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Gong-Chun v. Aetna

May 15, 2010

MICHAEL GONG-CHUN, INDIVIDUALLY, AND ON BEHALF OF OTHER MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL PUBLIC SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AETNA, INC., A PENNSYLVANIA CORPORATION, AETNA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, A CONNECTICUT CORPORATION, AND DOES 1 THROUGH 10 INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila K. Oberto United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT AETNA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY'S MOTION FOR A STAY OF ALL PROCEEDINGS

I. INTRODUCTION

On September 17, 2009, Plaintiff Michael Gong-Chun filed a class action complaint in Fresno County Superior Court. The complaint sets forth four causes of action: (1) violations of California Labor Code §§ 226.7 and 512 for unpaid meal break premiums; (2) violations of California Labor Code §§ 201 and 202 for failure to pay wages upon termination of employment; (3) violations of California Labor Code § 204 for failure to pay wages timely during employment; and (4) violations of the California Business & Professional Code §§ 17200 et seq.

On November 12, 2009, Defendants filed a Notice of Removal to this Court.*fn1 The parties' initial scheduling conference was calendared for January 14, 2010; the parties agreed to continue the scheduling conference to April 15, 2010, in order to proceed with mediation. Some informal discovery was provided to Plaintiff for the purpose of mediation, but no formal discovery has been received by Plaintiff. See Plaintiff's Opposition (Opp.) Brief (Br.) at 3.8; Defendant's Motion (Mot.) at 9:3-11; Defendant's Reply at 11:4-12.*fn2 On April 2, 2010, Defendant Aetna Life Insurance Company*fn3 filed a Motion to Stay all further proceedings in this matter pending the outcome of the California Supreme Court's review of Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, 80 Cal. Rptr. 3d 781 (Cal. Ct. App. 2008), petition for review granted, 85 Cal. Rptr. 3d 688, 196 P.3d 216. Docket No. 102. In light of Defendant's pending motion to stay, the Court vacated the initial scheduling conference set for April 15, 2010.

According to the complaint, Plaintiff is a former employee of Defendant who asserts that he was not allowed to take his meal breaks and was not reimbursed for his missed meal periods as required by Cal. Labor Code § 226.7. One of the fundamental issues that could significantly affect the course of the litigation in this case is whether Defendant, as an employer, is required under Cal. Labor Code §§ 226.7 and 512 and the related regulatory provisions to ensure its employees take their meal rest breaks, or whether it merely needs to offer breaks to its employees. Two California Court of Appeals decisions have established seemingly competing standards for compliance with the Labor Code's requirements in this respect. Compare Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, 80 Cal. Rptr. 3d at 802 ("employers need only make meal breaks available, not 'ensure' they are taken"), with Cicairos v. Summit Logistics, Inc., 133 Cal. App. 4th 949, 962-63 (2005) ("the defendant's obligation to provide the plaintiffs with an adequate meal period is not satisfied by assuming that the meal periods were taken, because employers have 'an affirmative obligation to ensure that workers are actually relieved of all duty.'") (internal citation omitted).*fn4 The California Supreme Court has granted review in Brinker and is expected to address this issue. Defendant asserts that Brinker will establish the standard of liability for employers in meal break claims and will have a dispositive effect on this case.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A district court has the "power to stay proceedings" as part of its inherent power to "control the disposition of the cases on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants." Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254, 57 S.Ct. 163, 81 L.Ed. 153 (1936). In determining whether to stay an action, courts must weigh competing interests that will be affected by the granting or refusal to grant a stay. CMAX, Inc. v. Hall, 300 F.2d 265, 268 (9th Cir. 1962). Among these competing interests are (1) the possible damage which may result from the granting of a stay; (2) the hardship or inequity which a party may suffer in being required to go forward; and (3) the orderly course of justice measured in terms of simplifying or complicating of issues, proof, and questions of law which could be expected to result from a stay. Id. (citing Landis, 299 U.S. at 254-55).

"The proponent of a stay bears the burden of establishing its need." Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 708, 117 S.Ct. 1636, 137 L.Ed.2d 945 (1997) (citing Landis, 299 U.S. at 255). "If there is even a fair possibility that the stay... will work damage to some one else," the party seeking the stay "must make out a clear case of hardship or inequity." Landis, 299 U.S. at 255.

Pursuant to these standards, "[a] trial court may, with propriety, find it is more efficient for its own docket and the fairest course for the parties to enter a stay of an action before it, pending resolution of independent proceedings which bear upon the case." Levya v. Certified Grocers of California, Ltd., 593 F.2d 857, 863 (9th Cir. 1979). "This rule applies whether the separate proceedings are judicial, administrative, or arbitral in character, and does not require that the issues in such proceedings are necessarily controlling of the action before the court." Id. at 863-64. A district court's decision to grant or deny a Landis stay is a matter of discretion. Dependable Highway Express, Inc. v. Navigators Ins. Co., 498 F.3d 1059, 1066 (9th Cir. 2007). Considering all of the foregoing, the Court weighs the relevant Landis factors as related to this case.

III. DISCUSSION

After careful and considerable review of the parties' arguments, both written and oral, related to Defendant's Motion to Stay all Further Proceedings, and weighing the relevant Landis factors, the Court concludes that a stay in this matter is appropriate for the following reasons.

A. Possible Damage to Plaintiff Resulting From a Stay

Plaintiff asserts that a stay would result in indefinite delay and would likely deplete the number of witnesses Plaintiff's counsel could interview, and over time, the witnesses would be more likely to move and discard potentially relevant documents. Plaintiff's Opp. Br. at 7-8.

A stay, particularly a lengthy one, creates a danger that witnesses' memories will fade and evidence will be lost. See Pagtalunan v. Galaza, 291 F.3d 639, 642-43 (9th Cir. 2002) (recognizing that unnecessary delay inherently increases the risk that "witnesses' memories will fade and evidence will become stale"). ...


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