November 13, 2009
This matter comes before the court pursuant to plaintiffs' July 30, 2009 motion to certify class [dkt. 92]. Defendant resisted plaintiffs' motion on August 31, 2009 [dkt. 105], to which plaintiffs replied on September 24, 2009 [dkt. 112].
Except as otherwise noted, the background information is taken from Plaintiffs' Complaint, filed on September 12, 2007, the allegations of which the court must accept as true in evaluating a motion to certify a class. Estate of Mahoney v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 204 F.R.D. 150, 153 (S.D. Iowa 2001) (noting further that the court may also look past the pleadings to determine whether the requirements of FED. R. CIV. P. 23 are satisfied) (citations omitted).
A. The Parties
Plaintiffs are current or (perhaps now) former hourly employees of defendant's meat processing facility in Columbus Junction, Iowa, who were employed by defendant during the relevant class period(s) in this case. Defendant's Columbus Junction, Iowa facility is a pork processing plant that receives, slaughters and processes hogs into various cuts. Plaintiffs request that the following class be certified pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 23.
All current and former employees of Defendant Tyson's Columbus Junction, Iowa meat processing facility who have been employed by Tyson at any time from September 13, 2005 to the present, and who are or were paid under a "gang time" compensation system in the Kill, Cut, or Retrim Departments.
Deposition of David Duncan, current Human Resource Manager of defendant's Columbus Junction facility.
According to Duncan, some hourly production employees in the Kill, Cut, and Converting are paid in part through "gang time," a system that ensures each employee is paid for the length of production in their department, which is the time it takes for all carcasses to travel on mechanized belts through the department. In such cases, employees are paid for their production time, that is, from the time the first piece of meat passes their work station until the last piece passes their work station, plus four minutes per day for some employees for clothes changing time.
Based upon the description of the department provided by the defendant, the court assumes that the Converting department is the same department the plaintiffs term "Retrim."
B. Plaintiffs' Claims
Plaintiffs claim that the defendant does not pay its employees for all required pre-production line and post-production line activities that are necessary and integral to their overall employment responsibilities, such as: donning and doffing clothing and personal protective equipment ("PPE"), cleaning and sanitizing equipment, walking to their lockers and/or production line after already performing compensable activities, and at the end of the work day, walking to the wash stations and then to their lockers and/or supply rooms before the end of compensable time, working on knife maintenance equipment known as "steels" or "mousetraps," and waiting in line to receive required knives, supplies, tools and equipment needed for production line activities. Plaintiffs further allege that these activities encroach on their lunch and break times.
Plaintiffs filed a two-count complaint against defendant. Count I alleges that the defendant violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. by failing to pay employees the required amount of overtime compensation at the statutory rate. Count II alleges that the defendant violated the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act, Iowa Code Chapter 91 et seq., by failing to pay all wages due under this law.
II. Class Action Standard
To obtain class certification, plaintiffs have the burden of demonstrating that the requirements of FED. R. CIV. P. 23 are met. Coleman v. Watt, 40 F.3d 255, 258 (8th Cir. 1994). More specifically, plaintiffs must meet the prerequisites of FED. R. CIV. P. 23(a) and one additional set of alternative requirements under FED. R. CIV. P. 23(b). Alpern v. UtiliCorp United, Inc., 84 F.3d 1525, 1539 (8th Cir. 1996). An "exception to the usual rule that litigation is conducted by and on behalf of individual named parties only," a class action cannot be certified unless the court is convinced, "after a rigorous analysis," that the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 23 are met. General Tel. Co. S.W. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 155, 161 (1982).
FED. R. CIV. P. 23 provides, in pertinent part:
(a) Prerequisites to a Class Action. One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all only if (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.
(b) Class Actions Maintainable. An action may be maintained as a class action if the prerequisites of subdivision (a) are satisfied, and in addition:
(1) the prosecution of separate actions by or against individual members of the class would create a risk of
(A) inconsistent or varying adjudications with respect to individual members of the class which would establish incompatible standards of conduct for the party opposing the class, or
(B) adjudications with respect to individual members of the class which would as a practical matter be dispositive of the interests of the other members not parties to the adjudications or substantially impair or impede their ability to protect their interests; or
(2) the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds generally applicable to the class, thereby making appropriate final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief with respect to the class as a whole; or
(3) the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to the members of the class predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy. The matters pertinent to the findings include: (A) the interest of members of the class in individually controlling the prosecution or defense of separate actions; (B) the extent and nature of any litigation concerning the controversy already commenced by or against members of the class; (C) the desirability or undesirability of concentrating the litigation of the claims in the particular forum; (D) the difficulties likely to be encountered in the management of a class action.
