United States District Court, E.D. California
LUIS AGUILAR and VEDA RAMOS, individually and on behalf of those similarly situated, Plaintiff,
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.
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.
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 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.
CERTIFICATION OF CLASS ACTION
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
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.
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.
APPROVAL OF CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT
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
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
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.
Strength of Plaintiff's Case
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
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.
Risk, Expense, Complexity, and Likely Duration of Further
Litigation and the Risk of Maintaining Class Action Status
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.
Amount Offered in Settlement
gross settlement amount in this case is $4.5
million. 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 ¶ 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 ...