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Van Lith v. iHeartmedia Entertainment, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 20, 2017

KARL VAN LITH, Plaintiff,
v.
iHEARTMEDIA ENTERTAINMENT, INC., et al, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY APPROVAL OF CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT AND PROVISIONAL CERTIFICATION (DOC. 34)

          SHEILA K. OBERTO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement and Provisional Certification of the Class (the “Motion”).[1] (Doc. 34.) For the reasons provided herein, the Court GRANTS this Motion. (Id.)

         I. Background

         The class-related claims in this matter arise out of wage statements Defendants provided to Plaintiff and the proposed class members―who are employees of Defendants―which Plaintiff alleges contained inaccurate information.

         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed the currently operative Second Amended Class Action and Individual Complaint (the “Complaint”) on August 19, 2016. (Doc. 28 at 1-22.) In addition to the allegations relating solely to Plaintiff, the Complaint also includes California Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”) allegations and class action allegations. (See Id. ¶¶ 40-58.)

         The Complaint includes the following two claims against all Defendants on behalf of the proposed class: (1) First Cause of Action―failure to furnish accurate wage statements in violation of California Labor Code Section 226(a); and (2) Second Cause of Action―failure to maintain accurate wage statements in violation of California Labor Code Section 226(a). (Id. ¶¶ 59-68.) The Complaint also includes the following six claims against all Defendants on behalf of only Plaintiff: (1) Third Cause of Action―failure to pay overtime in violation of California Labor Code Sections 510 and 1198, as well as “the applicable IWC Wage Order(s);” (2) Fourth Cause of Action―failure to pay minimum wage in violation of California Labor Code Section 1197; (3) Fifth Cause of Action―failure to provide rest breaks in violation of California Labor Code Section 226.7 and “[t]he applicable Wage Order(s);” (4) Sixth Cause of Action―failure to provide meal breaks in violation of California Labor Code Sections 226.7 and 512(a), as well as “the applicable Wage Order(s);” (5) Seventh Cause of Action―failure to timely pay wages in violation of California Labor Code Section 204; and (6) Eighth Cause of Action―failure to pay wages upon cessation of employment in violation of California Labor Code Section 203. (Id. ¶¶ 69-100.)

         The Complaint includes the following requests for relief as to the class action claims: (1) certification of the class; (2) certification of Plaintiff as the class representative; (3) injunctive relief pursuant to California Labor Code Section 226(h); (4) civil and statutory penalties, “including those available under [California] Labor Code [S]ections 226 and 2699(f);” (5) prejudgment and post-judgment interest; and (6) statutory attorneys' fees and costs. (Id. at 21.) As to Plaintiff's individual claims, the Complaint includes the following requests for relief: (1) “compensatory, special, and general damages, including lost wages and related benefits;” (2) “statutory penalties, including those available under [California] Labor Code [S]ections 203, 226.7.1194, and 1194.2;” (3) prejudgment and post-judgment interest; and (4) statutory attorneys' fees and costs. (Id. at 21-22.)

         Plaintiff filed the Motion on December 22, 2016. (Doc. 34.) In his briefing pertaining to the Motion, Plaintiff represents that Defendants do not oppose the Motion. (Id., Ex. 1 at 8.) Defendants have not filed an opposition to the Motion to date.

         Plaintiff requests the following extensive relief in the Motion: (1) preliminary and conditional certification of the proposed class; (2) preliminary approval of Plaintiff as the class representative; (3) preliminary approval of Plaintiff's counsel as class counsel; (4) preliminary approval of the proposed settlement agreement as “fair, reasonable and adequate;” (5) approval of the proposed notice to the class members; (6) approval of “the method of notice;” (7) authorization to “disseminat[e]” the proposed notice; (8) appointment and approval of Rust Consulting as the claims administrator; (9) preliminary approval of the payment pertaining to the PAGA claims to the California Labor Workforce Development Agency (the “CLWDA”); (10) preliminary approval of the requested service fee for Plaintiff; (11) preliminary approval of the requested attorneys' fees and costs for the proposed class counsel; (12) “a schedule for the implementation of the terms of the [proposed settlement agreement], including deadlines for the mailing [of] the [notice to class members], the filing of objections and [o]pt-[o]outs, and the filing of papers in connection with the [f]inal [a]pproval [h]earing;” and (13) a date for the final approval hearing. (Id. at 27.)