In their motion for class certification, plaintiffs argue that this action satisfies the four requirements of FED. R. CIV. P. 23(a), i.e., numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation, as well as either Rule 23(b)(1) or Rule 23(b)(3). The court will first address the requirements of Rule 23(a).
A. Requirements of Rule 23(a).
1. Numerosity Adequacy of Representation.
The defendant does not contest that the numerosity requirement is met. The court agrees that the class, as proposed by plaintiffs is "so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable." The "adequacy of representation" factor requires both that plaintiffs' counsel be "qualified, experienced, and generally able to conduct the proposed litigation," and that the plaintiffs not have interests "antagonistic to those of the class." U.S. Fidelity Guar Co. v. Lord, 585 F.2d 860, 873 (8th Cir. 1978). The defendant does not dispute that plaintiffs' proposed class meets the adequacy of representation prerequisite. Based upon its own review of the record, the court is satisfied that the "adequacy of representation" factor is satisfied in this case.
2. Commonality Typicality.
Although commonality and typicality are separate requirements under Rule 23(a), they "tend to merge" and are often addressed together. General Tel., 457 U.S. at 157 n. 13. The commonality requirement espoused in Rule 23(a)(2) requires the existence of "questions of law or fact common to the class." "This requirement imposes a light burden on the plaintiff seeking class certification and does not require commonality on every single question raised in a class action." In re Aquilla ERISA Litigation, 237 F.R.D. 202, 207 (W.D. Mo. 2006) (citing DeBoer v. Mellon Mort. Co., 64 F.3d 1171, 1174 (8th Cir. 1995)); In re Hartford Sales Practices Litig., 192 F.R.D. 592, 602 (D. Minn. 1999)). Commonality is satisfied if the "question of law linking the class members is substantially related to the resolution of the litigation even though the individuals are not identically situated." Bublitz v. E.I. duPont de Nemours Co., 202 F.R.D. 251, 256 (S.D. Iowa 2001) (quoting Paxton v. Union Nat. Bank, 688 F.2d 552, 561 (8th Cir. 1982)). See also Chorosevic v. MetLife Choices, 2007 WL 2159475 *8 (E.D. Mo. 2007) ("The commonality requirement is met if a common issue pervades all class members' claims."); In re Aquila ERISA Litig. 237 F.R.D. 202, 210 (W.D. Mo. 2006) (noting that the "appropriate focus" in determining commonality is on the "conduct of the defendant, not the plaintiffs").
The typicality requirement is met if the "claims or defenses of the representatives and the members of the class stem from a single event or are based on the same legal or remedial theory."Chorosevic, 2007 WL 2159475 *8 (citing Paxton, 688 F.2d at 561-62). "Typicality requires a demonstration that the members of the class have the same or similar grievances as the named plaintiff." Id. (citing Alpern v. UtiliCorp United, Inc., 84 F.3d 1525, 1540 (8th Cir. 1996)).
Plaintiffs claim that the questions of law and fact in this case are common to the class and predominate over any questions affecting only individual class members — namely, whether defendant has violated the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act by not paying production workers at its Columbus Junction facility for all work performed prior and subsequent to "gang time," particularly the time spend donning, doffing, and cleaning PPE. Plaintiffs further argue that their claims are typical in that all class members have uniformly not been paid for time spent donning, doffing, and cleaning their PPE and for walking time associated with these tasks.
Defendant counters that plaintiffs' proposed class meets neither the commonality or typicality elements because of the wide factual variation among employees in their particular activities, i.e. (i) what they wear, (ii) whether they are given extra compensation for pre-shift set up or post-shift clean-up responsibilities that may have the effect of compensating certain individuals for clothes changing and washing, (iii) what they wear and do during the 30-minute mean period, (iv) whether they are specifically paid for time spent donning and doffing protective clothing, (v) whether they are paid up to seven minutes in addition to their production time, and (vi) what they were told by supervisors about what is "required." These individual differences, and accompanying individual inquiries required to adjudicate each claim, defendant argues, preclude class certification.
Plaintiffs have limited their proposed class to those employees being paid on a "gang time" basis, which is the admitted and uniform pay practice among most production employees at defendant's Columbus Junction facility. It is this compensation system that plaintiffs allege violates the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act. Thus, there is a common question of law specific to all employees paid on a gang time basis. The factual differences outlined by the defendant are not sufficient to defeat commonality. Likewise, the court finds that plaintiffs have met their burden of showing typicality. The court does not feel that differences with respect to the particular PPE worn and equipment used are not as vast and defendant portrays and will not require individualized inquiry because most, if not all, gang time employees wear some form of PPE and use some kind of knife or equipment.
