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Munoz v. Giumarra Vineyards Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 20, 2017

RAFAEL MUNOZ, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
GIUMARRA VINEYARDS CORP., Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS GRANTING FINAL APPROVAL OF THE CLASS SETTLEMENT AND GRANTING IN PART THE REQUESTS FOR CLASS REPRESENTATIVE FEES, ATTORNEYS FEES AND COSTS (DOC. 227)

          Jennifer L. Thurston UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Rafael Munoz, Santos Valenzula, Trindad Ruiz, Marta Rincon de Diaz, Ramon Cervantes Perales and Hugo Perez Rios (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) seek final approval of a class settlement reached in this action with Defendant Giumarra Vineyards Corporation. In addition, Plaintiffs seek an award of attorneys' fees and costs from the settlement fund, fees for claims administration, and class representative enhancement payments. (Doc. 227)

         Because Plaintiffs carry their burden to demonstrate certification the settlement terms are fair, reasonable, and adequate, the Court recommends Plaintiffs' request for final approval of the Settlement be GRANTED. In addition, the Court recommends the request for attorney fees be GRANTED in the modified amount of $1, 525, 000; costs be awarded in the modified amount of $175, 000.00; enhancement payments be GRANTED in PART for Rafael Munoz, Santos Valenzuela, Ramon Perales, Hugo Perez, Trinidad Ruiz, and Marta Rincon de Diaz; and enhancement payments be DENIED for Lidia Cruz, and Yanet Hernandez.

         BACKGROUND

         On March 5, 2004, Arnaldo Lara, Mario Laveaga, Mirna Diaz, Paula Leon, and Raul Diaz, individually and acting for the interests of the general public, (“Lara Plaintiffs”) initiated an action in the Kern County Superior Court against Rogelio Casimiro, doing business as Golden Grain Farm Labor.[1] On September 12, 2005, the Lara Plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint and identified other employers of agricultural farm workers as defendants, including El Rancho Farms; Stevco, Inc.; Lucich Family Farms; and Castlerock Farming and Transport, Inc. The Lara Plaintiffs never identified Giumarra as a defendant in the state court action.

         On November 9, 2005, Plaintiffs' counsel initiated an action against table grape growers based in Kern County, including Giumarra Vineyards Corporation; Marko Zaninovich, Inc.; Sunview Vineyards of California, Inc.; Castlerock; D.M. Camp & Sons; Sunview Vineyards of California; El Rancho Farms; Stevco, Inc; and FAL, Inc.[2] (See Doc. 46 at 12, n.17; see also Doe v. D.M. Camp & Sons, 624 F.Supp.2d 1153 (E.D. Cal. 2008). At the time the action was initiated, the plaintiffs were unnamed former and current employees of the defendants. Id. at 1156. The Court acknowledged the Doe matter was related to several other cases initiated against grape growers. Id.

         On December 16, 2005, Santos R. Valenzuela, Trinidad Ruiz, Marta Ricon de Diaz, Ramon Cervantes Perales, and Hugo Perez Rios filed a complaint against Giumarra Vineyards, initiating Case No. 1:05-cv-1600-AWI-SMS. The plaintiffs alleged violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, common law breach of contract, failure to pay wages and/or overtime, failure to reimburse expenses in violation of California Labor Code § 2802, failure to allow for meal and rest breaks pursuant to California Labor Code § 226.7, failure to keep accurate records, and violations of California Business and Professions Code § 17200. (Valenzuela, Doc. 1 at 1-2)

         Defendants in Doe action, including Giumarra Vineyards, filed motions to dismiss the operative complaint. The Court granted the motions to dismiss and to sever the action and ordered the plaintiffs to file amended pleadings against each defendant. (Doe, Doc. 168) On May 29, 2008, Rafael Munoz, Lidia Cruz, and Yanet Hernandez were identified as plaintiffs in the Third Amended Complaint against Giumarra Vineyards. (Doe, Doc. 172) On March 31, 2009, the Court ordered Plaintiffs to re-file their suit in a new action within twenty days to finalize the severance. (Doe, Doc. 238)

