The Supreme Court’s Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes opinion has once again played Bo and Luke to a plaintiff’s Boss Hogg.
The plaintiffs in Raposo v. Garelick Farms LLC, Case No. 11-11943, D. Mass. (July 11, 2013), were truck drivers who made deliveries out of two locations operated by a dairy distribution company. The company maintained a policy of automatic deductions for meal periods from the drivers’ hours worked. This policy applied uniformly to all putative class members. So far, sounds like an uphill battle to defeat class certification, right?
But, here’s where the Duke(s) boys jump the collapsed bridge in slow motion over some unidentified pond and honk the General Lee’s “Dixie” horn.
Drivers who worked during a meal period were instructed to report this fact and were then either compensated for the time or permitted to take additional break time later in the week. In addition, the drivers’ meal periods were subject to different restrictions depending upon the location out of which they made deliveries.
Riding shotgun in the squad car with Sheriff Ros-coe P. Col-trane, the plaintiffs resorted to a somewhat modified version of the tried-and-true “but, those differences only pertain to damages” mantra. This argument, however, was insufficient to jump the aforementioned pond. The Court held that the commonality requirement of Rule 23(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is satisfied only where a class proceeding will generate a common answer for all putative class members in regard to a question that is central to the outcome of the litigation.
Applying this standard to the plaintiffs’ request for class certification, the Court held that the auto-deduction policy itself was not per se unlawful. Rather, the Court observed, the lawfulness of the policy would depend for each class member upon whether (and why) he/she had worked through meal periods, and whether he/she had been compensated for the time. Acknowledging prior case law granting class certification despite the presence of such individual issues, the Court noted that these decisions all pre-dated Dukes and are now inapplicable. Thus, like Sheriff Roscoe, plaintiffs were left neck-deep in pond water with the siren whimpering to a halt.
Asked for comment, the plaintiffs’ lawyer muttered, “That Dukes, that Dukes!” (EDITOR’S NOTE: Ugh.)
Bottom Line: Federal district courts are, in many cases, taking the Dukes admonishment to heart and applying a higher level of scrutiny to Rule 23 class certification motions. (Also, our sincerest apologies to Cooter, Daisy and Uncle Jesse--we strained this metaphor to its breaking point and still were not able to give you an appearance.)