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Limon v. Circle K Stores Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. California

January 10, 2020

ERNESTO LIMON, an individual, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
CIRCLE K STORES INC., and DOES 1 through 50, inclusive, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. 27)

          SHEILA K. OBERTO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Circle K Stores, Inc. (“Circle K”)'s motion for summary judgment or, in the alternative, partial summary judgment, filed November 20, 2019. (Doc. 27.) Plaintiff Ernesto Limon filed his opposition to the motion on December 4, 2019 (Doc. 33), and Circle K filed its reply on December 11, 2019. (Doc. 34.) The Court reviewed the parties' papers and all supporting material and found the matter suitable for decision without oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 230(g). The hearing set for December 18, 2019, was therefore vacated. (Doc. 35.)

         Having considered the parties' briefing, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court shall deny the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         On June 21, 2018, Plaintiff completed a Circle K Employment Application. (Doc. 33-1, Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“SUMF”) at 3; Doc. 27-4, Deposition of Ernesto Limon (“Limon Dep.”), Ex. 4.) In the Application, when asked whether he “[w]ould . . . be willing to submit to a background check, prior to being hired, ” Plaintiff checked “yes.” (Id. at 4; Limon Dep. 86:12-25 and Ex. 4.) Plaintiff testified at his deposition that when he checked “yes” in the employment application, he knew he was informing Circle K of his willingness to submit to a background check prior to being hired. (SUMF at 5; Limon Dep. 87:1-7.)

         In conjunction with the Employment Application, Plaintiff also signed a document titled “Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) Consent.” (SUMF at 6; Limon Dep. 89:7-90:12 and Ex. 5.) The FCRA Consent informed Plaintiff that a consumer report containing his credit history, criminal records, education history, and other information would be obtained for employment purposes. (Limon Dep. Ex. 5.) The FCRA Consent authorized Circle K to obtain Plaintiffs consumer report for “legally authorized and mandated purposes.” (Id.) It also authorized any person or entity contacted by Circle K to provide Plaintiff s consumer report and released “any such person or entity from liability for furnishing such information.” (Id.; SUMF at 10.) Plaintiff checked a box on the FCRA Consent confirming his electronic signature on it and his “agreement to [the document's] use in such manner.” (Id.; Limon Dep. 89:7-90:12.) He also checked a box on the FCRA Consent to request a copy of the consumer report, and he received a copy of the report on June 28, 2018. (Id.; Limon Dep. 90:24-92:8 and Ex. 6; SUMF at 9.) Plaintiff was thereafter hired by Circle K as a customer service representative. (Limon Dep. 35:21-22.)

         Plaintiff states in his declaration that he was “confused by the language” in Circle K's FCRA Consent form and “did not understand everything in the form.” (Doc. 33-4, Declaration of Ernesto Limon (“Limon Decl.”) ¶ 7.) Plaintiff explains that he “was confused and did not understand what [he] was authorizing because the form language mentioned language about release of liability and multiple other states that were not applicable to me.” (Id. ¶ 8.) He states that he “did not understand that by signing [he] was waiving [his] rights in relation to Circle K and any other person or entity providing background check information.” (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff further testified in his deposition that “a certain portion of the application contract . . . gets a little confusing and misleading, where . . . by signing that portion, it pretty much would waive a certain right or release.” (Limon Dep.114:2-7.)

         B. Procedural Background

         Seeking to represent a class of similarly situated applicants, Plaintiff brings two claims under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”): (1) for failure to provide proper disclosure that a consumer report may be obtained in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1681b(b)(2)(A)(i), Doc. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 51-56, and (2) for failure to obtain proper authorization to obtain such a report in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1681b(b)(2)(A)(ii), Compl. ¶¶ 57-62. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Circle K's inclusion of the liability release in its FCRA Consent form violated the statutory requirement that the disclosure document consist “solely” of the disclosure, which thereby rendered his written authorization invalid, Compl. ¶¶ 21-22, 25-24. See 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681b(b)(2)(A)(i), (ii). Plaintiff contends that Circle K's purported violations were willful and that he and the putative class are therefore entitled to statutory and punitive damages under 15 U.S.C. § 1681n(a)(1)(A). (Compl. ¶¶ 33, 37, 53, 59, 60.) He also seeks attorney's fees and costs under the statute. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22, 56, 62.)