         On April 20, 2009, plaintiffs Rafael Munoz, Lidia Cruz, and Yanet Hernandez filed a complaint against Giumarra Vineyards. (Doc. 1) The plaintiffs filed a notice of related cases, including Valenzuela. (Doc. 6) The Court directed the parties to file briefs regarding consolidation (Doc. 8), and on August 20, 2009, the Court ordered the cases be consolidated. (Doc. 27)

         On May 4, 2009, the Court observed the plaintiffs in Munoz and Valenzuela were “suing Giumarra on largely the same legal grounds” (Doc. 8 at 1) and were represented by “two groups of allied attorneys.” (Doc. 20 at 1) The Munoz plaintiffs were represented by Mallison & Martinez; Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld; and Milberg LLP; while the Valenzuela plaintiffs were represented by McNicholas & McNicholas; Kingsley & Kingsley; Bush, Gottlieb, Singer, Lopez, Kohanski, Adelstein & Dickinson; and the Law Offices of Marcos Camacho. (See Doc. 20 at 1) The Court consolidated Munoz and Valenzuela, and Court arranged class counsel as follows:

         1. Co-Lead Counsel[3]

■ Mallison & Martinez
■ McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP

         2. Members of the Executive Committee[4]

■ Bush, Gottlieb, Singer, Lopez, Kohanski, Adelstein, Dickinson
■ Kingsley & Kingsley, APC
■ Law Offices of Marcos Camacho
■ Milberg, LLP
■ Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld

(Doc. 27 at 1-2) Thus, each of the law firms remained designated as Plaintiffs' counsel in the action.

         On September 22, 2009, the plaintiffs filed the “consolidated complaint” that identified all named plaintiffs in the action: Rafael Munoz, Lidia Cruz, Yanet Hernandez, Santos R. Valenzula, Trinidad Ruis, Marta Rincon de Diaz, Ramon Cervantes Perales and Hugo Perez Rios. (Doc. 28) Plaintiffs alleged Giumarra was liable for: violations of the Agricultural Workers Protection Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1801, failure to pay wages, failure to pay reporting time wages, failure to reimburse required expenses, failure to provide meal and rest periods, failure to pay wages of terminated or resigned employees, knowing and intentional failure to comply with itemized employee wage statement provisions and record keeping requirements, breach of contract, and violation of unfair competition law. (Id. at 1-2) Plaintiffs brought the action “on behalf of Plaintiffs and members of the Plaintiff Class comprising all non-exempt agricultural, packing shed, and storage cooler employees employed, or formerly employed, by each of the Defendants within the State of California.” (Id. at 9) In April 2011, the parties stipulated to amend the operative complaint, “withdrawing Lidia Cruz and Yanet Hernandez as named plaintiffs and class representatives.” (Doc. 36)

         In November 2011, the parties requested a stay in the action pending the resolution of Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Sup. Ct., 165 Cal.App.4th 25 (2008). The parties noted, “At issue in Brinker is the standard for determining an employer's obligations with respect to California's rest and meal break laws.” (Doc. 79 at 2) Because Plaintiffs' amended complaint raised issues pending resolution in Brinker, the Court granted the request for a stay. (Doc. 80) On April 12, 2012, the California Supreme Court issued its decision in Brinker. Therefore, the Court lifted the stay and heard oral arguments regarding the motion for class certification.

