Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Aguilar v. Wawona Frozen Foods

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 18, 2017

LUIS AGUILAR and VEDA RAMOS, individually and on behalf of those similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
WAWONA FROZEN FOODS, and DOES 1-50, inclusive, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR FINAL APPROVAL OF CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT AND MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES (Doc. 81, 83)

         Currently pending before the court are motions for final approval of a class action settlement and for attorneys' fees, both filed on April 18, 2017. (Doc. Nos. 81, 83.) The motions are not formally opposed, though defendant filed a separate memorandum in support of the former motion on May 2, 2017 which takes issue with certain requests made by plaintiffs. (Doc. No. 91.) The court held a hearing on May 16, 2017, at which attorneys Robert Sink and Philip Downey appeared on behalf of plaintiffs and attorneys Ian Wieland and Howard Sagaser appeared on behalf of defendant. For the reasons that follow, the court grants both motions.

         BACKGROUND

         This court previously granted preliminary approval of a class action settlement in this matter, as well as approval of an accompanying “opt-in” settlement pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), on January 11, 2017. (Doc. No. 78.) Pertinent factual details as well as plaintiffs' allegations may be found in that order. Since preliminary approval was granted, notice of the settlement was mailed to 5, 628[1] current and former employees of defendant. (Doc. No. 86 at ¶ 10.) Of those notices, 272 were ultimately determined to be undeliverable, despite the class administrator's attempts to trace all class members. (Id. at ¶ 11.) No objections to the settlement were filed, and no class members opted out of the settlement. (Id. at ¶¶ 14, 15.) In addition, the settlement administrator received 1, 642 opt-in forms concerning the FLSA portion of the settlement. (Id. at ¶ 13.) Of these, 1, 485 were considered complete and timely by the settlement administrator and 157 opt-in forms were either incomplete or untimely. (Id.) Plaintiffs note that the parties “agree to accept the late Opt-In forms . . . provided the Court is willing to accept them.” (Doc. No. 81-1 at 23, n.8.) The court accepts all 1, 642 individuals who filed opt-in forms as part of the FLSA portion of this settlement.

         FINAL CERTIFICATION OF CLASS ACTION

         The court conducted an examination of the class action factors during its preliminary approval of the settlement, and found certification warranted. (See Doc. No. 78 at 12-17.) Since no additional issues concerning whether certification is warranted have been raised, the court does not repeat its prior analysis here, but instead reaffirms it and finds final certification appropriate. The following classes are certified:

California Law Class:
All non-exempt hourly workers who were employed or are currently employed by Wawona Frozen Foods at its California facilities at any time from January 20, 2011 through September 11, 2016.
FLSA Overtime Class:
All non-exempt hourly workers who were employed or are currently employed by Wawona Frozen Foods at its California facilities at any time from January 20, 2012 through September 11, 2016.

         In addition, plaintiffs Luis Aguilar and Veda Ramos are confirmed as class representatives, while attorneys Robert W. Sink and Philip A. Downey are confirmed as class counsel. Rust Consulting is confirmed as the settlement administrator.

         FINAL APPROVAL OF CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT

         A class action 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). At the final approval stage, the primary inquiry is whether the proposed settlement “is fundamentally fair, adequate, and reasonable.” Lane v. Facebook, Inc., 696 F.3d 811, 818 (9th Cir. 2012); Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., 150 F.3d 1011, 1026 (9th Cir. 1998). “It is the settlement taken as a whole, rather than the individual component parts, that must be examined for overall fairness.” Hanlon, 150 F.3d at 1026 (citing Officers for Justice v. Civil Serv. Comm'n of S.F., 688 F.2d 615, 628 (9th Cir. 1982)); see also Lane, 696 F.3d at 818-19. Having already completed a preliminary examination of the agreement, the court reviews it again, mindful that the law favors the compromise and settlement of class action suits. See, e.g., In re Syncor ERISA Litig., 516 F.3d 1095, 1101 (9th Cir. 2008); Churchill Village, LLC. v. Gen. Elec., 361 F.3d 566, 576 (9th Cir. 2004); Class Plaintiffs v. City of Seattle, 955 F.2d 1268, 1276 (9th Cir. 1992); Officers for Justice, 688 F.2d at 625 (9th Cir. 1982). Ultimately, “the decision to approve or reject a settlement is committed to the sound discretion of the trial judge because he [or she] is exposed to the litigants and their strategies, positions, and proof.” Staton v. Boeing Co., 327 F.3d 938, 953 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting Hanlon, 150 F.3d at 1026).

