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Jose Luis Herrera, et al v. Manuel Villa Enterprises

May 2, 2011

JOSE LUIS HERRERA, ET AL.,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MANUEL VILLA ENTERPRISES, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael J. SengUNITED States Magistrate Judge

ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY APPROVAL OF SETTLEMENT HEARING ON FINAL APPROVAL OF SETTLEMENT ON AUGUST 9, 2011 (ECF No. 32)

Plaintiffs Jose Luis Herrera and Maria Melgoza brought this putative class wage and hour action on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated against Defendants Manuel Villa Enterprises, Inc. d/b/a La Perla Tapatia, Manuel Villa, and Bertha Villa. (See Compl., ECF No. 2)

On March 29, 2011, Plaintiffs filed an unopposed motion for a Court order: (1) conditionally certifying the settlement class and collective action; (2) preliminarily approving the class settlement; (3) appointing the class representatives and class counsel; (4) approving the class notice and related materials; (5) appointing a settlement administrator; and (6) scheduling a final approval hearing. (ECF No. 32.)

In rough summary form, the settlement agreement is as follows. (Settlement Agreement, ECF No. 40.) Defendants will make three payments totaling $400,000 into a settlement account. From the fund created by these payments, class counsel will be paid not more than one-third as fees, the two class representatives will be awarded not more than $7,500 each, and the settlement administrator shall be paid not more than $25,000. After administration and other costs are paid and after withholding of payroll taxes and penalties in the manner described in the Settlement Agreement, the remainder of the settlement fund shall be distributed to or for the claimants based on the number of months each was employed by Defendants during the relevant time period. The settlement will be administered by third-party claims administrator, Simpluis, Inc. All funds will be distributed pursuant to the Settlement Agreement and none will revert to Defendants.

The Court held a hearing on April 22, 2011 at which time counsel for both parties appeared telephonically. No one appeared at the hearing for the purpose of objecting to the proposed settlement. As noted, no opposition has been filed.

I. JURISDICTION

This Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. sections 1331 and 1367. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to the United States Magistrate Judge conducting all proceedings related to this Motion for Preliminary Approval of Settlement (but not otherwise). (ECF Nos. 45 & 46.)

II. CONDITIONAL CERTIFICATION OF CLASS

For settlement purposes only, the parties propose provisional certification of the following class: "all persons who are or have been employed by Defendant Manuel Villa Enterprises in its grocery stores as regular non-exempt employees in one or more of the Covered Positions from February 17, 2006 until February 17, 2010." (Settlement Agreement at 2.)

The Court reviews the propriety of class certification under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a) and (b). In a settlement context, the Court must pay "undiluted, even heightened, attention" to class certification requirements because the Court will not have the opportunity to adjust the class based on information revealed at trial. See Staton v. Boeing, 327 F.3d 938, 952-53 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting Amchem Products, Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 620 (1997)); Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., 150 F.3d 1011, 1019 (9th Cir. 1998) (same).

A. Rule 23(a)

Class certification requires the following: (1) the class must be so numerous that joinder of all members individually is "impracticable"; (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class; (3) the claims or defenses of the class representatives must be typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and (4) the person representing the class must be able to fairly and adequately protect the interests of all class members. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a); Staton, 327 F.3d at 953.

Here, these factors support class certification. First, the class members-all identifiable from Defendants' employment records-number between 600 and 700, making joinder of all impracticable. See Jordan v. County of L.A., 669 F.2d 1311, 1319 (9th Cir.), vacated on other grounds, County of L.A. v. Jordan, 459 U.S. 810 (1982). Second, the class members' claims all involve common facts relating to Defendants' wage and hour practices. Similarly, the class members' legal issues involve the same legal theories regarding Defendants' alleged non-compliance with state and federal wage and hour laws. Third, the named Plaintiffs' claims are typical to the claims and injuries of other class members. See Hanlon, 150 F.3d at 1019-20 (claims are typical if they are reasonably coextensive with that of absent class members; they need not be substantially identical). Fourth, Plaintiffs are able to fairly and adequately protect the interests of all class members. The factors relevant to a determination of adequacy are as follows: (1) the absence of potential conflict between the named plaintiff and the class members; and (2) counsel chosen by the representative parties is qualified, experienced, and able to vigorously conduct the proposed litigation. Id. at 1020. The Court is satisfied that those factors exist here. As discussed already, the named Plaintiffs share claims and interests with the class and the parties' representations satisfy the Court that there is no conflict of interest with the class. Also, they have obtained very experienced, qualified, and competent counsel. See generally Decl. of Stan Mallison (ECF No. 36.); Local Joint Executive Bd. of Culinary/Bartender Trust Fund v. Las Vegas Sands, Inc., 244 F.3d 1152, 1162 (9th Cir. 2001); Brown v. Ticor Title Ins. Co., 982 F.2d 386, 390 (9th Cir. 1992).

B. Rule 23(b)(3)

In addition to meeting the prerequisites of Rule 23(a), a proposed class must be appropriate for certification under one of the categories in Rule 23(b). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b); Hanlon, 150 F.3d at 1022. Plaintiff seeks provisional certification, and the Court finds that certification is appropriate under Rule 23(b)(3). Questions of law and fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3). The case involves multiple claims for relatively small sums, and a class action is superior to any alternative method of fairly and efficiently adjudicating the claims. See Amchem Products, 521 U.S. at 625; Culinary/Bartender Trust Fund, 244 F.3d at 1163 (class action appropriate because "if plaintiffs cannot proceed as a class, some-perhaps most-will be unable to proceed as individuals because of the disparity ...


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