United States District Court, C.D. California
DAVID RIBOT, PERRY HALL, JR., DEBORAH MILLS, ANTHONY BUTLER, JENNIFER BUTLER, JONATHAN LUNA and LOIS BARNES, individually, and on behalf of all others situated, Plaintiffs,
FARMERS INSURANCE GROUP, FARMERS INSURANCE EXCHANGE, 21st CENTURY INSURANCE COMPANY and AIG INSURANCE SERVICE, INC., Defendants.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT; DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR RELIEF UNDER RULES 26 AND 37; DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO MODIFY AND CLARIFY CLASS DEFINITIONS; AND GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DENY CERTIFICATION AS TO 21ST CENTURY CLASS [Dkt. Nos. 240, 256, 260, 279]
DEAN D. PREGERSON, District Judge.
Before the court is Defendants Farmers Services, LLC, Farmers Insurance Exchange, and 21st Century Insurance Company (collectively, "Defendants")'s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (Dkt. No. 279.) Also before the court are Plaintiffs' Motion for Relief under Rules 26 and 37 (Dkt. No. 260); Plaintiffs' Motion to Modify and Clarify Class Definitions (Dkt. No. 240); and Defendants' Motion to Deny Certification as to 21st Century Class (Dkt. No. 256). Each motion is fully briefed. Having considered the parties' submissions and heard oral argument, the court adopts the following order.
A. Procedural Background
On July 17, 2013, this court issued an Order granting Plaintiffs' motion for class certification in part. (Dkt. No. 222.) The class certified in that Order did not include employees of 21st Century Insurance Company ("21st Century"). (Id. at 37-38.) On August 22, 2013, Plaintiffs moved to modify the Rule 23 class definition to include 21st Century employees. (Dkt. No. 240.) Defendants opposed the motion on the ground that Defendants had discovered in August 2013 that the only class representatives employed at any point by 21st Century, Jennifer Butler and Anthony Butler, had released all claims against the company relating to their employment by signing Severance and Release Agreements ("Releases") in exchange for a severance package prior to bringing the instant suit. (Dkt. No. 244.) Plaintiffs did not respond substantively to Defendants' arguments vis-a-vis the Releases in a reply or at the hearing held on September 23, 2013 concerning Plaintiffs' motion to modify the class definition.
On September 24, 2013, this court issued an Order stating: "In light of Defendants' objections [regarding the Releases], the court will take no action relative to Plaintiffs' request to add 21st Century, pending Plaintiffs' response on the waiver issue. The parties are ordered to meet and confer to ensure that Plaintiffs have adequate information on which to base their response." (Dkt. No. 248 at 6.)
On February 14, 2014, Defendants filed a Motion to Deny Certification as to 21st Century Class on the basis of the Releases. (Dkt. No. 256.) Shortly thereafter, on February 24, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Relief under Rules 26 and 37, in which they argue on various grounds that the court should not consider the Releases for class certification purposes. (Dkt. No. 260.)
In considering these motions, the court concluded that the matter of the Releases was best addressed on a motion for summary judgment, prior to resolving the question of class certification for the 21st Century employees. Accordingly, on April 14, 2014, it ordered Defendants to file a motion for summary judgment by April 29, 2014. (Dkt. No. 278.) That summary judgment motion, along with the three previously filed motions, are now before the court.
B. Relevant Facts
The following is drawn from Defendants' Statement of Uncontroverted Facts (Dkt. No. 279-2) and is not in dispute:
Jennifer Butler and Anthony Butler are the only named Plaintiffs who worked for 21st Century. Both worked solely at 21st Century's facility in Woodland Hills, California, which is the only 21st Century facility whose employees Plaintiffs seek to include in this action. (See Declaration of Laura Rock in Support of Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ¶ 3.) Anthony Butler worked as an Insurance Representative at the Woodland Hills facility from July 15, 2006 until December 4, 2009. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Jennifer Butler worked as an Insurance Representative at the Woodland Hills Case 2:11-cv-02404-DDP-JC Document 283 Filed 06/04/14 Page 4 of 23 Page ID #:14680 facility from March 26, 2007 until December 27, 2009. (Id.)
