Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Class Action
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Plaintiff Sofia Barriga filed this lawsuit against 99 Cents Only Stores LLC, (99 Cents) individually, and on behalf of similarly situated current and former nonexempt employees of 99 Cents hired before October 1, 1999, pleading various Labor Code violations and violation of the unfair competition law. Plaintiff alleged 99 Cents had a zero-tolerance policy that required its stores to lock their doors at closing time, therefore, forcing nonexempt, nonmanagerial employees, who worked the graveyard shift and clock out for their meal break or at the end of their shift, to wait for as long as 15 minutes for a manager with a key to let them out of the store. According to plaintiff, 99 Cents did not pay its employees for the time they had to wait be let out, and the policy denied employees their full half-hour meal break. Plaintiff moved the trial court to certify two classes: (1) “Off the Clock Class,” and (2) “Meal Period Class.” 99 Cents opposed the certification motion, contending there was no community of interests among putative class members, and the lack of common issues among putative class members would render a class action unmanageable. Plaintiff moved to strike 174 declarations of employee declarants who were members of the proposed classes on the grounds the process by which they had been obtained was improper, and because they were substantively inconsistent with the subsequent deposition testimony of 12 of declarants. Concluding it lacked the statutory authority to strike the declarations, the trial court denied plaintiff’s motion to strike. And, based on all 174 declarations, the court concluded plaintiff had not demonstrated a community of interests or a commonality of issues among putative class members. Plaintiff appealed those orders. The Court of Appeal found the record demonstrated the trial court in this case was unaware of the need to scrutinize 99 Cents’ declarations carefully, and was either unaware of or misunderstood the scope of its discretion to either strike or discount the weight to be given the 174 declarations, including the declarations of employees who were not members of the putative classes, if it concluded they were obtained under coercive or abusive circumstances. The orders denying plaintiff’s motion to strike 99 Cents’ declarations and class certification motion were reversed, and the matter remanded for reconsideration. View "Barriga v. 99 Cents Only Stores LLC" on Justia Law

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In the 2005 Burakoff class action, the court (in 2008) certified two subclasses of California Bancorp financial consultants for a period running through the date of the order. Subclass A “worked more than 40 hours in a week or 8 hours in a day, but did not receive overtime pay.” Subclass B were illegally required to pay their business expenses. Williams joined Bancorp in 2007, becoming a member of the Burakoff putative class. In 2010, he filed another class action, alleging similar causes of action for a class period beginning the day after the Burakoff class period ended, with consistent subclasses.The trial court stayed the Williams case pending Burakoff's resolution. In 2011, the court decertified the Burakoff overtime subclass, for lack of sufficient commonality. In 2012, the parties settled Burakoff. Williams participated in that settlement as a member of Subclass B. He did not, nor did any absent members of Subclass A, release his wage and hour claims. Bancorp then demanded arbitration under an agreement Williams had signed. Bancorp argued the Burakoff decertification order collaterally estopped Williams from relitigating the appropriateness of class certification. Williams agreed to the dismissal of his claim for unpaid business expenses. Following a remand, the trial court granted a motion to compel arbitration of Williams’s individual claims, concluding that a class decertification order may have collateral estoppel effect. The court of appeal reversed. An order denying certification to a proposed class does not preclude an absent member of the putative class from later seeking to certify an identical class in a second action; collateral estoppel does not bar an absent member in a putative class that was initially certified, but later decertified, from subsequently pursuing an identical class action. View "Williams v. U.S. Bancorp Investments, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Dan Kaplan, James Baker, Janice Fistolera, Fernando Palacios, and Hamid Aliabadi appealed two judgments dismissing two coordinated actions against defendant Fidelity National Home Warranty Company (Fidelity): Fistolera v. Fidelity National Home Warranty Company (Super. Ct. San Joaquin County, No. 39-2012-00286479-CU-BT-STK) (Fistolera Action) and Kaplan v. Fidelity National Home Warranty Company (Super. Ct. San Diego County, No. 37-2008-00087962-CU-BT-CTL) (Kaplan Action). The trial court dismissed the actions after determining the plaintiffs failed to timely prosecute each case. With respect to the Fistolera Action, a putative class action, the trial court concluded that the Fistolera Plaintiffs failed to bring the action to trial within the five-year mandatory period specified in Code of Civil Procedure section 583.310. As to the Kaplan Action, a certified class action, the trial court concluded that the Kaplan Plaintiffs failed to bring the action to trial within three years of the issuance of the remittitur in a prior appeal in that action (Kaplan v. Fidelity National Home Warranty (December 17, 2013, D062531, D062747) [nonpub. opn.] (Kaplan I)), as required by section 583.320. On appeal, plaintiffs claimed the trial court erred in dismissing each action. On the merits of the plaintiffs' claims, the Court of Appeal concluded that, in calculating the five- year and three-year mandatory dismissal periods, the trial court erred in