         B. The Proposed Settlement Agreement

         Plaintiff filed the relevant Joint Stipulation re: Class Action Settlement and Release (the “Proposed Settlement Agreement”) on February 22, 2017.[2] (Doc. 49.) The Proposed Settlement Agreement provides the following pertinent definitions:

1.3 “Class Counsel Costs Payment” means the expenses and costs incurred by Class Counsel for Class Counsel's litigation and resolution of this Action, as approved by the Court, which may not exceed Five Thousand Dollars ($5, 000).
1.4 “Class Counsel Fees Payment” means the attorneys' fees for Class Counsel's litigation and resolution of this Action, as approved by the Court, which may not exceed Eighty-Five Thousand and Five Hundred Dollars ($85, 500).
. . .
1.6 “Class Members” mean all persons employed by Defendants in the State of California during the Class Period who have not signed an individual settlement agreement as of the date of entry of the Court's Preliminary Approval Order. These individuals are members of the class to be conditionally certified by the Court pursuant to this Settlement and will remain members of the Class if they do not properly elect to exclude themselves from this Settlement, pursuant to the terms of this Settlement Agreement.
1.7 “Class Period” means the period from December 7, 2014 through and including the Preliminary Approval Date.
. . .
1.10 “Defendants” means iHeartMedia Entertainment, Inc. and Capstar Radio Operating Company and iHeartMedia, Inc.
. . .
1.15 “Individual Settlement Payment” means the amount payable from the Net Distribution Fund to each Class Member who does not submit a timely and valid [r]equest for [e]xclusion. The Individual Settlement Payment shall be calculated pursuant to Paragraph 3.5.4 herein and each Class Member will receive at least $25, which is the minimum payment.
1.16 “Net Distribution Fund” means the Total Settlement Amount, less the amount that the Court approves for the PAGA Payment, Plaintiff's Service Payment, Plaintiff's Settlement Payment, the Class Counsel Fees Payment, the Class Counsel Costs Payment, and Settlement Administrator Costs. This amount is estimated at One Hundred Seventy-One Thousand, Five Hundred Dollars ($171, 500).
. . .
1.19 “PAGA Payment” means the portion of the Total Settlement Amount that is allocated to the PAGA Claims as civil penalties, pursuant to California Labor Code section 2698 et seq, and as approved by the Court. The PAGA Payment is Ten Thousand Dollars ($10, 000), seventy-five percent (75%) of which (i.e. $7, 500) will be remitted to the [CLWDA] and twenty-five percent (25%) of which (i.e. $2, 500) will be distributed to Class Members as part of the Net Distribution Fund.
1.20 “Settled PAGA Claims” means the claims for civil penalties that Plaintiff has settled on behalf of himself and all of Defendants' other current and former employees in the state of California under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 in exchange for the consideration provided by this Settlement Agreement. The Settled PAGA Claims include: the right to pursue and/or ability to collect civil money penalties under the PAGA for alleged violations of Labor Code sections 201, 202, 203, 204, 226, 226.7, 510, 512, 558 and 1198.5, including any claim for attorney's fees and costs. The Settled PAGA Claims do not include other potential claims that may arise under Labor Code sections 201, 202, 203, 204, 226.7, 510, 512, 558 and 1198.5.
. . .
1.25 “Preliminary Approval Order” means the Court's entry of a Preliminary Approval Order preliminarily approving this Settlement . . . .
1.26 “Released Class Claims” means the claims that Plaintiff and Class Members are fully releasing in exchange for the consideration provided by this Settlement Agreement. The Released Claims include all liabilities and causes of action of every nature and description, whether known or unknown, actually alleged in the Action, or that could have been alleged in the Action based on the allegations in the Second Amended Complaint, related in any way to the wage statements that allegedly failed to comply with Labor Code section 226(a), including claims for statutory penalties and civil penalties, as well as damages, interest and attorney's fees and costs.
1.27 “Released Parties” means Defendants and their past, present and/or future, direct and/or indirect parent companies, subsidiaries, affiliates, related entities, divisions and each of their respective officers, directors, managers, members, heirs, employees, agents, representatives, attorneys, insurers, partners, investors, shareholders, predecessors, successors, and/or assigns.
. . .
1.30 “Service Payment” means the amount that the Court approves to be paid to [Plaintiff], for his efforts in assisting with the prosecution of the Action and as consideration for executing this Settlement Agreement and releasing his claims against Defendants in an amount not to exceed Three Thousand Dollars ($3, 000).
1.31 “Settlement” or “Settlement Agreement” means the disposition of the Action pursuant to this [Proposed Settlement Agreement].
1.32 “Settlement Administration Costs” means the costs incurred by the Settlement Administrator and approved by the Court from the Total Settlement Amount. Such Settlement Administration Costs may not exceed Fifteen Thousand Dollars ($15, 000).
. . .
1.35 “Total Settlement Amount” means Three Hundred Thousand Dollars ($300, 000), which is the maximum amount that Defendants are obligated to pay under this Settlement Agreement in order to resolve and settle this Action, subject to the Court's approval.

(Doc. 49 at 3-7.)

         Under the terms of the Proposed Settlement Agreement, the Total Settlement Amount of $300, 000 is “the maximum amount payable by Defendants.” (Id. ¶ 3.1.) This is the total amount payable by Defendants under the Proposed Settlement Agreement to resolve all claims, payments, fees, and costs. (See id.)