In September 2007, American International Group, Inc. ("AIG") acquired 21st Century. (Id.) In July 2009, Farmers acquired AIG's Personal Auto Group, which included 21st Century and its Woodland Hills facility. (Id.) In the fall of 2009, Farmers announced it was closing the Woodland Hills facility. (Id. ¶ 4.) The facility was closed in January 2010. (Declaration of Daniel C. Whang, Ex. G.)
After the acquisition of AIG's Personal Auto Group by Farmers, a severance plan (the "PAG Severance Plan") applicable to Personal Auto Group employees was created. (Id. at ¶ 5 & Ex. B.) The PAG Severance Plan applied to employees who were previously part of the AIG Personal Auto Group and who were involuntarily terminated between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010, a period during which the Butlers were laid off. (Id. at ¶¶ 5, 8 & Ex. B.) The PAG Severance Plan incorporated three separate severance policies that had previously applied to employees within the Personal Auto Group, each of which were attached as exhibits to the PAG Severance Plan. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 7 & Ex. B at Appendices A, B and C.) Pursuant to the PAG Severance Plan, any affected employee who was previously part of AIG's Personal Auto Group would receive severance in accordance with one of the three severance policies. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 7 & Ex. B at Appendices A, B and C.)
The plan designated Farmers Group, Inc. as the Plan Administrator, and specified that the Plan Administrator would have sole authority and discretion to determine the provision of benefits under the plan. (Id. Decl. ¶ 6 & Ex. B §§ 1.06, 4.01.) For employees working as Insurance Representatives at the Woodland Hills facility, including the Butlers, Farmers applied the AIG Case 2:11-cv-02404-DDP-JC Document 283 Filed 06/04/14 Page 5 of 23 Page ID #:14681 Severance Policy (hereinafter the "Policy"). (Id. at ¶ 8 & Ex. B at Appendix A.)
The Policy provided that eligible employees in the Personal Auto Group would receive two weeks of non-working notice pay regardless of whether or not they signed a Release waiving claims against the company. (Id. Decl. ¶ 9 & Ex. B at Appendix A.) The Policy further provided that eligible employees in the Personal Auto Group who signed a Release, as described below, would also receive (1) two weeks of salary continuation; and (2) additional severance pay that varied depending on an employee's length of service. (Id. ¶ 9 & Ex. B at Appendix A.) Specifically, the Policy provided that,
[I]n return for a release of all claims, the eligible employee will also receive enhanced payments pursuant to the following schedule
Additional 2 weeks' pay continuance plus:
(Id. Ex. B at Appendix A (emphasis in original).)
The Policy explicitly stated that employees' eligibility for severance beyond the two weeks of notice pay was conditioned upon signing a release of claims:
Are Severance and the Additional 2 Weeks' Pay Conditional Upon A Release?
Yes, these salary continuation payments are conditioned upon the execution of a release. Further, employees may elect to accept these payments in the form of a lump sum payment or extended time on payroll but payments will not be made until Case 2:11-cv-02404-DDP-JC Document 283 Filed 06/04/14 Page 6 of 23 Page ID #:14682 the Company has received the signed release and any applicable waiting periods have expired.
(Id. Ex. B at Appendix A.)
In order to obtain the additional severance, employees were required to sign the Release presented by the company. The Release included the following pertinent clause:
In return for the payments and benefits set forth in the preceding paragraph number 2 above [referring to the "Personal Auto Group Severance Policy"], I agree to waive and release all claims of any kind (whether known or unknown) that I may have against the Company [defined as "Farmers Insurance Group, Inc."], its affiliated companies, and their past or present officers, directors and employees which arise from or relate to my employment with the Company or any of its affiliates or the termination of my employment with the Company or any of its affiliates (including, without limitation, claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, California Labor Code Section 200 et seq., and any applicable California Industrial Welfare Commission order).
(Id. Decl. Exs. C & E.)
Both Jennifer Butler and Anthony Butler signed a Release. (Id.) Based upon their seniority, both received six weeks of additional severance. Anthony Butler signed the Release on December 4, 2009 and received a lump sum payment of $4, 572.09. (Id. Exs. C & D.) Jennifer Butler signed the Release on January 22, 2010 and received a lump sum payment of $4, 469.56. (Id. Exs. E & F.)
Despite having previously signed the Releases, Anthony Butler and Jennifer Butler filed the instant suit against 21st Century and Farmers on March 22, 2011, alleging statutory and breach of contract claims relating to ...