United States District Court, E.D. California
JOHN MARTIN, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
SYSCO CORPORATION and SYSCO CENTRAL CALIFORNIA, INC., Defendants.
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S UNOPPOSED MOTION FOR
FINAL APPROVAL OF THE CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT AND AWARDING
ATTORNEYS' FEES, COSTS, AND INCENTIVE AWARD (DOC. NO.
matter came before the court on December 3, 2019, for hearing
on plaintiff's unopposed motion for final approval of a
class action settlement and motion for attorneys' fees.
(Doc. No. 66.) Attorney Jamie Serb appeared telephonically on
behalf of plaintiff John Martin (“plaintiff”),
and attorney Nicholas D. Poper appeared telephonically on
behalf of defendants Sysco Corporation and Sysco Central
California, Inc. (“defendants”). For the reasons
set forth below, the court will grant plaintiff's motion.
court previously granted preliminary approval of a class
action settlement in this action on July 19, 2019. (Doc. No.
64.) Pertinent factual details may be found in that order.
Following the granting of preliminary approval, the class
administrator mailed class notices to all 167 class members
on August 12, 2019. (Doc. No. 66-2 at ¶ 6.) Of the
fifteen notices that were returned as undeliverable, thirteen
were successfully re-mailed as a result of the class
administrator's skip tracing efforts and two were unable
to be delivered because no updated address was found.
(Id. at ¶¶ 7-9.) The deadline to request
exclusion from the settlement and to object to the settlement
was September 26, 2019. (Id. at ¶¶ 10-11.)
As of the filing of plaintiff's motion for final approval
on November 5, 2019, no class member has requested exclusion
and no objections have been filed. (Doc. No. 66 at 11.)
Moreover, no class members appeared at the final approval
APPROVAL OF CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT
court has evaluated the standards for class certification in
its prior order granting in part plaintiff's motion for
class certification (Doc. No. 44) and finds no basis to
revisit any of the analysis contained in that order.
Accordingly, the court proceeds directly to consideration of
whether the settlement in this case is appropriate under Rule
23(e). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(e) (“The claims,
issues, or defenses of a certified class may be settled,
voluntarily dismissed, or compromised only with the
court's approval.”). This requires that: (1) notice
be sent to all class members; (2) the court hold a hearing
and make a finding that the settlement is fair, reasonable,
and adequate; (3) the parties seeking approval file a
statement identifying the settlement agreement; and (4) class
members be given an opportunity to object. Fed.R.Civ.P.
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 1026).
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.
the settlement agreement was previously filed on the court
docket (Doc. No. 61-2), and class members have been given an
opportunity to object (Doc. No. 64 at 10). The court now
turns to the adequacy of notice and its review of the
settlement following the final fairness hearing.
notice is critical to court approval of a class settlement
under Rule 23(e).” Hanlon, 150 F.3d at 1025.
“Notice is satisfactory if it ‘generally
describes the terms of the settlement in sufficient detail to
alert those with adverse viewpoints to investigate and to
come forward and be heard.'” Churchill
Vill., 361 F.3d at 575 (quoting Mendoza v. Tucson
Sch. Dist. No. 1, 623 F.2d 1338, 1352 (9th Cir. 1980)).
Any notice of the settlement sent to the class should alert
class members of “the opportunity to opt-out and
individually pursue any state law remedies that might provide
a better opportunity for recovery.” Hanlon,
150 F.3d at 1025. It is important for class notice to include
information concerning the attorneys' fees to be awarded
from the settlement, because it serves as “adequate
notice of class counsel's interest in the
settlement.” Staton, 327 F.3d at 963 n.15
(quoting Torrisi, 8 F.3d at 1375) (noting that where
notice references attorneys' fees only indirectly,
“the courts must be all the more vigilant in protecting
the interests of class members with regard to the fee
the court reviewed the class notice that was proposed when
the parties sought preliminary approval of the settlement and
found it to be sufficient. (Doc. No. 64 at 4.) Notice was
mailed by the class administrator to all 167 class members on
August 12, 2019. (Doc. No. 66-2 at ¶ 6.) Of the fifteen
notices that were returned as undeliverable, thirteen were
successfully re-mailed as a result of the class
administrator's skip tracing efforts and two were unable
to be delivered because no updated address was found.
(Id. at ¶¶ 7-9.) It therefore appears that
approximately 98 percent of the class members received notice
of this settlement. Therefore, the court concludes adequate
notice was provided to the class here. Silber v.