         The Court granted Plaintiff's motion for class certification in part, certifying the “Late Meal Class” and “Tools Class” on June 13, 2013. (Docs. 109, 121) Each class included “all fieldworkers employed by Giumarra from 11/9/2001 to the present.” (See Doc. 121 at 16) Plaintiffs' proposed Class Notice-which included “the nature of the action, the class definitions approve by the Court, the claims and issues to be resolved, how a class member may enter appear through an attorney or chose to be excluded from the class, the time and method to opt-out of the class, and the binding effect of a class judgment”-was approved by the Court on December 11, 2013. (Doc. 137 at 1)

         Following the Court's rulings on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, Defendant filed a motion to decertify the Late Meals Class (Doc. 189), which was denied by the Court on September 30, 2016. (See Docs. 202, 210)

         The parties engaged in mediation with Steven Vartabedian, a retired justice of California's Fifth District Court of Appeal. (Doc. 218 at 8) On November 29, 2016, Plaintiffs notified the Court that the parties had “come to an agreement in principle to resolve the matter entirely, ” and began “the process of formally documenting the timers of the proposed settlement.” (Doc. 213 at 3) By January 6, 2017, the parties reported the terms had been finalized “and the settlement agreement [was being] circulated for signatures.” (Doc. 215 at 3)

         The Court granted preliminary approval of the proposed settlement agreement on March 27, 2017. (Docs. 223) The Court granted conditional certification of the Settlement Class, which was defined as a combination of the previously-certified Tools Class and Late Meal Break Class, stating:

“Tool Class” means all fieldworkers employed by Giumarra from November 9, 2001 through and including December 1, 2016 who were "required to purchase necessary tools. The “Late Meal Break Class” consists of all field workers employed by Giumarra from 11/9/2001 November 9, 2001 through and including December 1, 2016 who were not provided a timely meal period.
The “Class” for purposes of settling both claims consists of the combined Tool and Late Meal Break Class. The Class does not include irrigators and drivers; only employees, exclusive of foremen, assigned to crews that performed tasks similar to those of the named Plaintiffs: tying, pruning, picking and packing.

(Id. at 15; Doc. 219-1 at 4, Settlement § I.D) In addition, Rafael Munoz, Santos Valenzuela, Trinidad Ruiz, Marta R. Rincon de Diaz, Ramon Perales, and Hugo Perez Rios were appointed as the Settlement Class Representatives, and authorized to seek enhancement payments up to $7, 500 for their representation of the class. (Doc. 223 at 15) The law firm of Mallison & Martinez remained appointed as the Class counsel, and authorized to seek fees that did not “exceed 33 1/3% of the gross settlement amount” and costs up to $175, 000. (Id.) Finally, Rust Consulting (“Rust”) was appointed the Settlement Administrator. (Id.) On April 3, 2017, the Court approved the Class Notice Packet that conveyed this information to class members. (Doc. 225)

         On April 17, 2017, the Settlement Administrator mailed the Class Notice Packet to 13, 449 class members. (Doc. 227-6 at 3, Schwartz Decl. ¶ 11) In total, the Settlement Administrator received 3, 809 Claim Forms, of which 3, 385 were considered complete. (Doc. 227-6 at 4, Schwartz Decl. ¶ 15) However, per the instructions of the parties, the Settlement Administrator will consider claim forms received prior to June 20, 2017 to be valid. (Id.) In addition, the Settlement Administrator received 143 Exclusion Forms, but “113 Class Members sent both a Claim Form and Exclusion Form.” (Id., ¶¶ 17-18) Therefore, the Settlement Administrator sent the 113 individuals letters inquiring as to what action the class member intended, and stating “if that if a Class Member does not respond to the letter of intention, the Claim Form shall take precedence.” (Id., ¶ 18)

         No written objections to the proposed settlement terms were received by the Settlement Administrator. (Doc. 227-6 at 3, Schwartz Decl. ¶ 19) Similarly, the Court did not receive any objections from class members.