failing to exclude 135 days immediately following the assignment of a coordination motion judge to rule on a petition to coordinate the Fistolera Action and the Kaplan Action. Furthermore, the Court determined this error required reversal of the dismissal of the Fistolera Action because, after excluding these 135 days, the five-year period had not expired as of the time the trial court dismissed that action, and the matter was set for trial within the five-year period. However, the Court concluded that this error did not require reversal of the trial court's dismissal of the Kaplan Action. To the Kaplan Action, the Court determined that because, even after excluding 135 days related to the coordination proceedings, the three-year period that the Kaplan Plaintiffs had to bring that action to trial had expired as of the time the trial court dismissed that case. Further, the Court held none of the Kaplan Plaintiffs' arguments for additional tolling of the three-year period had merit. View "Fidelity National Home Warranty Company Cases" on Justia Law

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John H. Donboli, JL Sean Slattery, and Del Mar Law Group LLP (collectively the Del Mar Attorneys) filed a mislabeling lawsuit on behalf of a putative class of consumers who claimed they were misled by "Made in the U.S.A." labels on designer jeans manufactured by Citizens of Humanity (Citizens). Citizens's jeans were allegedly made with imported fabrics and other components. The focus of the purported class action was that the "Made in the U.S.A." labels violated former Business and Professions Code section 17533.7. However, a new law was passed after the complaint was filed that relaxed the previous restrictions and, ultimately, the lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice. Citizens then filed this malicious prosecution action against the named plaintiff in the prior case (Coni Hass), a predecessor plaintiff (Louise Clark), and the Del Mar Attorneys. Each defendant filed a motion to strike the complaint under the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. Finding that Citizens met its burden to establish a probability of prevailing on the merits, the trial court denied defendants' motions. Appellants Hass and the Del Mar Attorneys appealed, contending Citizens failed to make a prima facie showing that it would prevail on its claims. The Court of Appeal disagreed, finding: (1) there were no undisputed fact on which it could determine, as a matter of law, whether the Del Mar Attorneys and Clark had probable cause to pursue the underlying actions; (2) there was evidence which would have supported a reasonable inference the Appellants were pursuing the litigation against Citizens with an improper purpose; and (3) the district court's dismissal of the underlying action, with prejudice, constituted a favorable termination in the context of a malicious prosecution suit. View "Citizens of Humanity, LLC v. Hass" on Justia Law

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Gabriel Montoya bought a 2003 Ford Excursion in April 2003. A jury found that as of November 30, 2005, he knew it was a lemon. The statute of limitations for breaches of the implied warranty of merchantability was four years. Montoya didn’t sue Ford for another seven-and-one-half years, waiting until June 2013. Yet he was able to obtain a judgment against Ford of almost $59,000 for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability. This was roughly an $8,000 return over what he had originally paid for the vehicle 10 years earlier. This was possible because there were two periods during which the statute of limitations was tolled while separate national class actions were pending against Ford, both of which were applied to Montoya’s case. The Court of Appeal determined a second class action filed in this case did not toll Montoya's claim. "The four-year statute of limitations therefore expired no later than 2010. He sued in 2013. His claim for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability was therefore untimely presented." View "Montoya v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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Temporary staffing agency FlexCare, LLC assigned Lynn Grande to work as a nurse at Eisenhower Medical Center (Eisenhower). According to Grande, during her employment at Eisenhower, FlexCare and Eisenhower failed to ensure she received her required meal and rest breaks, wages for certain periods she worked, and overtime wages. Grande was a named plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against FlexCare brought on behalf of FlexCare employees assigned to hospitals throughout California. Her own claims were based solely on her work on assignment at Eisenhower. FlexCare settled with the class, including Grande, and Grande received $162.13 for her injuries, plus a class representative incentive bonus of $20,000. Grande executed a release of claims, and the trial court entered a judgment incorporating the settlement agreement. About a year later, Grande brought a second class action alleging the same labor law violations, this time against Eisenhower, who was not a party to the previous lawsuit. FlexCare intervened in the action asserting Grande could not bring the separate lawsuit against Eisenhower because she had settled her claims against them in the prior class action. The trial court held a trial narrowed to questions as to the propriety of the lawsuit, and ruled Eisenhower was not a released party under the settlement agreement and could not avail itself of the doctrine of res judicata because the hospital was neither a party to the prior litigation nor in privity with FlexCare. Eisenhower petitioned for a petition for a writ of mandate and FlexCare appealed the trial court’s interlocutory order. The Court of appeal concurred with the trial court on grounds that Eisenhower and FlexCare were not in privity, preventing Eisenhower from blocking