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Medlock v. Taco Bell Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 29, 2014

SANDRIKA MEDLOCK, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
TACO BELL CORP., et al., Defendants.

ORDER RE MOTIONS ECF NO. 427, 428, 458

STANLEY A. BOONE, District Judge.

Presently before the Court are three motions filed by Defendants. Defendants filed a motion to strike portions of Plaintiffs' Second Amended Consolidated Complaint on June 25, 2014. (ECF No. 427.) Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on June 25, 2014. (ECF No. 428.) Defendants filed a motion to alter or amend the Court's order regarding class certification on July 11, 2014. (ECF No. 458.)

For the reasons set forth below, the Court amends its order on class certification to reflect that the only claims proceeding on a class basis are the claims related to late meal breaks. The Court further finds that the prerequisites for class actions set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 apply to Plaintiff's claims under California's Private Attorney Generals Act, and that only the PAGA claims based upon late meal breaks may proceed on a class-wide, representative basis.

I.

BACKGROUND

In these consolidated actions, Plaintiffs assert claims against Defendants arising from alleged violations of California's Labor Code relating to the payment of minimum wages, the payment of overtime wages and the provision of meal and rest breaks. Plaintiffs also assert claims under California's Private Attorney Generals Act ("PAGA"), which authorizes "aggrieved employees, acting as private attorneys general, to recover civil penalties for Labor Code violations..." Arias v. Superior Court , 46 Cal.4th 969, 980 (2009). The operative complaint is the Second Amended Consolidated Complaint filed on June 11, 2014. (ECF No. 423.)

Defendants' motions relate to issues pertaining to the class certification process in this action. Plaintiff's first motion to certify a class was filed on December 30, 2010. (ECF No. 185.) This motion sought to certify eight subclasses: 1) the Late Meal Break Subclass, 2) the Underpaid Automatic Adjustments Subclass, 3) the On-Duty Meal Period Agreement Subclass, 4) the Unpaid On-Duty Meal Period Subclass, 5) the Rest Break Subclass, 6) the Final Pay Subclass, 7) the Vested Accrued Vacation Wages Subclass, and 8) the Non-Management Employee Vacation Subclass.

The motion to certify the final pay and vacation pay subclasses was denied without prejudice on September 30, 2011. (ECF No. 269.) After additional briefing regarding the certification of the remaining subclasses, United States Magistrate Judge Dennis L. Beck issued a Findings and Recommendations on November 27, 2012 recommending that class certification be granted as to the Meal Break Subclass, but denying certification for all other subclasses. (ECF No. 341.) The Findings and Recommendations were adopted on January 2, 2013, thereby certifying the following subclass:

Meal Break Subclass[1]
All persons who work or worked as a non-exempt, hourly-paid employee at a corporate-owned Taco Bell restaurant in California from September 7, 2003, until the resolution of this lawsuit who worked for a period of time in excess of six hours and who worked for periods longer than five hours without a meal period of not less than thirty minutes as reflected in Defendants' employees' time records.

(Order to Adopt Findings and Recommendations on Class Certification 1:18-21.)

On April 22, 2014, Defendants filed a motion to strike the PAGA allegations from Plaintiff's First Amended Consolidated Complaint. (ECF No. 398.) On May 22, 2014, the Court denied Defendants' motion, but noted that there appeared to be some confusion regarding which claims were raised on a class-wide basis on behalf of the certified Meal Break Subclass and which claims were raised solely on an individual basis by the named plaintiffs. Accordingly, the Court ordered Plaintiffs to file a Second Amended Consolidated Complaint which specified the claims that proceeded on a class basis and the claims that proceeded on an individual basis.

In response to the Court's order, Plaintiffs filed a Second Amended Consolidated Complaint on June 11, 2014. (ECF No. 423.) In response to the Second Amended Consolidated Complaint, Defendants filed the present motion to dismiss, motion to strike, and motion to amend or alter the order on class certification. (ECF Nos. 427, 428, 458.)

II.

DISCUSSION

A. Defendants' Motion to Alter or Amend the Class Certification Order

Defendants raise four arguments in their motion to alter or amend the Court's class certification order. First, Defendants argue that the certification order should be amended to reflect that only Plaintiffs' claim for late meal periods and related PAGA claims may be adjudicated on a class-wide basis. Second, Defendants argue that the class definition should be amended to incorporate the "correct" standard of liability based upon the California Supreme Court's ruling in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court , 53 Cal.4th 1004 (2012). Third, Defendants argue that the certification order must be amended to appoint adequate class counsel. Fourth, Defendants argue that the Court should order Plaintiffs to submit a "trial plan" that demonstrates that the late meal period claim can be tried in a manageable fashion.

1. Only the Late Meal Period Claims Are Pursued on a Class-Wide Basis

Defendants argue that the order on class certification should be amended to reflect that only the late meal period claims be adjudicated on a class-wide basis. In their opposition to Defendants' motion, Plaintiff contends that their Second Amended Consolidated Complaint "alleges that only the meal period claims are proceeding on a classwide basis, which is precisely in line with the Court's certification order." (Pls.' Opp'n to Taco Bell's Mot. to Alter Cert. Order 4:18-20.)

However, the Second Amended Consolidated Complaint continued to assert claims on behalf of classes that were never certified in this action, and the deadline for certifying classes has long expired. For example, the First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Causes of Action raise claims on behalf of the "Taco Bell Unpaid Wages Subclass, " a class that was not certified, and due to the expiration of the class certification deadline, cannot be certified in this action. (Second Amended Consolidated Complaint ¶¶ 55-64.) The Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Causes of Action raise claims on behalf of the "Taco Bell Unpaid Wages Subclass, " "Taco Bell Improper Wage Statements Subclass, " and "Taco Bell Unreimbursed Business Expenses Subclass, " "Vested Accrued Vacation Time Subclass, " and "Taco Bell Final Pay Subclass"-all classes that have not been certified in this action. (Second Amended Consolidated Complaint ¶¶ 92-126.)

Nothing in the Second Amended Consolidated Complaint suggests that the meal period claim (asserted as the Fourth Cause of Action) is the only claim to be adjudicated on a class-wide basis. Nonetheless, Plaintiffs' opposition indicates that their intent was to limit the class claims to those related to the meal period claim. Accordingly, the Court will amend the class certification order to clarify that the only claims to be adjudicated on a class basis are the meal period claims on behalf of the certified Meal Break Subclass. No other claims are proceeding on a class-wide basis at this time.[2]

2. Standard of Liability Under Brinker

Defendants argue that the order on class certification should be amended to reflect the "correct" standard of liability under the California Supreme Court's decision in Brinker v. Superior Court , 53 Cal.4th 1004 (2012). Defendants argue that the class definition should more closely comport with the standards expressed in Brinker.

In Brinker the Supreme Court of California analyzed the scope of an employer's duty to provide their employees with meal breaks under the Labor Code. The court held that "an employer must relieve the employee of all duty for the designated period, but need not ensure that the ...


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