         Plaintiffs filed the motion for final approval of the class settlement terms, as well as approval of payments from the settlement fund, on May 30, 2015. (Doc. 227)

         SETTLEMENT TERMS

         Pursuant to the proposed settlement (“the Settlement”), the parties agreed to a gross settlement amount totaling $6, 100, 000.00, plus interest. (Doc. 227-3 at 3, Settlement § I.S) Giumarra agreed to fund the Settlement for the following classes:

The Tools Class: all fieldworkers employed by Giumarra from 11/9/2001 to the present who were required to purchase necessary tools.
The Late Meal Break Class: all field workers by Giumarra from 11/9/2001 to the present who were not provided a timely meal period.

(Id. at 1, Settlement § I.D) These classes include only “employees, exclusive of foremen, assigned to crews that performed tasks similar to those of the named Plaintiffs: tying, pruning, pickling and packing.” (Id.) Thus, the classes do not include irrigators and drivers. (Id.) For purposes of settlement, the Settlement Class “consists of the combined Tool and Late Meal Break Class.” (Id.)

         Giumarra agreed to pay $2, 100, 000 of the Gross Settlement Amount by June 1, 2017; another $2, 000, 000 plus 5% interest on December 1, 2017; and a final payment of $2, 000, 000 plus 5% interest on November 1, 2018. (Doc. 227-3 at 11-12, Settlement §III.F.7) If any of the payments are made after these deadlines, the interest rate will rise to 10%. (Id. at 12)

         I. Payment Terms

         The settlement fund will cover payments to class members with additional compensation to the Class Representatives. (Doc. 227-3 at 5-6, Settlement § III.B) In addition, the Settlement provides for payments to Class Counsel for attorneys' fees and expenses, to the Settlement Administrator, and the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency. (Id.) Specifically, the settlement provides for the following payments from the gross settlement amount:

• The named Class Representatives will receive up to $7, 500 each;
• Plaintiffs who withdrew from the action will receive up to $3, 500 each;
• Class counsel will receive no more than 33 1/3% of the gross settlement amount for fees, and up to $175, 000 for expenses;
• The Claims Administrator will receive up to $75, 000 for fees and expenses.[5]

(Doc. 227-3 at 5-7, Settlement § III.B; Doc. 218-7 at 17) After these payments have been made, the remaining money (“Net Settlement Amount”) will be distributed as settlement shares to Class Members. (Doc. 227-3 at 3, Settlement §§ I.V, III.D)

         Class members must have submitted the Claim Form to receive a share from the Net Settlement Amount. (Doc. 227-3 at 6, Settlement § III.D) Shares for each class member will be based upon:

(a) that Claimant's total number of Months of Employment during the Class Period (b) divided by the aggregate number of Months of Employment of all Participating Class Members during the Class Period (with the division rounded to four decimal places) (c) multiplied by the value of the Net Settlement Amount. Months of employment during the time period 2001 through 2008 will be weighted four times higher than those subsequent to 2008 because of Defendants' changes in practices.

(Id., Settlement § III.D.1) Therefore, the formula acknowledges Defendant's contention that the practices employed by the company changed in 2008. In addition, the exact amount each individual will receive depends upon how many individuals submitted timely and valid claim forms and the period of time Giumarra employed each class member.

         II. Releases

         The Settlement provides that Plaintiffs and Class Members, other than those who elect to participate in the Settlement, shall release Giumarra from the claims arising in the class period at the time final judgment is entered. Specifically, the release for the class members states:

As of the date of the Judgment, all Participating Class Members hereby fully and finally release Defendant, and its shareholders, parents, predecessors, successors, subsidiaries, affiliates, and trusts, and all of its employees, directors, officers, agents, attorneys, stockholders, fiduciaries, other service providers, and assigns, from any and all claims, known and unknown, for or related to all claims provided for in the certified class, namely meal period violations and reimbursement claims for tools for the time period of November 9, 2001 to December 1, 2016.

