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Dilts v. Penske Logistics, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. California

June 16, 2017

MICKEY LEE DILTS, RAY RIOS, and DONNY DUSHAJ, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
PENSKE LOGISTICS, LLC, PENSKE TRUCK LEASING CO., L.P., a Delaware corporation, and DOES 1 through 125, inclusive, Defendants.


          Hon. Cathy Ann Bencivengo United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' unopposed motion for final approval of class action settlement and award of attorneys' fees, costs and class representative enhancement awards. [Doc. No. 376.] The Court held a hearing on this motion on May 22, 2017. As discussed below, the motion for final approval is granted, and the motion for attorneys' fees, costs and class representative enhancement awards is granted in part.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs initiated this putative class action lawsuit in the Superior Court of San Diego County on January 17, 2008, alleging various wage and hour violations of California's Labor Code and its Unfair Competition Law, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200. Defendants removed the case to this Court on January 25, 2008.

         On November 20, 2016, after nearly nine years of litigation, including an appeal to the Ninth Circuit, the parties notified the Court that they had reached a settlement of the remaining certified claims. Plaintiffs filed an unopposed motion for preliminary approval of the class action settlement, which is memorialized in a written settlement agreement dated January 23, 2017. [Doc. Nos. 370, 373.]

         The agreement provides for settlement of claims for meal periods under the California Labor Code and Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and derivative claims for wage statement and waiting time penalties. It authorizes: (1) a class settlement in the amount of $750, 000; (2) an average class member award of approximately $950 from the Net Settlement amount; (3) a class representative award of $15, 000 per person; and (4) $12, 500 in class administrator fees. Additionally, $225, 000 in attorneys' fees and $135, 000 in costs is being requested. The settlement defines the class as “all persons employed by Penske in California facilities as driver/installers or helpers/installers assigned to the Whirlpool Account at any time during the period from January 17, 2004 through December 31, 2009.”[1] [Doc. No. 373 at 4.]

         On January 23, 2017, Plaintiffs filed an unopposed motion for preliminary approval of their settlement. [Doc. No. 370.] The Court granted the motion and preliminarily approved the settlement on February 6, 2017. [Doc. No. 372.] The preliminary approval order set a final approval hearing for May 22, 2017. The final approval hearing took place as scheduled. Counsel for both parties attended. No class members filed objections to the settlement, and no class members attended the hearing. However, one class member requested exclusion from the settlement.

         II. Final Approval of Settlement

         A. Legal Standard for Final Approval of Class Settlement

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(3) 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.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 23(e). “Adequate notice is critical to court approval of a class settlement under Rule 23(e).” Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., 150 F.3d 1011, 1025 (9th Cir. 1998). The Rule also “requires the district court to determine whether a proposed settlement is fundamentally fair, adequate, and reasonable.” Id. at 1026. In making this determination the Court is required to “evaluate the fairness of a settlement as a whole, rather than assessing its individual components.” Lane v. Facebook, Inc., 696 F.3d 811, 818-19 (9th Cir. 2012). Because a “settlement is the offspring of compromise; the question we address is not whether the final product could be prettier, smarter or snazzier, but whether it is fair, adequate and free from collusion.” Hanlon, 150 F.3d at 1027.

         In assessing a settlement proposal the district court is required to balance a number of factors, namely:

the strength of the plaintiff's 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.

Id. at 1026.

         B. Analysis

         1. Adequacy of Notice

         The Court approved notice of this class action and proposed settlement in the Preliminary Approval Order. The claims administrator distributed the Notice to 354 class members. The Notice advised the Class of the terms of the Settlement, of their rights (1) to participate and to receive their share of the Settlement automatically, without submission of a claim form; (2) to object to the Settlement and to appear at the Final Approval Hearing, (3) to request exclusion from the Settlement; (4) the manner and timing for doing any of these acts; and (5) the date and time set for the final approval hearing. The Notice packet also included the class member's individualized information such as the number of workweeks worked during the Class Period, and the estimated amount of their Settlement Payment. Adequate periods of time were provided for each of these procedures. No class members objected to the settlement or the adequacy of the Notice, and only one class member requested exclusion from the class. Accordingly, the Court finds that the Class received adequate notice.

         2. Strength of Plaintiffs' Case; Risk of Further Litigation; and Risk of Maintaining Class Action Status

         As a result of the preferable nature of Settlement over the uncertainties, expense and length of litigation “when assessing the strength of plaintiff's case, the court does not reach any ultimate conclusions regarding the contested issues of fact and the law that underlie the merits of this litigation.” Four in One Co. v. S.K. Foods, L.P., No. 2:08-CV-3017 KJM EFB, 2014 WL 4078238, at *7 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 14, 2014) (internal quotations omitted). Similarly, “a proposed settlement is not to be judged against a speculative measure of what might have been awarded in a judgment in favor of the class.” Nat'l Rural Telecomms. Coop. v. DIRECTV, Inc., 221 F.R.D. 523, 526 (C.D. Cal. 2004).

         Here, the Settlement has been reached after nearly nine years of litigation, including an appeal to the Ninth Circuit. Plaintiffs' claims at issue in the settlement involve disputed legal issues. The inherent risk of further litigation in this matter is known to all involved with the case. Proceeding to trial on the remaining second meal period claim presents a very real risk of an unfavorable decision on the merits and/or on resulting appeals. While Plaintiffs believe in the merits of their case, Defendants have strong defenses to class liability and damages determinations, and there is no guarantee that Plaintiffs will prevail. Furthermore, as evidenced by the somewhat recent decertification of four of the remaining six subclasses after remand, the risk of maintaining class certification on the remaining claim is ongoing. The Court finds these risks weigh in favor of settlement.

         3. The Amount ...

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