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Williams v. Centerplate, Inc.

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

August 26, 2013

CHIP WILLIAMS; ADELAIDA GALINDEZ; JUPITER RAMIREZ; and on behalf of all others similarly situated and on behalf of the general public, Plaintiffs,
v.
CENTERPLATE, INC., a Delaware corporation; CENTERPLATE OF DELAWARE, INC., a Delaware corporation; and DOES 1 through 100, inclusive, Defendants.

ORDER: (1) CERTIFYING CLASS FOR PURPOSES OF SETTLEMENT AND GRANTING FINAL APPROVAL OF CLASS SETTLEMENT; AND [Doc. No. 52] (2) GRANTING MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES COSTS, AND ENHANCEMENT AWARDS [Doc. No. 51]

MARILYN L. HUFF, District Judge.

On May 24, 2013, Plaintiffs Chip Williams, Adelaida Galindez, and Jupiter Ramirez (collectively "Plaintiffs") filed a motion seeking final approval of a class action settlement and a motion for attorneys' fees, costs, and class representative enhancement awards. (Doc. Nos. 51, 52.) Defendants have not opposed Plaintiffs' motions, and no objections have been raised to the proposed class settlement. On August 26, 2013, the Court held a hearing on the matter. Marc Phelps and Raul Cadena appeared for Plaintiffs. Scott J. Witlin appeared for Defendants. For the following reasons, the Court grants the motion for final approval of class action settlement, the motion for an award of fees and costs to class counsel, and the request for enhancement awards to Plaintiffs Chip Williams, Adelaida Galindez, and Jupiter Ramirez.

Background

I. Factual and Procedural Background

This is a wage and hour class action filed on behalf of all non-exempt employees or former employees of Centerplate, Inc., Centerplate of Delaware, Inc., and any subsidiaries or affiliated companies (collectively "Defendants") within California. (Doc. No. 27 ("Fourth Amend. Compl.") ¶ 1.) Defendants are hospitality service companies that provide concessions to sports stadiums, convention centers, and golf courses. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiffs were employed by Defendants as non-exempt employees within the state of California. (Id. ¶¶ 5-7.)

Plaintiffs allege that Defendants did not provide class members with meal periods and rest breaks, or compensation in lieu thereof, as required by California wage and hour laws. (Fourth Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 13-14.) Additionally, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants failed to compensate class members for total hours worked and for excess hours worked at overtime rates. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 15) Finally, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants required class members to purchase and maintain their uniforms and equipment as a condition of employment; failed to pay departing class members in accordance with California Labor Code §§ 201, 202, and 203; and did not maintain accurate records of class members' earned wages and work periods. (Id.) Plaintiffs seek damages, injunctive relief, attorneys' fees, and costs. (Id. ¶ 3.)

On May 9, 2011, Plaintiff Williams filed a class action complaint against Defendants in the Superior Court of the State of California. (Doc. No. 1-6.) On August 11, 2011, Williams filed an amended class action complaint against Defendants. (Doc. No. 1-7.) Defendants removed the Williams action on September 15, 2011. (Doc. No. 1.)

On November 22, 2011, Plaintiffs Galindez and Ramirez filed a class action complaint against Defendants in California Superior Court. (Galindez v. Centerplate, Inc., No. 12-CV-0008 (S.D. Cal.) (Doc. No. 1-3).) Defendants removed the Galindez and Ramirez action on January 3, 2012. (Id. (Doc. No. 1).) On February 23, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motion to dismiss and strike portions of the complaint. (Id. (Doc. No. 23).) On March 12, 2012, the Court denied Defendants' motion to remand. (Id. (Doc. No. 26).)