(Doc. 227-3 at 13-14, Settlement § III.G) The release for Plaintiffs encompasses more claims than the release of Class Members, which releases any claims related to improper compensation. (Id. at 13; see also Doc. 218-1 at 10) Specifically, Plaintiffs' release provides:

As of the date of the Judgment, Plaintiffs and their Counsel hereby fully and finally release Defendant, and its shareholders, parents, predecessors, successors, subsidiaries, affiliates, and trusts, and all of its employees, directors, officers, agents, attorneys, fiduciaries, other service providers, and assigns, from claims based on or arising from the allegations that they were or are improperly compensated under federal, California, or local law (the “Class's Released Claims”). The Class's Released Claims include all such claims for alleged unpaid wages, including overtime compensation, missed meal-period and rest-break wages or penalties, and interest; related penalties, including, but not limited to, recordkeeping penalties, pay-stub penalties, minimum-wage penalties, missed meal-period and rest-break penalties, and waiting-time penalties; and costs and attorneys' fees and expenses, and reimbursements for tools purchased.

(Id., emphasis added). Plaintiffs' claims are intended to “include all claims, whether known or unknown” at this time. (Doc. 227-3 at 14, Settlement § III.G.4)

         Defendant also agreed to “fully and finally release Plaintiffs and each of their parents, predecessors, successors, subsidiaries, affiliates, and trusts, and all of its employees, officers, agents, attorneys, stockholders, fiduciaries, other service providers, and assigns, from any and all claims.” (Doc. 227-3 at 14, Settlement § III.G.3) This release covers all claims “known and unknown, including but not limited to claims arising from or related to Defendant's employment of Plaintiffs and Participating Class Members, including any issues under federal, state and/or local law, statute, ordinance, regulation, common law, or other source of law.” (Id.)

         III. Objections and Opt-Out Procedure

         Any class member who wished had an opportunity to object or elect not to participate in the Settlement. The Class Notice Packet explained the procedures for class members to make objections to Settlement terms, or elect not to be excluded from the Settlement Class. (See Docs. 224, 225). In addition, the Class Notice Packet explained claims that were to be released by Class Members as part of the Settlement. (Id.)

         IV. Service of the Notice Packets and Responses Received

         On March 24, 2017, the Court ordered the Settlement Administrator, Rust Consulting, to mail the Class Notice Packet to class members no later than April 17, 2017. (Doc. 223 at 16-17) Rust Consulting served the Class Notice Packet to the extent possible. (See generally, Doc. 227-6)

         According to Abigail Schwartz, a program manager for Rust Consulting, the Class Notice Packets were mailed via the United States Postal Service to 13, 449 the class members identified by Defendant on April 17, 2017. (Doc. 227-6 at 3, Schwartz Decl. ¶¶ 6-8) The Postal Service returned 3, 135 of the packets to the Rust Consulting as undeliverable. (Id., ¶ 13) The Settlement Administrator performed address traces and located new addresses, but 2, 275 Class Notice Packets remained undeliverable. (Id.) On May 3, 2017, a postcard reminder was mailed to the class members who had not submitted a Claim Form or Exclusion Form, reminding them of the May 17, 2017 submission deadline. (Id., ¶ 12)

         Ms. Schwartz reports that in total, Rust Consulting received 3, 809 Claim Forms, of which 3, 385 were considered complete. (Doc. 227-6 at 4, Schwartz Decl. ¶ 15) However, per the instructions of the parties, the Settlement Administrator will consider claim forms received prior to June 20, 2017 to be valid. (Id.) The Settlement Administrator received 55 forms disputing the employment information provided by Giumarra, and has resolved 50 of the disputes at this time. (Id., ¶16) In addition, the Settlement Administrator received 143 Exclusion Forms, but “113 Class Members sent both a Claim Form and Exclusion Form.” (Id., ¶¶ 17-18) Therefore, the Settlement Administrator sent the 113 individuals letters inquiring as to what action the class member intended, and stating “if that if a Class Member does not respond to the letter of intention, the Claim Form shall take precedence.” (Id., ¶ 18)

         According to Ms. Schwartz, with the 3, 809 Claim Forms-including the 113 class members who sent in both the Claim Form and Exclusion Form-the average settlement share is estimated to be $990.82. (Doc. 227-6 at 4-5, Schwartz Decl. ¶ 20) She reports the smallest share is estimated to be $3.19, while the highest is $5, 341.00. (Id. at 5, ¶ 20) No objections to the Settlement were mailed to Rust Consulting or filed with the Court.