Mabon, 18 F.3d 1449, 1453-54 (9th Cir. 1994) (noting the
court need not ensure all class members receive actual
notice, only that “best practicable notice” is
given); Winans v. Emeritus Corp., No.
13-cv-03962-HSG, 2016 WL 107574, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 11,
2016) (“While Rule 23 requires that ‘reasonable
effort' be made to reach all class members, it does not
require that each individual actually receive
notice.”). The court finds sufficient notice has been
provided so as to satisfy Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
Final Fairness Hearing
December 3, 2019, the court held a final fairness hearing, at
which class counsel and defense counsel appeared
telephonically. As noted above, no class members appeared at
the hearing. For the reasons discussed below with regard to
each of the settlement factors, the court determines that the
settlement in this action is fair, reasonable, and adequate.
Strength of Plaintiff's Case
assessing the strength of plaintiff's case in this
context, 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 agreements.”
discussed in the court's order granting preliminary
approval (Doc. No. 64 at 6), this case turns on whether
defendants' policies as to meal and rest periods complied
with California law. The parties disagree on whether the
policies at issue derive from only the employee handbook and
route manifests, which plaintiff contends are facially
unlawful, or have multiple sources including standalone forms
like the Meal/Break Recording Forms, which defendants contend
demonstrate that drivers confirmed in writing that they
received meal periods in compliance with California law.
(Doc. No. 66 at 17-19.) The parties would present evidence at
trial of their conflicting interpretations of these policies,
leaving the ultimate decision of which interpretation is most
persuasive up to the jury.
even if the jury were to agree with plaintiff's
interpretation of the policies, defendants argue that they
may have affirmative defenses to plaintiff's claims based
on an order by the Federal Motor Carrier and Safety
Administration (“FMCSA”) that purports to preempt
California's meal and rest break laws for certain motor
carriers. (Doc. No. 66 at 6-15.) That FMCSA order is
currently being challenged in the Ninth Circuit.
(Id. at 18.) While that challenge is pending, some
district courts have granted summary judgment in favor of
defendants based on the preemption defense, concluding that
district courts are bound by the FMCSA order unless and until
the Ninth Circuit invalidates that order. See e.g.,
Ayala v. U.S Xpress Enterprises, Inc., No.
5:16-cv-00137-GW-KK, 2019 WL 1986760, at *3 (C.D. Cal. May 2,
2019) (“This Court is bound by the FMCSA Order and will
apply the Order unless and until it is invalidated by the
Ninth Circuit.”); Henry v. Cent. Freight Lines,
Inc., No. 2:16-cv-00280-JAM-EFB, 2019 WL 2465330, at *4
(E.D. Cal. June 13, 2019) (“Thus, unless and until the
Ninth Circuit determines otherwise, this Court will follow
the FMCSA Preemption Order and will not enforce the preempted
plaintiff's case is weakened both by the uncertainty of
which party's interpretation of the policies would be
most persuasive to a jury, and the uncertainty of how the
Ninth Circuit will rule on the challenge to the FMCSA order
that forms the basis of defendants' potential affirmative
court cannot say with any degree of certainty that plaintiff
would prevail on his claims on behalf of the class. The court
finds this factor weighs in favor of granting final approval
of the settlement in this action.
Risk, Expense, Complexity, and Likely Duration of Further
is a strong judicial policy that favors settlements,
particularly where complex class action litigation is
concerned.” In re Syncor ERISA Litig., 516
F.3d 1095, 1101 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Class Plaintiffs
v. City of Seattle, 955 F.2d 1268, 1276 (9th Cir.
1992)). As a result, “[a]pproval of settlement is
preferable to lengthy and expensive litigation with uncertain
results.” Johnson v. Shaffer, No. 2:12-cv-1059
KJM AC P, 2016 WL 3027744, at *4 (E.D. Cal. May 27, 2016)
(citing Morales v. Stevco, Inc., No. 09-00704, 2011
WL 5511767, at *10 (E.D. Cal. Nov. 10, 2011)). Employment 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).
the parties have been litigating this case for over three
years, that timeline would be extended even further by
litigating this case to a final resolution through a jury
trial. The parties' expenses would increase as litigation
costs continue to accrue, and any recovery of a monetary
judgment, which is not guaranteed, would be prolonged. Thus,
consideration of this factor also weighs in favor of granting
Risk of Maintaining Class Action Status Throughout
court previously certified the class and is unaware of any
reason why the class would not be able to maintain class
action status throughout this case. The parties did not
address this factor in the pending motion for final approval
or otherwise point to anything that would call class