         Circle K moves for summary judgment, or in the alternative, partial summary judgment, on three grounds: (1) Plaintiff cannot establish Article III standing; (2) Circle K's alleged statutory violations were not willful as a matter of law; and (3) Plaintiff cannot prevail on his second FCRA claim because he provided Circle K a signed written authorization. (Doc. 27.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         The “purpose of summary judgment is to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citation omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate when there is “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In addition, Rule 56 allows a court to grant summary adjudication, or partial summary judgment, when there is no genuine issue of material fact as to a claim or portion of that claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Lies v. Farrell Lines, Inc., 641 F.2d 765, 769 n.3 (9th Cir. 1981) (“Rule 56 authorizes a summary adjudication that will often fall short of a final determination, even of a single claim ...”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The standards that apply on a motion for summary judgment and a motion for summary adjudication are the same. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 (a), (c); Mora v. Chem-Tronics, 16 F.Supp.2d 1192, 1200 (S.D. Cal. 1998).

         Summary judgment, or summary adjudication, should be entered “after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party bears the “initial responsibility” of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. An issue of fact is genuine only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable fact finder to find for the non-moving party, while a fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Wool v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 818 F.2d 1422, 1436 (9th Cir. 1987). A party demonstrates summary adjudication is appropriate by “informing the district court of the basis of its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)).

         If the moving party meets its initial burden, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to present specific facts that show there is a genuine issue of a material fact. Fed R. Civ. P. 56(e); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. An opposing party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Id. at 587. The party is required to tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that a factual dispute exits. Id. at 586 n.11; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Further, the opposing party is not required to establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor; it is sufficient that “the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.” T.W. Electrical Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Assoc, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987). However, “failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

         The Court must apply standards consistent with Rule 56 to determine whether the moving party demonstrated there is no genuine issue of material fact and judgment is appropriate as a matter of law. Henry v. Gill Indus., Inc., 983 F.2d 943, 950 (9th Cir. 1993). In resolving a motion for summary judgment, the Court can only consider admissible evidence. Orr v. Bank of America, NT & SA, 285 F.3d 764, 773 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Beyene v. Coleman Sec. Servs., Inc., 854 F.2d 1179, 1181 (9th Cir. 1988)). Further, evidence must be viewed “in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party” and “all justifiable inferences” must be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. Orr, 285 F.3d at 772; Addisu v. Fred Meyer, Inc., 198 F.3d 1130, 1134 (9th Cir. 2000).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Evidence Before the Court

         In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the Court examines the evidence provided by the parties, including pleadings, deposition testimony, answer to interrogatories, and admissions on file. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). On a motion for summary judgment, “[a] party may object that the material cited to support or dispute a fact cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). The Court has reviewed each of the evidentiary objections identified by the parties related to the motion and opposition briefing. (See Doc. 33-5; Doc. 34-2.) However, the Court declines to address each of the individual objections identified by the parties. See Capitol Records, LLC v. BlueBeat, Inc., 765 F.Supp.2d 1198, 1200 n.1 (CD. Cal. 2010) (observing “it is often unnecessary and impractical for a court to methodically scrutinize each objection and give a full analysis of each argument raised”).

         To the extent Circle K objects to evidence on the grounds of relevance (see Doc. 34-2), such objections are inappropriate because the Court must determine whether a fact is relevant and material as part of “the summary judgment standard itself.” Burch v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal,433 F.Supp.2d 1110, 1119 (E.D. Cal. 2006). To that end, any evidence deemed irrelevant was omitted from the Court's summary of the facts and contentions above. Further, the Court, as a matter of course, has not factored into its analysis any statements identified by either party that are speculative or represent a legal conclusion. See Burch, 433 F.Supp.2d at 1119 (“statements in declarations based on speculation or improper legal conclusions, or argumentative statements, are not facts and likewise will not be considered on a motion for summary judgment.”) (citation omitted, ...


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