         APPROVAL OF A CLASS SETTLEMENT

         When parties reach a settlement agreement prior to class certification, the Court has an obligation to “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). Approval of a class settlement is generally a two-step process. First, the Court must assess whether a class exists. Id. (citing Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 620 (1997)). Second, the Court must “determine whether the proposed settlement is fundamentally fair, adequate, and reasonable.” Id. (citing Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., 150 F.3d 1011, 1026 (9th Cir. 2998)). The decision to approve or reject a settlement is within the Court's discretion. Hanlon, 150 F.3d at 1026.

         I. Class Certification

         Parties seeking class certification bear the burden of demonstrating the elements of Rule 23 are satisfied, and “must affirmatively demonstrate . . . compliance with the Rule.” Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S.Ct. 2541, 2551 (2011); Doninger v. Pacific Northwest Bell, Inc., 563 F.2d 1304, 1308 (9th Cir. 1977). The prerequisites of Rule 23(a) “effectively limit the class claims to those fairly encompassed by the named plaintiff's claims.” General Telephone Co. of the Southwest. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 155-56 (1982). Certification of a class is proper if:

(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 prerequisites are generally referred to as numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation. Falcon, 457 U.S. at 156. If an action meets the prerequisites of Rule 23(a), the Court must consider whether the class is maintainable under one or more of the three alternatives set forth in Rule 23(b). Narouz v. Charter Communs., LLC, 591 F.3d 1261, 1266 (9th Cir. 2010).

         Previously, the Court certified the “Late Meal Class” and “Tools Class” in this action (Docs. 109 and 121), and the proposed Settlement encompasses both classes. Because the Court determined the Rule 23 requirements were satisfied by these classes, and there has not been any change in circumstances, the Court need not re-evaluate the Rule 23 requirements, and simply affirms its prior orders. See Adoma v. University of Phoenix, Inc., 913 F.Supp.2d 964, 974 (E.D. Cal. 2012) (explaining that the Court had previously certified classes and “need not find anew that the settlement class meets the certification requirements”); In re Apollo Grp. Inc. Sec. Litig., 2012 WL 1378677, *4 (D. Ariz. 2012) (“The Court has previously certified, pursuant to Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and hereby reconfirms its order certifying a class”).

         II. Evaluation of the Settlement Terms

         Settlement of a class action requires approval of the Court, which may be granted “only after a hearing and on finding that [the settlement] is fair, reasonable, and adequate.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e)(2). Approval is required to ensure the settlement is consistent with Plaintiffs' fiduciary obligations to the class. See Ficalora v. Lockheed Cal. Co., 751 F.2d 995, 996 (9th Cir. 1985). The Ninth Circuit identified several of factors to evaluate whether a settlement meets these standards, including:

the strength of 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;[6] and the reaction of the class members to the proposed settlement.

Staton, 327 F.3d at 959 (citation omitted). Further, a court should consider whether settlement is “the product of collusion among the negotiating parties.” In re Mego Fin. Corp. Sec. Litig., 213 F.3d at 458 (citing Class Plaintiffs v. Seattle, 955 F.2d 1268, 1290 (9th Cir. 1992)). In reviewing settlement terms, “[t]he court need not reach any ultimate conclusions on the contested issues of fact and law which underlie the merits of the dispute.” Class Plaintiffs, 955 F.2d at 1291(internal quotations and citation omitted).

