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Robinson v. The Chefs' Warehouse, Inc

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 10, 2019

SHAON ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CHEFS' WAREHOUSE, INC., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING IN PART AND GRANTING IN PART MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION

          RICHARD SEEBORG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This putative class action was originally filed by Shaon Robinson, who sought to represent a class of delivery drivers employed by defendant The Chefs' Warehouse West Coast, LLC. (“CW”). Sean Clark subsequently joined as a named plaintiff. Thereafter, a motion for class certification brought by Robinson and Clark was denied because, among other reasons, they both had signed declarations in a prior action stating they understood CW's policies regarding meal and rest breaks, accurate timekeeping, and reporting any violations of those policies. They also had expressly admitted that they were always provided with, and took, their meal and rest breaks, that their supervisor insisted they take their meal breaks, that their time sheets were always accurate, that they were always paid for all hours worked, and that they never worked off the clock. Although theoretically Robinson and Clark might have been able to offer explanations as to why those declarations did not foreclose their claims in this action, the declarations at a minimum presented CW a potentially compelling basis to defend. As such, neither Robinson nor Clark were similarly-situated to putative class members who did not sign declarations in the prior action, requiring denial of the motion to certify.

         The new named plaintiffs are Saul Prado and James Roberts. CW seeks summary judgment against both Prado and Roberts, based on separate motions and arguments.[1] Plaintiffs, in turn, seek class certification. As explained below, CW's motion for partial summary judgment against Prado will be granted, but the motion against Roberts will be denied, as will plaintiffs' motion for class certification.

         II. BACKGROUND

         CW describes itself as a “premier distributor of specialty food products” catering to chefs in restaurants, hotels, culinary schools, bakeries, and other food establishments. CW has two California facilities, one in Northern CA, currently located in Union City, and one in Southern CA, located in City of Industry. CW employs delivery drivers operating from each facility. CW asserts that except during training, drivers typically drive by themselves with very little management oversight, and they generally spend no less than 90-95% of their work day on the road.

         It is undisputed CW has a written meal and rest break policy that complies with the law. The complaint is premised instead on the theory that, in actual practice, drivers are put under such time pressures to complete their deliveries within certain windows that they are effectively precluded, or at least strongly discouraged, from taking meal and rest breaks. CW denies that its drivers cannot or do not take the requisite breaks. It explains that while it provides its drivers with meal and rest breaks in compliance with California law, “the timing of breaks varies from day-today and employee-to-employee depending on the delivery routes, daily activities (i.e. traffic, problems with the truck, etc.) and most of all, individual preferences.” CW also asserts the practices in Southern California and Northern California for ensuring compliance with the meal and rest break policy differ in certain respects.

         As noted in prior orders, this is not the first time CW has been sued for an alleged failure to provide meal and rest breaks. In 2012, an action filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court entitled Gustavo Chicas v. The Chefs' Warehouse West Coast, LLC (“the Chicas matter”) advanced the same categories of wage and hour claims as alleged here, except for failure to reimburse business expenses. Named plaintiffs Robinson and Clark were members of the Chicas class, and the declarations they signed in that action precluded them from serving as named plaintiffs as to the claims advanced here. The class representative plaintiffs now proposed in this action are James Roberts, a former driver in Northern California and Saul Prado, a southern California diver.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. James Roberts summary judgment

         CW seeks partial summary judgment against Roberts on the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fifteenth claims for relief in the operative fifth amended complaint. Those are all the claims asserted by Roberts except the Seventh claim for relief-“Failure to Reimburse Expenses, ” which apparently relates to cell phone usage, and which CW does not seek to adjudicate at this time.

         CW correctly observes that all of the claims on which it seeks summary judgment rise or fall with the question of whether Roberts can show any violations of his rights to meal and rest breaks.[2] The motion for partial summary judgment is premised on Roberts' inability to identify at deposition specific meal or rest breaks he missed. There is no dispute that CW's official policies, of which Roberts was aware, afford timely meal and rest breaks to non-exempt employees, require them to record their time accurately, explicitly prohibit off-the-clock work, and provide for disciplinary action against employees who work off-the-clock or record their time inaccurately. Roberts admits that he received timely meal and rest periods throughout his employment, and the manifests CW provided to Roberts with his daily schedule reserved time for him to take them. There is also no dispute that Roberts signed and submitted 79 separate timesheets to CW wherein he specifically attested he took the meal and rest periods authorized under California law. According to Roberts' deposition testimony he even finished his route early “easily four times a week, ” which CW argues confirms he had the opportunity to take meal and rest breaks throughout his workday.

         In light of this, CW insists Roberts' claims stand or fall based on his ability to recall specific dates when CW purportedly failed to provide him with breaks. See, e.g., Amiri v. Cox Commc'ns Cal., LLC, 272 F.Supp.3d 1187, 1197 (C.D. Cal. 2017) (“When [an employer's] off-the-clock policy disavows such work, as consistent with state law, the employees clocking out creates a presumption they are doing no work.”); Manigo v. Time Warner Cable, Inc., 2017 WL 5054368, at *4-5 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 17, 2017) (holding testimony that employees “generally missed meal breaks” was insufficient to create a triable issue of material fact because they “failed to identify a single instance in which they were deprived of the opportunity to take a meal break and did not receive a penalty payment.”).

         CW argues Roberts' deposition testimony makes clear that he cannot meet his burden.

Q: Right. So is it -- so when I asked you: Okay, on which days in the -- in the various workweeks did you not take or did you take a rest break, and you ...

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