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Garnett v. ADT LLC

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 27, 2016

SHIRLEY GARNETT, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
ADT, LLC, and DOES 1-50, inclusive, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: MOTION FOR FINAL APPROVAL OF CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT

          WILLIAM B. SHUBB UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Shirley Garnett brought this putative class action against defendant ADT, LLC, asserting claims arising out of defendant’s alleged failure to reimburse for work-related vehicle expenses and failure to provide accurate wage statements as required by California law. Presently before the court is plaintiff’s motion for final approval of the class action settlement, (Docket No. 87), and motion for attorney’s fees, costs, and an incentive award for the named plaintiff, (Docket No. 86).

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         To avoid repetition, the court will refrain from reciting the factual and procedural background, which remains the same as in its October 6, 2015 Order granting plaintiff’s partial motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s itemized wage statement claim and denying defendant’s cross-motion for summary judgment. (Oct. 6, 2015 Order (Docket No. 33).)

         The court granted preliminary approval of plaintiff’s class action settlement on April 18, 2016. (Apr. 18, 2016 Order (Docket No. 85).) Plaintiff now seeks final approval of the class-wide settlement pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(e). (Pl.’s Mot. for Final Approval (“Pl.’s Mot.”) (Docket No. 87-1).) Defendant does not oppose plaintiff’s motions.

         II. Discussion

         Rule 23(e) provides that “[t]he claims, issues, or defenses of a certified class may be settled . . . only with the court’s approval.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e). “Approval under 23(e) involves a two-step process in which the Court first determines whether a proposed class action settlement deserves preliminary approval and then, after notice is given to class members, whether final approval is warranted.” Nat’l Rural Telecomms. Coop. v. DIRECTV, Inc., 221 F.R.D. 523, 525 (C.D. Cal. 2004) (citing Manual for Complex Litig., Third, § 30.41 (1995)).

         The Ninth Circuit has declared a strong judicial policy favoring settlement of class actions. Class Plaintiffs v. City of Seattle, 955 F.2d 1268, 1276 (9th Cir. 1992). Nevertheless, where, as here, “the parties reach a settlement agreement prior to class certification, courts must 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).

         A. Class Certification

         A class action will be certified only if it meets the four prerequisites identified in Rule 23(a) and additionally fits within one of the three subdivisions of Rule 23(b). See Ontiveros v. Zamora, Civ. No. 2:08-567 WBS DAD, 2014 WL 3057506, at *4 (E.D. Cal. July 7, 2014); Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a)-(b). Although a district court has discretion in determining whether the moving party has satisfied each Rule 23 requirement, see Califano v. Yamasaki, 442 U.S. 682, 701 (1979); Montgomery v. Rumsfeld, 572 F.2d 250, 255 (9th Cir. 1978), the court must conduct a rigorous inquiry before certifying a class, see Gen. Tel. Co. of Sw. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 161 (1982); E. Tex. Motor Freight Sys. v. Rodriguez, 431 U.S. 395, 403-05 (1977).

         1. Rule 23(a) Requirements

         Rule 23(a) restricts class actions to cases where:

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable; (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class; (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a). These requirements are more commonly referred to as numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation.

         In its Preliminary Approval Order, the court found that the class satisfied these requirements, (Apr. 18, 2016 Order at 3-9), and the court is unaware of any changes that would alter its analysis.

         2. Rule 23(b)

         An action that meets all the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) may be certified as a class action only if it also satisfies the requirements of one of the three subdivisions of Rule 23(b). Leyva v. Medline Indus. Inc., 716 F.3d 510, 512 (9th Cir. 2013). Plaintiff seeks certification under Rule 23(b)(3), which provides that a class action may be maintained only if (1) “the court finds that questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over questions affecting only individual members” and (2) “that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(3).

         In its Preliminary Approval Order, the court found that both prerequisites were satisfied. (Apr. 18, 2016 Order at 9-10.) The court is unaware of any changes that would affect this conclusion. Accordingly, since the settlement class satisfied both Rule 23(a) and 23(b)(3), the court will grant plaintiff’s motion for final certification of the settlement class.

         3. Rule 23(c)(2) Notice Requirements

         If the court certifies a class under Rule 23(b)(3), it “must direct to class members the best notice that is practicable under the circumstances, including individual notice to all members who can be identified through reasonable effort.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(2)(B). Rule 23(c)(2) governs both the form and content of a proposed notice. See Ravens v. Iftikar, 174 F.R.D. 651, 658 (N.D. Cal. 1997) (citing Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156, 172-77 (1974)). Although that notice must be “reasonably certain to inform the absent members of the plaintiff class, ” actual notice is not required. Silber v. Mabon, 18 F.3d 1449, 1454 (9th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted).

         In this case, the court-appointed claims administrator, ILYM, mailed notice to 1, 593 class members on May 9, 2016, after checking the names and addresses against the National Change of Address database maintained by the United States Postal Service and updating any changed addresses. (Mullins Decl. ¶¶ 7-8 (Docket No. 87-3).) One hundred sixty notice packets were returned and ILYM located updated addresses and re-mailed the packets. (Id. at ¶ 9.) Only nine notices were deemed undeliverable. (Id.)

         The notice explained the proceedings; defined the scope of the class; informed the class members of the claim form requirement and the binding effect of the class action; described the procedure for opting out and objecting; and provided the time and date of the final fairness hearing. (Id. Ex. A, Notice.) In addition, the parties modified the text box on page two of the notice entitled, “YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS AND OPTIONS IN THIS LAWSUIT, ” to make it clear that class members must submit a claim form in order to receive a settlement check, pursuant to this court’s instructions at the preliminary approval hearing. (Id. at 2; Workman Decl. in Support of Pl.’s Mot. for Final Approval ¶ 7 (Docket No. 87-2).)

         Accordingly, the court finds that the content of the notice was reasonably certain to inform the class members of the terms of the settlement agreement and the method used was the best form of notice available under the circumstances. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(2)(B); see also Churchill Vill., L.L.C. v. Gen. Elec., 361 F.3d 566, 575 (9th Cir. 2004) (“Notice is satisfactory if it ‘generally describes the terms of the settlement in sufficient detail to alert those with adverse viewpoints to investigate and to come forward and be heard.’” (citation omitted)).

         B. Rule 23(e): Fairness, Adequacy, and Reasonableness of Proposed Settlement

         Having determined class treatment to be warranted, the court must now determine whether the terms of the parties’ settlement appear fair, adequate, and reasonable. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e)(2); Hanlon, 150 F.3d at 1026. This process ...


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