         A. Strength of Plaintiffs' Case

         When evaluating the strength of a case, the Court should “evaluate objectively the strengths and weaknesses inherent in the litigation and the impact of those considerations on the parties' decisions to reach these agreements.” Adoma v. Univ. of Phoenix, Inc., 913 F.Supp.2d 964, 975 (E.D. Cal. 2012) (quoting In re Wash. Pub. Power Supply Sys. Sec. Litig., 720 F.Supp. 1379, 1388 (D. Az. 1989)).

         In this action, there are several disputed claims the fact-finder would be required to determine related to the alleged failure to provide meal periods and tools for Giumarra fieldworkers. In addition, Plaintiffs acknowledge that “there are clear uncertainties surrounding Plaintiffs' ability to prove their claims given the unpredictability of a lengthy and complex jury trial.” (Doc. 227-1 at 14) Because the parties have conducted thorough investigations and discovery allowing them to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the case, this factor weights in favor of final approval of the Settlement.

         B. Risk, Expense, Complexity, and Likely Duration of Further Litigation

         Approval of settlement is “preferable to lengthy and expensive litigation with uncertain results.” Nat'l Rural Telecomms. Coop. v. DIRECTV, Inc., 221 F.R.D. 523, 529 (C.D. Cal. 2004). If the settlement were to be rejected, the parties would have to engage in further litigation, including re-certification of a class and discovery on the issue of damages. Previously, Plaintiffs asserted:

Counsel for Plaintiffs carefully considered the risks of trial and other normal perils of litigation, including the merits of the affirmative defenses asserted by Defendant, the difficulties of complex litigation, the lengthy process of establishing specific damages, the difficulty in fully analyzing and utilizing the evidence at issue in this case, potential new legal decisions affecting pivotal issues in the case, potential class decertification issues, and other various possible risks and delays. [Citation.] Plaintiffs' counsel realizes that no matter how good the facts and law, every trial retains inherent risk while the proposed settlement provides a certain recovery for Class Members.

(Doc. 218 at 6-7, citation omitted) Further, Plaintiffs observe the “case has been pending in one form or another for 12 years, ” which “is a long time for any class member to wait.” (Doc. 227-1 at 17) On the other hand, the Settlement provides for the immediate recovery for the class, with the average payment estimated to be $990.82. (Doc. 227-1 at 22, citing Schwartz Decl. ¶ 20) Given the risks and uncertainties faced by Plaintiffs, this factor weighs in favor of approval of the Settlement.

         C. Maintenance of Class Status throughout the Trial

         Plaintiffs contend that there is a “risk that the case may not survive a contested decertification proceeding.” (Doc. 227-1 at 15, citing Mallison Decl. ¶ 51) Notably, Defendant filed motion to decertify the late meal break class, which was denied. (See Docs. 189, 202, 210) However, if the classes were decertified by the Court, the class members would not recover any awards. Thus, this factor supports final approval of the Settlement.

         D. Amount offered in Settlement

         The Ninth Circuit observed that “the very essence of a settlement is compromise, ‘a yielding of absolutes and an abandoning of highest hopes.'” Officers for Justice v. Civil Serv. Commission, 688 F.2d 615, 624 (9th Cir. 1982) (citation omitted). Thus, when analyzing the amount offered in settlement, the Court should examine “the complete package taken as a whole, ” and the amount is “not to be judged against a hypothetical or speculative measure of what might have been achieved by the negotiators.” Id. at 625, 628.

         In this case, the proposed gross settlement amount is $6, 100, 000.00, plus interest. (Doc. 227-3 at 3, Settlement § I.S) Plaintiffs report the action settled “for nearly the entire trial value of the certified claims.” (Doc. 227-1 at 16, citing Doc. 227-2 at 28, Mallison Decl. ¶ 66). Plaintiffs explain that Class Counsel “conservatively estimates the value of the late meal period claims to be approximately $3 million for the narrowed class, excluding interest and attorneys fees, ” and that when interest is included, “the value of the late meal period claim is approximately $6.4 million.” (Id.) Based upon the parties' ...


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