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Michaud v. Monro Muffler Brake, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maine

March 17, 2015

CHRISTOPHER MICHAUD, ANDREW LASICK, TONY CASANOVA, and FREDERICK SCHNACKENBERG III, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
MONRO MUFFLER BRAKE, INC., Defendant.

ORDER ON MOTION FOR CLASS/COLLECTIVE CERTIFICATION, PRELIMINARY APPROVAL OF SETTLEMENT, AUTHORIZATION TO SEND SETTLEMENT NOTICES, AND APPOINTMENT OF CLASS COUNSEL

NANCY TORRESEN, Chief District Judge.

Before the Court is the Plaintiffs' unopposed motion for class/collective certification, preliminary approval of the settlement of all claims at issue in this suit, authorization to send settlement notices, and appointment of class counsel (ECF No. 78). For the reasons stated below, the motion is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Christopher Michaud, Andrew Lasick, Tony Casanova, and Frederick Schnackenberg III (the "Plaintiffs") bring suit on behalf of themselves and all other similarly situated technicians and assistant store managers employed by Defendant Monro Muffler Brake, Inc. ("Monro Muffler"). The Complaint alleges that the Plaintiffs all worked at Monro Muffler establishments focused on tire sales and services. Third Am. Compl. ("Compl.") ¶¶ 5-8 (ECF No. 67). The Plaintiffs were non-exempt employees paid on an hourly basis. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 20. The Complaint describes two general categories of claims.

First, the Plaintiffs allege that they earned additional compensation, called "spiffs, " when they completed tire installations and alignments. Compl. ¶ 65. Monro Muffler reported these spiff payments on employees' pay stubs. Compl. ¶ 15. However, for overtime, Monro Muffler paid employees 1.5 times their respective hourly rates of pay, which did not include spiff payments. Compl. ¶¶ 15-17. The Complaint alleges that the practice of failing to account for spiff payments in calculating overtime pay violates the Fair Labor Standards Act (the "FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 207, 255, as well as state wage and hour laws in Maine, 26 M.R.S. § 664(3), Massachusetts, M.G.L. Ch. 151 § 1A, New Hampshire, N.H. Rev. Stat. § 279:21(VIII), and Vermont, 21 V.S. § 384(b) (the "Spiff Claims").

Next, Plaintiff Michaud alleges that Monro Muffler routinely required him and other assistant store managers to perform off-the-clock work during their half-hour lunch breaks and after the end of their shifts. Michaud contends that, on average, he worked through his lunch break one to two times per week, Compl. ¶ 26, and performed post-shift work three to four times per week for approximately fifteen to forty-five minutes each time. Compl. ¶ 33. The Complaint alleges that Monro Muffler's practice of requiring off-the-clock-and therefore uncompensated-work of its assistant store managers violates FLSA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 207, 255 and Maine wage and hour laws, 26 M.R.S. § 629(1), 664(3) (the "ASM Claims").

The Court is now called upon to resolve the Plaintiffs' unopposed motion for class/collective certification and preliminary approval of agreements settling the Spiff Claims and the ASM Claims, to authorize settlement notices, and to appoint class counsel. This motion has presented a series of procedural difficulties, as the Plaintiffs seek to certify several distinct-but at times overlapping-classes and collective actions in order to set the stage for finally resolving all claims in this action. Rather than having class and collective action certification briefed and decided in advance of settlement, the Plaintiffs ask the Court to take action on several distinct requests in one swoop, without the benefit of adversarial briefing.[1] After multiple unopposed briefs from the Plaintiffs and conferences of counsel, the Court has parsed out each distinct request and resolves the motion as described below.

DISCUSSION

I. Certification

A. Rule 23 Class Actions

1. Legal Standard

A party seeking class certification must first demonstrate that all requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) are satisfied. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S.Ct. 2541, 2548 (2011). These requirements are:

(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.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a). Next, the named plaintiff must show that the class is maintainable under one of the types of class actions described in Rule 23(b). Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 131 S.Ct. at 2548. "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.'" Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 615 (1997) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(3)).

2. Application: Spiff & ASM Claims

The Rule 23 classes proposed for the Spiff Claims are state claim classes covering employees in Maine (the "Maine Spiff Class"), Massachusetts (the "Massachusetts Spiff Class"), New Hampshire (the "New Hampshire Spiff Class"), and Vermont (the "Vermont Spiff Class") (together, the "State Claim Spiff Classes").[2] The Rule 23 class proposed for the ASM Claims is a Maine state claim class covering employees in Maine (the "Maine ASM Class").[3] As discussed below, the State Claim Spiff Classes and the Maine ASM Class meet the Rule 23(a) and (b)(3) requirements for class certification.

a. Rule 23(a) Requirements

The State Claim Spiff Classes and the Maine ASM Class meet the Rule 23(a) requirements of numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy.

i. Numerosity

Rule 23(a)(1) requires that the class be "so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable." "Impracticability' does not mean impossibility, ' but only the difficulty or inconvenience of joining all members of the class." Advertising Specialty Nat. Assoc. v. Federal Trade Commission, 238 F.2d 108, 119 (1st Cir. 1956). The State Claim Spiff Classes include varying numbers of class members: Maine-103, New Hampshire-97, Massachusetts-44, and Vermont-23. The Maine ASM Class has 66 members. Second Unopposed Mot. for Class/Collective Certification & Prelim. Approval of Settlement Agreement 17-18.

Rule 23(a)(1) does not mandate any strict numerical cut-off for class certification, but courts in this circuit have generally found that a class of 40 or more individuals satisfies the numerosity requirement. See, e.g., Coffin v. Bowater, Inc., 228 F.R.D. 397, 402 (D. Me. 2005). While the Vermont Spiff Class is made up of only 23 individuals, "[t]he numerosity requirement is more readily met where a class contains employees suing their present employer. This is because class members may be unwilling to sue their employer out of fear of retaliation." Romero v. Producers Dairy Foods, Inc., 235 F.R.D. 474, 485 (E.D. Ca. 2006); accord Mullen v. Treasure Chest Casino, LLC, 186 F.3d 620, 624 (5th Cir. 1999). In addition, adjudicating the Vermont spiff claims as a class action would promote judicial economy by avoiding the potential for a series of highly similar individual actions. See William B. Rubenstein, Newberg on Class Actions § 3:12 (5th ed. 2014). The numerosity requirement has been met for all four State Claim Spiff Classes and the Maine ASM Class.

ii. Commonality

Rule 23(a)(2) requires that "there are questions of law or fact common to the class." In other words, the class members' "claims must depend upon a common contention." Dukes, 131 S.Ct. at 2551. The Supreme Court has explained that the "common contention... must be of such a nature that it is capable of classwide resolution-which means that determination of its truth or falsity will resolve an issue that is central to the validity of each one of the claims in one stroke." Id.

With respect to the Spiff Claims, the Plaintiffs have established the following common contentions: (1) Monro Muffler failed to account for spiff payments in its overtime calculations; and (2) that failure violates state overtime laws in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The resolution of either of these common contentions would resolve a central issue in each individual ...


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