United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR FINAL APPROVAL OF CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT AND PARTIALLY GRANTING MOTION FOR ATTORNEY FEES AND COSTS
(ECF Nos. 75-78, 80-82)
STANLEY A. BOONE, Magistrate Judge.
The parties in this action agreed to settle all claims and the Court previously granted the motion for preliminary approval of the class action settlement. On January 6, 2014, Plaintiff Don Clayton filed an unopposed motion seeking approval of class counsels fees and costs. On March 7, 2014, Plaintiff filed a motion for final approval of the class action settlement.
A hearing on the motions was held on March 19, 2014. Counsel Craig J. Ackermann appeared telephonically for Plaintiff and counsel Pankit Doshi appeared telephonically for Defendant. During the hearing, Plaintiff moved for reconsideration of the incentive award for the class representative. The Court ordered Plaintiff to file a letter brief within twenty-four hours. On March 19, 2014, Plaintiff filed a letter brief.
For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion for final approval of class settlement is granted and motion for attorney fees and costs is granted in part.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff filed this class action on behalf of himself and other similarly situated individuals in Tulare County Superior Court on March 8, 2011. (ECF No. 1-1.) Plaintiff was seeking declaratory relief, damages, and attorney fees for Defendant's failure to pay its California truck drivers minimum wage for the time spent in mandatory orientation, failure to pay all wages upon termination of employment, failure to provide accurate itemized wage statements, and unfair business practices. (Id.) Defendant removed this action to the Eastern District of California on May 6, 2011. (ECF No. 1.)
On July 16, 2012, a findings and recommendation issued recommending certifying four classes in this action. (ECF No. 41.) On August 21, 2012, United States District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill issued an order adopting the findings and recommendation and four classes were certified: 1) orientation pay class; 2) California Labor Code section 203 class; 3) California Labor Code section 226 class; and 4) California Business and Professions Code section 17200 class. (ECF No. 44.) On March 21, 2013, the parties filed a stipulation requesting approval of class notice and a settlement administrator and seeking an order authorizing distribution of class notice. (ECF No. 58.) The motion was granted on March 25, 2013. (ECF No. 59.)
On August 19, 2013, the parties filed a notice informing the Court that this action had settled. (ECF No. 66.) On September 27, 2013, the parties filed a motion for preliminary approval of the class action settlement. (ECF No. 70-72.) The parties agreed to a gross settlement amount of $300, 000.00, with a 40% floor of distribution of the net settlement amount on behalf of the class members. (Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement 12,  ECF No. 70.) The gross settlement amount included the class counsel fee and cost award of up to 33.33% of the gross settlement amount (not to exceed $100, 000.00 in fees and $12, 000.00 in costs); a class representative's enhancement payment (not to exceed $7, 500.00); the claims administrator's fees and costs (not to exceed $25, 000.00); with the net settlement amount being $155, 500.00. (Motion for Order 13, ECF No. 70.) On October 30, 2013, the magistrate judge issued an order granting the motion for preliminary approval of the class action settlement, approving a class counsel fee of 25% of the gross settlement amount and a class representative payment not to exceed $3, 500.00. (ECF No. 74.)
The Settlement Administrator, CPT Group, Inc., received information on the 2, 134 class members on November 14, 2013. (Decl. of Tim Cunningham ¶ 4, ECF No. 82.) The notice packets were printed and on November 20, 2013, the Settlement Administrator ran a national change of address search to update the addresses of the class list. The search of this database provided updated addresses for any individual who had moved in the previous four years and informed the U.S. Postal Service of their change of address. (Id. at ¶ 6.) The notice packets were mailed to all class members on December 3, 2013. (Id. at ¶ 7.)
Forty-three notice packets were returned with no forwarding address. The Settlement Administrator performed a Skip Trace on all returned mail to locate a new address in Accurint. (Id. at ¶ 8.) As a result, addresses were located for twenty class members and the notices were re-mailed. Twenty three class members were not notified as the Settlement Administrator was unable to locate a current address. (Id. at ¶ 9.) No objections to the settlement were received and 424 responses were submitted to the Settlement Administrator. (Id. at ¶¶ 10, 11.) There have been 420 claims submitted, two requests for exclusion, and two invalid claims which were duplicate claim submissions from the same class members. (Id. at ¶¶ 11, 12, 13.)
If all claims are accepted, 19.68% of the class have submitted claim forms. Due to the agreement that a minimum of 40% of the fund will be paid out to class members, the average settlement award to each class member that submitted a claim will $151.90 if the Court grants attorney fees in the amount of $100, 000.00. If the Court grants attorney fees in the amount of $75, 000.00, the average settlement award per member will be $175.71. (Id. at ¶ 16.) The settlement administrator will receive $25, 000.00 for the administration of the settlement. (Id. at ¶18.)
On January 6, 2014, Plaintiffs filed an unopposed motion for approval of class counsels' attorney fees and costs. (ECF Nos. 75-78.) On March 7, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a motion for final approval of the class action settlement. (ECF Nos. 80-82.)
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(e)(2) requires that any settlement in a class action be approved by the court which must find that the settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate. The role of the district court in evaluating the fairness of the settlement is not to assess the individual components, but to assess the settlement as a whole. Lane v. Facebook, Inc. , 696 F.3d 811, 818-19 (9th Cir. 2012) reh'g denied 709 F.3d 791 (9th Cir. 2013). The class representatives have an incentive to advance their own interests over that of the class and class counsel owes the ultimate fiduciary responsibility to the class as a whole and is not bound by the views of the named plaintiffs regarding settlement. Staton v. Boeing Co. , 327 F.3d 938, 959-60 (9th Cir. 2003). Therefore, in assessing the fairness of the settlement, the court is to ensure that "the agreement is not the product of fraud or overreaching by, or collusion between, the negotiating parties, and that the ...