Grande’s claims under the doctrine of res judicata, and Eisenhower was not a released party under the settlement agreement. Therefore the appellate court denied mandamus relief. View "Grande v. Eisenhower Medical Center" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal held that where, as here, a proposed class action lawsuit seeks restitution for violations of the Unfair Competition Law and false advertising law based on a series of allegedly deceptive advertisements offering a special promotional rate but defines the class as everyone who received the special promotional rate, the plaintiffs must establish that the following "elements" are "susceptible of common proof"—namely, (1) that the class members were exposed to the advertisements, and (2) that the various permutations of the advertisements were deceptive.The court held that the language in In re Tobacco II Cases (2009) 46 Cal.4th 298, is not to the contrary. The court also held that the trial court's finding that the issues of exposure and deceptiveness were not susceptible of common proof was supported by substantial evidence. View "Downey v. Public Storage, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Class Action
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Plaintiffs filed suit against their former employer, Eurostar, alleging that the company violated California wage and hour laws by failing to provide employees with required meal and rest breaks and compelling employees to work off the clock at Eurostar's Warehouse Shoe Sale (WSS) retail shoe stores in California.The Court of Appeal held that, in the wake of Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1004, if the employer has a break policy that is compliant with the applicable wage order but silent as to certain requirements, the omission of those requirements did not support class certification in the absence of evidence of a uniform unlawful policy or practice. The court also held that where an employer has a uniform written break policy that on its face is unlawful, but in practice the policy has not been applied to company employees, is it not suitable for class certification. The court held that although trial courts must be wary of analyzing evidence of wage and hour violations at the class certification stage in a manner that prejudges the merits, they may properly consider the evidence to determine whether classwide liability can be established through common proof. In this case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying class certification because plaintiffs failed to show they could prove Eurostar's liability for meal break, rest break, and off-the-clock violations by common proof at trial. Furthermore, the trial court did not err in considering the evidence submitted by the parties as to Eurostar's policy and practices to assist the court in making the threshold determination whether plaintiffs could prove liability for the alleged violations with common proof. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Cacho v. Eurostar, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Class Action
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Brown, a tenant in low-income, rent-controlled housing owned and managed by Upside, filed suit on behalf of herself and other similarly situated persons, alleging violations of Hayward’s Residential Rent Stabilization and Tenant Protection Ordinance. According to Brown, Upside claimed an exemption to the ordinance based upon misleading information and thereafter imposed upon the often non-English-speaking tenants illegal rent increases, charged excessive late fees, and failed to pay required security deposit interest. Upside representatives approached the tenants individually with pre-written releases from the class action along with pre-written checks as “compensation.” The trial court invalidated those releases (signed by approximately 26 tenant putative class members) and required the parties to confer regarding a corrective notice for the putative class. The court found that the releases contained misleading and one-sided information regarding the underlying lawsuit. The court of appeal dismissed Upside’s appeal of the order as taken from a nonappealable order. The court rejected Upside’s argument that the order was appealable as an injunctive order within the meaning of Code of Civil Procedure section 904.1(a)(6) because it mandates certain actions on their part with respect to the putative class members. Section 904.1 provides no basis for appealing a standard interlocutory order. View "Brown v. Upside Gading, LP" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a putative class action alleging claims for unfair and/or deceptive business practices under Business and Professions Code section 17200 (UCL) and violation of the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA). The trial court denied class certification. Plaintiff sought declarations that Dignity Health's billing practices as they relate to uninsured individuals who received emergency care at a Dignity Health hospital in California are "unfair, unconscionable and/or unreasonable" and that, because the prices to be charged are not adequately disclosed or readily available to those individuals, its admissions contract contains an "open price" term within the meaning of Civil Code section 1611.The Court of Appeal held that the trial court used an unduly restrictive standard to evaluate the proposed class's ascertainability; the trial court misperceived plaintiff's primary theory of liability in evaluating whether common issues of law or fact predominate; and, although substantial evidence supported the trial court's finding that the class definition in the certification motion may not be manageable, a more limited class should be certified in this case. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded with directions to certify a modified issue class. View "Sarun v. Dignity Health" on Justia Law

Posted in: Class Action