         As to the payments for each individual class member, the Proposed Settlement Agreement provides that Individual Settlement Payments “will be paid from the Net Distribution Fund and shall be calculated pursuant to Paragraph 3.5.4 herein.” (Id. ¶ 3.5.3.) Paragraph 3.5.4, in turn, provides the following as to the calculation of the Individual Settlement Payments:

All Class Members who do not submit a valid and timely [r]equest for [e]xclusion will receive an Individual Settlement Payment which will be at least $25. The amount of the Individual Settlement Payment will be calculated by assigning a dollar value to each pay period worked by all Class Members during the Class Period (who do not submit a timely and valid [r]equest for [e]xclusion from the Settlement), as determined from Class Members' hire, transfer, and termination dates, and payroll/time data found in Defendants' records. More specifically, the dollar value of each pay period will be calculated by dividing the Net Distribution Fund by the total number of pay periods worked by Class Members during the Class Period (rounded up). If a Class Member's Individual Payment is less than $25 than that individual will be paid at least $25. Each Class Member's Individual Settlement Payment will then be determined by multiplying the total number of pay periods the Class Member worked during the Class Period (rounded up) by the dollar value of each pay period (which will be adjusted depending on the number of minimum payments).

(Id. ¶ 3.5.4.)

         The Proposed Settlement Agreement also provides the following as to attorneys' fees and costs for the class counsel:

Defendants agree to take no position regarding any application or motion by Class Counsel for attorneys' fees not to exceed Eighty-Five Thousand Five-Hundred Dollars ($85, 500). Defendants further agree not to take a position regarding any application or motion by Class Counsel for Attorneys' costs not to exceed Five Thousand Hundred [sic] Dollars ($5, 000). . . . This Settlement is not contingent upon the Court approving Class Counsel any particular amount in attorneys' fees and costs. In the event that the Court approves less than the full amount requested for the Class Counsel Fees Payment and Class Counsel Costs Payment, the un-approved amount will be made available for distribution to Class Members as part of the Net Distribution Fund.

(Id. ¶ 3.5.9.)

         Finally, the Proposed Settlement Agreement provides that the parties “stipulate and agree to the certification of this [class action] for purposes of [s]ettlement only.” (Id. ¶ 2.2) The Proposed Settlement Agreement further states that, “[s]hould the [s]ettlement not become final and effective as herein provided, class certification shall immediately be set aside (subject to further proceedings on motion of any [p]arty to certify or deny certification thereafter).” (Id.)

         II. Legal Background

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(e) provides that “[t]he claims, issues, or defenses of a certified class may be settled, voluntarily dismissed, or compromised only with the court's approval.” “The Ninth Circuit has declared that a strong judicial policy favors settlement of class actions.” Alberto v. GMRI, Inc., 252 F.R.D. 652, 658 (E.D. Cal. 2008) (citing Class Plaintiffs v. City of Seattle, 955 F.2d 1268, 1276 (9th Cir. 1992)).

         “Procedurally, the approval of a class action settlement takes place in two stages.” Id. “In the first stage of the approval process, ‘the court preliminarily approve[s] the [s]ettlement pending a fairness hearing, temporarily certifie[s] the [c]lass . . ., and authorize[s] notice to be given to the [c]lass.'” Id. at 658-59 (quoting West v. Circle K Stores, Inc., No. 040438, 2006 WL 1652598, at *2 (E.D. Cal. June 13, 2006)); see, e.g., Vu v. Fashion Inst. of Design & Merch., CASE NO.: CV 14-08822 SJO (Ex), 2016 WL 6211308, at *2 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 22, 2016) (“Approval under [Rule] 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.” (alteration in original) (quoting Nat'l Rural Telecomms. Coop. v. DIRECTV, Inc., 221 F.R.D. 523, 525 (C.D. Cal. 2004))). At this first stage, the court “‘determine[s] whether a proposed class action settlement deserves preliminary approval' and lay[s] the ground work for a future fairness hearing.” Alberto, 252 F.R.D. at 659 (quoting Nat'l Rural Telecomms. Coop., 221 F.R.D. at 525).

         The second stage―the fairness hearing―occurs “after notice is given to putative class members.” Id. At this hearing, “the court . . . entertain[s] any . . . objections” from the putative class members as to “(1) the treatment of th[e] litigation as a class action and/or (2) the terms of the settlement.” Id. (citing Diaz v. Tr. Territory of Pac. Islands, 876 F.2d 1401, 1408 (9th Cir. 1989)). “Following the fairness hearing, the court . . . make[s] a final determination as to whether the parties should be allowed to settle the class action pursuant to the terms agreed upon.” Id. (citing Nat'l Rural Telecomms. Coop., 221 F.R.D. at 525).

         The present preliminary approval stage requires two separate inquiries “where, as here, ‘parties reach a settlement agreement prior to class certification.'” Id. at 658 (quoting Staton v. Boeing Co., 327 F.3d 938, 952 (9th Cir. 2003)). Specifically, “courts must peruse the proposed compromise to ratify both [1] the propriety of the certification and [2] the fairness of the settlement.” Id. (alterations in original) (quoting Staton, 327 F.3d at 952). The Court shall address both inquiries, in turn.

         III. ...


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