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Ramirez v. The GEO Group

United States District Court, S.D. California

December 11, 2019

RAYMOND RAMIREZ, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE GEO GROUP, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION [DKT. 50]; ORDER GRANTING JOINT MOTIONS TO SEAL [DKTS. 48, 84]

          Honorable Larry Alan Burns Chief United States District Judge

         Currently before the Court is Plaintiff Raymond Ramirez's Motion for Class Certification. For the reasons below, that motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         BACKGROUND

         Defendant GEO Group and its subsidiaries own and operate private prisons throughout the United States. From 2000 until 2017, Plaintiff Raymond Ramirez served as a corrections officer at the Western Region Detention Facility (“the Facility”) in San Diego. The Facility is owned by GEO Group subsidiary GEO Corrections and Detentions, LLC (collectively, “GEO”) and houses between 700 and 770 federal detainees awaiting trial, sentencing, or a hearing. At issue in this case are Ramirez's allegations that GEO violated various provisions of California labor law by, among other things, failing to provide adequate meal and rest breaks, failing to reimburse employees for job-related expenses, and improperly rounding employee time.

         Based on these and other alleged violations of California law, Ramirez brought this suit in San Diego County Superior Court in August 2018. GEO timely removed the case to this Court, and Ramirez now seeks class certification. Ramirez originally purported to represent all correctional officers employed by GEO in California, but now limits the putative class to only those correctional officers employed by GEO at the San Diego Facility from August 9, 2014 to present. GEO opposes Ramirez's motion, arguing that its policies do not violate California law and that Ramirez cannot meet the requirements for class certification.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         a. Class Certification Generally

         “A party seeking class certification must satisfy the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a) and the requirements of at least one of the categories under Rule 23(b).” Wang v. Chinese Daily News, 737 F.3d 538, 542 (9th Cir. 2013).

         The four requirements of Rule 23(a) are:

(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.

         These are commonly referred to as the numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy requirements. The Court must perform “a rigorous analysis [to ensure] that the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) have been satisfied.” Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338, 345 (2011). Ramirez seeks certification under Rule 23(b)(3), which contains two additional requirements: (1) that common questions predominate over individualized ones and (2) that a class action is the superior mechanism for dispute resolution.

         “In determining the propriety of a class action, the question is not whether the plaintiff has stated a cause of action or will prevail on the merits, but rather whether the requirements of Rule 23 are met.” Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156, 178 (1974). The Court considers the merits of the underlying claims to the extent they overlap with the Rule 23(a) analysis, but it does not determine whether Ramirez actually could prevail on those claims. See Ellis v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 657 F.3d 970, 983 n.8 (9th Cir. 2011).

         The Court must generally accept the substantive allegations made in the complaint as true, but it must also consider the nature and range of proof necessary to establish those allegations. See In re Petroleum Prods. Antitrust Litig., 691 F.2d 1335, 1342 (9th Cir. 1982). “In addition, the court may consider supplemental evidentiary submissions of the parties.” Keilholtz v. Lennox Hearth Products Inc., 268 F.R.D. 330, 335 (N.D. Cal. 2010). “Neither the possibility that a plaintiff will be unable to prove his allegations, nor the possibility that the later course of the suit might unforeseeably prove the original decision to certify the class wrong, is a basis for declining to certify a class which apparently satisfies Rule 23.” United Steel, Paper & Forestry v. ConocoPhillips Co., 593 F.3d 802, 809 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation and brackets omitted).

         b. Rule 23(a)

         Commonality requires that there be questions of law or fact common to the class. Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a)(2). “What matters to class certification is not the raising of common questions . . . but rather the capacity of a classwide proceeding to generate common answers apt to drive the resolution of the litigation.” Dukes, 564 U.S. at 350. The commonality requirement is construed permissively, and indeed less rigorously than the predominance requirement of Rule 23(b)(3). “All questions of fact and law need not be common to satisfy the rule.” Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., 150 F.3d 1011, 1019 (9th Cir. 1998). One “significant question of law or fact” common to the class may be sufficient to warrant certification. Abdullah v. U.S. Sec. Associates, Inc., 731 F.3d 952, 957 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Mazza v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 666 F.3d 581, 589 (9th Cir. 2012)).

         Typicality under Rule 23(a)(3) requires that the claims or defenses of the representative parties be typical of the claims or defenses of the class. Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a)(3). The representative claims don't need to be “substantially identical” to those of absent class members, just “reasonably coextensive.” Hanlon, 150 F.3d at 1020.

         Rule 23(a)(4) permits certification of a class only if the “representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.” This factor requires that the lead plaintiff not have conflicts of interest with the proposed class, and that the lead plaintiff is represented by qualified and competent counsel who will vigorously prosecute the action on behalf of the class. Hanlon, 150 F.3d at 1020.

         c. Rule 23(b)

         In addition to establishing commonality, Ramirez must still prove that common questions of law or fact predominate over questions affecting only individual class members. Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(3). The predominance inquiry tests whether proposed classes are sufficiently cohesive to warrant adjudication by representation. Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 623 (1997). “When common questions present a significant aspect of the case and they can be resolved for all members of the class in a single adjudication, there is clear justification for handling the dispute on a representative rather than on an individual basis.” Hanlon, 150 F.3d at 1022 (quotation omitted).

         Superiority requires consideration of four factors. See Zinser v. Accufix Research Inst., Inc., 253 F.3d 1180, 1190 (9th Cir. 2001). They are:

(A) the class members' interests in individually controlling the prosecution or defense of separate actions;
(B) the extent and nature of any litigation concerning the controversy already begun by or against class members;
(C) the desirability or undesirability of concentrating the litigation of the claims in the particular forum; and
(D) the likely difficulties in managing a class action.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3). When analyzing these factors, the Court must “focus on the efficiency and economy elements of the class action so that cases allowed under subdivision (b)(3) are those that can be adjudicated most profitably on a representative basis.” Zinser, 253 F.3d at 1190 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         PRELIMINARY ...


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