On May 15, 2012, the Court granted the parties' joint motion to consolidate the two actions. (Doc. No. 26.) On May 16, 2012, Plaintiffs filed a fourth amended consolidated complaint ("complaint") asserting violations of the California Labor Code, wage orders of the Industrial Welfare Commission ("IWC"), and California's Unfair Competition Law ("UCL"). (Doc. No. 27, Fourth Amend. Compl.) On June 15, 2013, Defendants filed an answer to the complaint. (Doc. No. 28.)

During the discovery period, the parties exchanged written discovery, (Doc. No. 51-2, Declaration of Roger Carter ("Carter Decl.") ¶¶ 5-6), and briefed five motions to compel discovery. (Doc. Nos. 29, 31, 34-36.) In addition, Defendants took the deposition of each named Plaintiff; and Plaintiffs took a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition of the Defendants. (Doc. No. 51-2, Carter Decl. ¶ 6.)

On August 30, 2012, the parties attended a full-day mediation before Mr. Joel Grossman, an independent mediator with extensive experience in wage and hour class actions. (Id. ¶ 7.) Following serious, informed, arms-length negotiation, the parties reached a settlement at the mediation. (Id.) On September 5, 2013, the parties notified the Court that they had reached a tentative settlement, (Doc. No. 42), and on December 28, 2013, Plaintiff filed a motion for preliminary approval of a class action settlement. (Doc. No. 46.)

II. The Settlement

Per the proposed settlement, Defendants have agreed to pay $650, 000 to establish a settlement fund to settle the class members' claims. (Doc. No. 46-2, Declaration of Roger Carter Ex. A ("Proposed Settlement").) That amount includes all applicable payroll taxes to be computed by the settlement administrator. (Id. at 5.) The class members will receive payment from the settlement fund less administrative costs, Plaintiffs' incentive awards, required payments under the Private Attorney General Act ("PAGA"), and attorneys' fees and costs. (Id. at 3.) The parties agreed to a maximum attorney fee award of $195, 000 plus actual out-of-pocket expenses not to exceed $20, 000. (Id. at 2.) The parties currently estimate the net settlement proceeds to be $367, 500. (Id. at 3.) Each class member will receive a share of the net settlement proceeds proportional to the wages earned from 2007 to the present while working for Defendants in non-exempt positions in California. (Id. at 6.) If the total payments to class members are less than forty percent of the net settlement proceeds, the portion of the remainder, up to forty percent, will be proportionately divided among the class members. (Id.) The unpaid balance will be retained by Defendants. (Id.) In exchange, the class members agree to release the claims that were or could have been asserted in this action against Defendants. (Id. at 1.)

III. Preliminary Approval of the Settlement and Reaction of the Class Members

On January 25, 2013, the Court granted preliminary approval of the class settlement and ordered Plaintiffs to disseminate notice of the settlement to the class members. (Doc. No. 48.) On February 19, 2013, CPT Group, Inc. ("CPT"), the class action claims administrator for this case, mailed notice to the 9, 394 class members. (Doc. No. 52-2, Declaration of Tim Cunningham ("Cunningham Decl.") ¶ 8.) The notice provided class members with the opportunity to file a claim for monetary relief, opt out of the settlement, or object to the settlement. (Id. ¶ 8, Exs. A-B.) The claims deadline was set for April 20, 2013. (Id.)

As of May 24, 2013, class members have submitted 2, 247 responses to CPT, including 2, 212 claim forms. (Doc. No. 52-2, Cunningham Decl. ¶ 12.) Based on the number of claims to date, approximately 63.49% of the Net Settlement Proceeds, or $239, 363.14, will be paid to the class members who made claims. (Id. ¶ 19.) Twenty-five (25) members have requested exclusion, and no class members have raised any disputes or submitted any objections to CPT. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.)

Discussion

When the parties reach a settlement agreement prior to class certification, the Court is under an obligation to "peruse the proposed compromise to ratify both the propriety of the certification and the fairness of the settlement." Staton v. Boeing Co. , 327 F.3d 938, 952 (9th Cir. 2003). Thus, the court must first assess whether a class exists, and second, ...


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