B. Requirements of Rule 23(b)
Plaintiffs argue that class certification is appropriate under Rule 23(b)(1) because a class action will eliminate the risk of inconsistent adjudications and variance of standards applied to defendant's labor policies. Defendant contends, on the other hand, that there is no risk of inconsistent adjudications establishing inconsistent standards of conduct if the class is not certified because each claim would be based upon whether that individual has performed compensable activities for which he or she was not paid. Defendant argues that class certification under Rule 23(b)(1)(B) should be denied because adjudications of the claims of individual members of the class would not be dispositive of the interests of the claims of other class members.
Rule 23(b)(1) covers cases in which separate actions by or against individual class members would risk establishing "incompatible standards of conduct for the party opposing the class," or would "as a practical matter be dispositive of the interests" of nonparty class members "or substantially impair or impede their ability to protect their interests." Rule 23(b)(1)(A) "takes in cases where the party is obligated by law to treat the members of the class alike (a utility acting toward customers; a government imposing a tax), or where the party must treat all alike as a matter of practical necessity (a riparian owner using water as against downriver owners)." Rule 23(b)(1)(B) includes, for example, "limited fund" cases, instances in which numerous persons make claims against a fund insufficient to satisfy all claims.Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 614 (1997) (citations omitted).
Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that Rule 23(b)(1) is satisfied. While there obviously exists the risk that separate actions will be brought if certification is denied, there is no evidence that individual actions could have an adverse effect on the defendant or result in placing defendant in a conflicted position. Likewise, this is not a "limited fund circumstance and there is no evidence that individual actions would be dispositive or impair or impede the interests of non-parties to the individual lawsuits.
To qualify for certification under Rule 23(b)(3), a class must meet two requirements beyond the Rule 23(a) prerequisites: Common questions must "predominate over any questions affecting only individual members"; and class resolution must be "superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy." In adding "predominance" and "superiority" to the qualification-for-certification list, the Advisory Committee sought to cover cases "in which a class action would achieve economies of time, effort, and expense, and promote . . . uniformity of decision as to persons similarly situated, without sacrificing procedural fairness or bringing about other undesirable events." Sensitive to the competing tugs of individual autonomy for those who might prefer to go it alone, or in a smaller unit, on the one hand, and systemic efficiency on the other, the Reporter for the 1996 amendments cautioned: "The new provision invites a close look at the case before it is accepted as a class action . . . "
Rule 23(b)(3) includes a nonexhaustive list of factors pertinent to a court's "close look" at the predominance and superiority criteria:
(A) the interest of members of the class in individually controlling the prosecution or defense of separate actions;
(B) the extend and nature of any litigation concerning the controversy already commenced by or against members of the class;
(C) the desirability or undesirability of concentrating the litigation of the claims in the particular forum;
(D) the difficulties likely to be encountered in the management of a class action."Id. at 615-16.
The first factor weighs in favor of class certification. If forced to proceed individually, plaintiffs may be financially unable to pursue the litigation and the potential individual recovery may not be significant enough to justify the pursuit. With respect to the second factor, several depositions have been taken, but there would likely be significant discovery yet to be conducted. Moving to the third factor, the Columbus Junction facility is located in the Southern District of Iowa and the court sees no problem with concentrating the litigation in this forum. Finally, the court is confident that this class is manageable.
With respect to the predominance and superiority inquiries, the court notes that, while individual differences exist with respect to the precise combination of PPE worn and equipment used, the "gang time" compensation system utilized by defendant predominates any individualized inquiries. Class certification is also superior in that, absent a class action, individual lawsuits by class members would be burdensome on all parties and would be an inefficient use of judicial resources. The court finds that both the predominance and superiority requirements are satisfied.
Upon the foregoing,
IT IS ORDERED that plaintiffs' motion for class certification is granted and the Plaintiff Class is hereby certified and defined as consisting of the following persons:
All current and former employees of Defendant Tyson's Columbus Junction, Iowa meat processing facility who have been employed by Tyson at any time from September 13, 2005 to the present, and who are or were paid under a "gang time" compensation system in the Kill, Cut or Retrim departments.
Plaintiffs Gary Ray Robinson, Eric Cozad, Maria Guyton and Dionicio Canuzal are designated as the class representatives and attorneys of record for said named plaintiffs are authorized to serve as counsel for the class in this action.
Plaintiffs shall file a proposed notice that meets the requirements of Rule 23(c)(2)(B) no later than Friday, December 4, 2009. Defendant shall file any response to plaintiffs' proposed notice by Friday, December 11, 2009. The court will then finalize the proposed notice.