Lee Webster v. Platinum Parking Management, LLC

Case Name: Lee Webster v. Platinum Parking Management, LLC, et al.
Case No.: 2015-1-CV-283977

This is a putative class action arising from allegations that defendant Platinum Parking Management, LLC (“PPM”) imposed an illegal alternate workweek arrangement on its employees and failed to provide them with off-duty meal and rest breaks. Before the Court is plaintiff’s motion to certify the class.

PPM has not filed an opposition, most likely because it has been suspended by the Franchise Tax Board and therefore may not presently defend this action. (See Grell v. Laci Le Beau Corp. (1999) 73 Cal.App.4th 1300, 1306 [“During the period that a corporation is suspended for failure to pay taxes, it may not prosecute or defend an action.”], citing Rev.& Tax. Code, § 23301.) Where a corporation’s suspended status “comes to light during litigation, the normal practice is for the trial court to permit a short continuance to enable the suspended corporation to effect reinstatement (by paying back taxes, interest and penalties) to defend itself in court.” (Timberline, Inc. v. Jaisinghani (1997) 54 Cal.App.4th 1361, 1366.) Here, however, PPM has not requested a continuance and its owner testified during his deposition on June 8, 2017 that he was aware of PPM’s suspended status at that time. (See Decl. of Kevin R. Allen ISO Mot., Ex. B, Carchedi Depo. Trans., pp. 34:3-35:24.) Since there is no indication that PPM will be revived in the near future, the Court will address plaintiff’s motion.

I. Allegations of the Complaint

PPM is headquartered in Chula Vista, California and provides parking services at various concert venues and other locations throughout California, including the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California. (Complaint, ¶ 2.) Each location is staffed with parking directors, traffic controllers, and valet attendants (collectively, “parking attendants”) who direct the flow of traffic and provide valet parking to attendees. (Ibid.)

Plaintiff Lee Webster was employed by defendant as a parking attendant at the Shoreline Amphitheater. (Complaint, ¶ 11.) During her employment, she and other parking attendants routinely worked five hours or more without receiving timely, off-duty rest and meal periods and were not paid required overtime, among other wage and hour violations. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-16.)

On August 5, 2015, plaintiff filed this action for (1) failure to pay wages, (2) failure to provide meal and rest periods, (3) failure to pay wages on termination, (4) failure to provide accurate itemized wage statements, (5) unfair business practices, and (6) recovery under the Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”). She seeks to represent a class of “[a]ll non-exempt parking attendants (including, but not limited to, parking directors, traffic controllers and valet attendants)” employed by defendant in California during the class period. (Complaint, ¶ 22.)

II. Legal Standard

As explained by the California Supreme Court,

The certification question is essentially a procedural one that does not ask whether an action is legally or factually meritorious. A trial court ruling on a certification motion determines whether the issues which may be jointly tried, when compared with those requiring separate adjudication, are so numerous or substantial that the maintenance of a class action would be advantageous to the judicial process and to the litigants.

(Sav-On Drug Stores, Inc. v. Superior Court (Rocher) (2004) 34 Cal.4th 319, 326, internal quotation marks, ellipses, and citations omitted.)

California Code of Civil Procedure section 382 authorizes certification of a class “when the question is one of a common or general interest, of many persons, or when the parties are numerous, and it is impracticable to bring them all before the court ….” As interpreted by the California Supreme Court, section 382 requires: (1) an ascertainable class and (2) a well-defined community of interest among the class members. (Sav-On Drug Stores, Inc. v. Superior Court, supra, 34 Cal.4th at p. 326.)

The “community-of-interest” requirement encompasses three factors: (1) predominant questions of law or fact; (2) class representatives with claims or defenses typical of the class; and (3) class representatives who can adequately represent the class. (Sav-On Drug Stores, Inc. v. Superior Court, supra, 34 Cal.4th at p. 326.) “Other relevant considerations include the probability that each class member will come forward ultimately to prove his or her separate claim to a portion of the total recovery and whether the class approach would actually serve to deter and redress alleged wrongdoing.” (Linder v. Thrifty Oil Co. (2000) 23 Cal.4th 429, 435.) The plaintiff has the burden of establishing that class treatment will yield “substantial benefits” to both “the litigants and to the court.” (Blue Chip Stamps v. Superior Court (Botney) (1976) 18 Cal.3d 381, 385.)
III. Numerous and Ascertainable Class

“The trial court must determine whether the class is ascertainable by examining (1) the class definition, (2) the size of the class and (3) the means of identifying class members.” (Miller v. Woods (1983) 148 Cal.App.3d 862, 873.) Generally, “[c]lass members are ‘ascertainable’ where they may be readily identified without unreasonable expense or time by reference to official records.” (Rose v. City of Hayward (1981) 126 Cal. App. 3d 926, 932.) Ascertainability is required in order to give notice to putative class members as to whom the judgment in the action will be res judicata; merits-related issues like whether class members will be able to prove their damages are not to be considered in relation to this factor. (See Cohen v. DIRECTV, Inc. (2009) 178 Cal.App.4th 966, 975-976 [“The defined class of all HD Package subscribers is precise, with objective characteristics and transactional parameters, and can be determined by DIRECTV’s own account records. No more is needed.”].)

