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23; see also Valentino v. Carter-Wallace, Inc., 97 F.3d 1227, 1234 (9th Cir. 1996). Before certifying a class, the trial court must conduct a "rigorous analysis" to determine whether the party seeking certification has met the prerequisites of Rule 23. Id. at 1233. While the trial court has broad discretion to certify a class, its discretion must be exercised within the framework of Rule 23. Zinser v. Accufix Research Inst., Inc., 253 F.3d 1180, 1186 (9th Cir. 2001).

Rule 23(a) provides four prerequisites that must be satisfied for class certification: (1) the class must be so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable, (2) questions of law or fact exist that are common to the class, (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class, and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a). Rule 23(b) requires a plaintiff to establish one of the following: (1) that there is a risk of substantial prejudice from separate actions; (2) that declaratory or injunctive relief benefitting the class as a whole would be appropriate; or (3) that common questions of law or fact predominate and the class action is superior to other available methods of adjudication. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b).

ANALYSIS

1. Settlement Class Meets the Requirements of Rule 23(a)

Defendant does not oppose Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement. However, in assessing whether Plaintiff's proposed settlement class fulfills the prerequisites required under Rule 23(a), a court must fully examine the class according to the elements of numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation. Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., 150 F.3d 1011, 1019 (9th Cir. 1998). Where the parties have entered into a settlement agreement before class certification, district courts "must pay 'undiluted, even heightened, attention' to class certification requirements...."

Id. (quoting Amchem Products, Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 620, 117 S.Ct. 2231, 2248 (1997)).

Under Rule 23(a)(1), numerosity requires that the class be "so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable." As noted by the court in Riordan v. Smith Barney, the geographical disbursement of class members outside of one district increases impracticability of joinder, and "when the class is large, numbers alone are dispositive." 113 F.R.D. 60, 62 (N.D. Ill. 1986). In the instant case, the class consists of approximately 30,000 members, found in California's four federal districts. While the exact number of class members is unknown, a demonstration of sufficient numerosity has is adequate to meet the requirements of Rule 23(a)(1). In re Computer Memories Secs. Litig., 111 F.R.D. 675, 679 (N.D. Cal. 1986).

Under Rule 23(a)(2), the requirement of commonality is satisfied if "there are questions of law or fact common to the class." In Hanlon, the Ninth Circuit stated that this requirement is construed permissively, noting that commonality can be found through "[t]he existence of shared legal issues with divergent factual predicates...." 150 F.3d at 1019. In the instant case, the proposed class shares the common legal issue of whether California law entitles them to reimbursement of their work related mileage expenses from Defendant. Minor factual differences stemming from each class member's individual mileage accumulations do not defeat commonality. Blackie v. Barrack, 524 F.2d 891, 902 (9th Cir. 1975).

The typicality requirement of Rule 23(a)(3) is satisfied if the claims of the representative parties are typical of the claims of the class. Typicality is satisfied where the requisite claims "share a common issue of law or fact and are sufficiently parallel to insure a vigorous and full presentation of all claims for relief." Cal. Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. v. Legal Servs. Corp., 917 F.2d 1171, ...


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