Why it matters

A proposed class of truck drivers alleging they were not paid for rest periods requires individualized inquiries that are not appropriate for certification, a California federal court judge recently determined. Sadashiv Mares filed a putative class action in 2015 claiming that Swift Transportation Co. failed to provide its drivers with 10 minutes of paid rest time per every four hours spent driving as required by California state law, instead paying them at a piece rate based on the number of miles they drove. When Mares moved to certify a class of workers, the employer objected, arguing that the employees failed to meet the necessary predominance and superiority requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b). The court agreed, writing that moving forward with a class action would require the court to “individually examine each class member’s wage statements and load files,” making the inquiry too individualized for certification.

Detailed discussion

According to Sadashiv Mares, he and other drivers for Swift Transportation Co. were paid a piece rate according to the number of miles they drove, and thereby the employer failed to authorize and permit rest periods in accordance with Section 226.7 of the California Labor Code. Mares then moved for class certification.

Swift objected. The employer argued that Mares failed to satisfy the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, as the inquiry into whether employees were class members was too individualized. After working her way through each of the requirements of Rule 23(a) and (b), U.S. District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips agreed.

Mares satisfied all of the Rule 23(a) requirements: numerosity (with “thousands” of drivers in California paid on a similar piece-rate basis), commonality (whether, as a matter of law, a piece-rate pay plan fails to compensate employees for rest period time), typicality (by asserting the same claim as other potential class members for rest period penalties) and adequacy of representation (on the part of both Mares and his counsel).

But the plaintiff tripped up when faced with the mandates of Rule 23(b). The “far more demanding” criterion of predominance “tests whether proposed classes are sufficiently cohesive to warrant adjudication by representation,” focusing on the relationship between the common and individual issues, the court explained.

The drivers faced a potential problem with individual choice of law issues, as many of the drivers delivered goods throughout the United States and spent a great deal of time outside of California, raising concerns about the extraterritorial application of California law.

Judge Phillips agreed that if the plaintiffs’ claims were based on work performed outside of California, a detailed inquiry into the employment laws of each state, the number of rest breaks each class member was due in each state and the amount of contact each class member had with each state would be required. While Mares argued that excluding the out-of-state claims would allow common issues to predominate, the court reached a different conclusion.

“Even when Plaintiff’s claims are limited to those based upon rest breaks owed to drivers while they were working within California, however, the Court holds individual issues will predominate the claims,” the court wrote. “This is because Plaintiff claims the putative class members are entitled to separately compensated rest breaks under Wage Order 9.”

For a driver to be included in the class, he or she would need to work at least three and a half hours per day solely at a piece rate, and these three and a half hours would need to be worked within California. To determine if a driver met these requirements would require fact-intensive inquiry, the court said, beginning with whether each driver worked in California for at least three and a half hours—an important question, as many drivers regularly left the state before working the time period necessary in order to be entitled to a rest period.

“Thus, to establish Defendant’s liability to each putative class member, the Court would need to examine each class member’s wage statements and load files to determine if they were in California long enough to be entitled to a rest period,” the court wrote. “In addition, at the liability stage of the proceedings, if the Court needed to determine the amount of damages due to each putative class members, this would require ‘a manual review of [each putative class member’s] wage statements,’ which Defendant has presented evidence showing would take at least four hours per putative class member.”

Adding to the complication, Swift demonstrated it had 29 different methods of payment in addition to mileage-based pay, some of which were hourly rates and therefore not relevant to the dispute over the piece-rate policy, the court said.

While the need for individualized findings as to the amount of damages does not defeat class certification, “individualized questions predominate not only putative class members’ damages inquiries, but also whether each putative class member has any damages stemming from Defendant’s actions,” Judge Phillips said. “Indeed, drivers who (1) were paid on solely an hourly basis when they took rest breaks or (2) were paid on a piece rate basis and always left California within three and a half hours of beginning work would not be able to show their liability ‘stemmed from [D]efendant’s actions.’ Thus, as the Court would need to examine driver logs and related documents to determine whether each driver worked at a piece rate for at least three and a half hours in California, individual issues would predominate.”

For similar reasons, the court found that Mares failed to satisfy the superiority requirement as well, given the need to individually examine each class member’s wage statements and load files. Unable to satisfy Rule 23(b), the plaintiff’s motion for class certification was denied.

To read the order in Mares v. Swift Transportation Co. of Arizona, LLC, click here.