Assessing a settlement proposal requires the district court to balance a number of factors: the strength of the plaintiffs' case; the risk, expense, complexity, and likely duration of further litigation; the risk of maintaining class action status throughout the trial; the amount offered in settlement; the extent of discovery completed and the stage of the proceedings; the experience and views of counsel; the presence of a governmental participant; and the reaction of the class members to the proposed settlement.

Hanlon, 150 F.3d at 1026 (citing Torrisi v. Tucson Elec. Power Co., 8 F.3d 1370, 1375 (9th Cir. 1993)); see also Lane, 696 F.3d at 819. “To survive appellate review, the district court must show it has explored comprehensively all factors[.]” Allen v. Bedolla, 787 F.3d 1218, 1223 (9th Cir. 2015) (quoting Dennis v. Kellogg Co., 697 F.3d 858, 864 (9th Cir. 2012)); Hanlon, 150 F.3d at 1026.

         a. Strength of Plaintiff's Case

         When assessing the strength of plaintiff's case, the court does not reach “any ultimate conclusions regarding the contested issues of fact and law that underlie the merits of this litigation.” In re Wash. Pub. Power Supply Sys. Sec. Litig., 720 F.Supp. 1379, 1388 (D. Ariz. 1989). The court cannot reach such a conclusion, because evidence has not been fully presented. Id. Instead, the court is to “evaluate objectively the strengths and weaknesses inherent in the litigation and the impact of those considerations on the parties' decisions to reach these agreements.” Id.

         Plaintiffs believe their claims that they were not paid for time spent donning and doffing safety gear and washing their hands had merit under California law. (Doc. No. 81-1 at 18.) However, defendant maintained that a de minimis defense existed to these claims, and plaintiffs' counsel recognized there was at least some chance, if the defense were successful, that plaintiffs would have received no recovery at all. Further, counsel represents there was some evidence from defendant's human resources director that the defendant actually did provide additional paid time for such activities. (Id.; see also Doc. No. 84 at ¶ 15.) Therefore, it is clear that plaintiffs' case, despite its strengths, was seriously contested. This weighs in favor of the court concluding this settlement should be approved.

         b. The Risk, Expense, Complexity, and Likely Duration of Further Litigation and the Risk of Maintaining Class Action Status Through Trial

         Employment law class actions are, by their nature, time-consuming and expensive to litigate. Hightower v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., No. CV 11-1802 PSG (PLAx), 2015 WL 9664959, at *6 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 4, 2015). Here, plaintiffs' counsel attests that continuing litigation in this case would have involved numerous depositions, substantial presentation of documentary evidence, and significant expert preparation and analysis. (Doc. No. 84 at ¶ 10.) He estimates fees and costs would easily add up to millions of dollars, if the case were to advance to trial. (Id.) Further, it is clear class certification would have been opposed. (Id.) These factors weigh in favor of approving final settlement of the class action.

         c. The Amount Offered in Settlement

         The gross settlement amount in this case is $4.5 million.[2] As the court previously determined, this figure represented either 47 percent or 75 percent of the total anticipated recovery amount of approximately $6.175 million, depending on whether attorneys' fees were subtracted first. (Doc. No. 78 at 7-9.) Plaintiffs' counsel attests that, with the expanded number of class members identified above, the average settlement amount will be $506 per class member. (Doc. No. 84 at ΒΆ 15.) As noted in the court's prior order, this settlement amount is fair and reasonable in relation to the expected recovery. Since the total number of alleged ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.