Here, the proposed class is composed of over 400 individuals who have already been identified from defendant’s records. However, the class is defined in an open-ended manner to include unspecified “parking attendants” other than those in the job classifications of “parking directors, traffic controllers, and valet attendants,” who are presumably the individuals identified in the class list. To avoid uncertainty about who is included in the class, the Court will limit the class to parking directors, traffic controllers, and valet attendants.

IV. Predominant Questions of Law and Fact

Regarding predominance,

[t]he ultimate question in every case of this type is whether . . . the issues which may be jointly tried, when compared with those requiring separate adjudication, are so numerous or substantial that the maintenance of a class action would be advantageous to the judicial process and to the litigants.

(Lockheed Martin Corp. v. Superior Court (Carrillo) (2003) 29 Cal.4th 1096, 1104-1105, quoting Collins v. Rocha (1972) 7 Cal.3d 232, 238.) For example, “if the community of interest is mainly one of law, and if the factual issues requiring separate adjudication are numerous and substantial, a class action does not subserve the judicial process or the litigants.” (Bozaich v. State of California (1973) 32 Cal.App.3d 688, 694-695.) Nevertheless, “[a] class action can be maintained even if each class member must at some point individually show his or her eligibility for recovery or the amount of his or her damages, so long as each class member would not be required to litigate substantial and numerous factually unique questions to determine his or her individual right to recover.” (Acree v. General Motors Acceptance Corp. (2001) 92 Cal.App.4th 385, 397.)

Here, plaintiff introduces evidence that class members were subject to common meal and rest break and alternate work week policies, which she contends do not comply with the law. The legality of these policies is the main issues in the case and is susceptible to common proof.

In addition, plaintiff provides evidence that defendant issues final paychecks pursuant to a common policy, and contends that these checks were automatically mailed to employees without authorization in violation of the law. Common questions also predominate with regard to this theory of liability, but only former employees have been impacted by this practice. It is consequently appropriate to create a sub-class of former employees to address this theory.

V. Adequacy and Typicality

“Adequacy of representation depends on whether the plaintiff’s attorney is qualified to conduct the proposed litigation and the plaintiff’s interests are not antagonistic to the interests of the class.” (McGhee v. Bank of America (1976) 60 Cal.App.3d 442, 450.) The fact that a class representative does not personally incur all of the damages suffered by each different class member does not necessarily preclude the representative from providing adequate representation to the class. (Wershba v. Apple Computer, Inc. (2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 224, 238.)

Here, plaintiff was subject to each of the policies at issue and there is no indication that defendant will assert defenses unique to her. She has hired experienced counsel to represent her and the other class members. The adequacy and typicality factors are accordingly satisfied.

VI. Superiority

Finally, a class action should not be certified unless substantial benefits accrue both to litigants and the courts. (Basurco v. 21st Century Ins. Co. (2003) 108 Cal.App.4th 110, 120.) The question is whether a class action would be superior to individual lawsuits. (Ibid.) “Thus, even if questions of law or fact predominate, the lack of superiority provides an alternative ground to deny class certification.” (Ibid.) Generally, “a class action is proper where it provides small claimants with a method of obtaining redress and when numerous parties suffer injury of insufficient size to warrant individual action.” (Id. at pp. 120-121, internal quotation marks omitted.)

Here, each class member will have a small claim. Without a class action, it is highly unlikely that any class member would have the incentive to bring a lawsuit. In addition, there are an estimated 400 members of the proposed class. It would be inefficient for the Court to hear and decide the same issues separately and repeatedly for each class member.

To conclude, a class action is superior to individual lawsuits under the circumstances.

VII. Conclusion and Order

The motion to certify the class is GRANTED as to the following class:

All non-exempt parking directors, traffic controllers, and valet attendants employed by defendant PLATINUM PARKING MANAGEMENT, LLC, within the State of California at any time from August 5, 2011 to the present.

The Court also certifies a sub-class of class members no longer employed by defendant who received their final paycheck during the class period.

Within 14 calendar days of the filing of this order, plaintiff shall submit a statement regarding class notice and a proposed notice to class members. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule3.766(b).)

The Court will prepare the order.