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Venegas v. Global Aircraft Service, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maine

February 4, 2016

CHRISTOPHER VENEGAS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
GLOBAL AIRCRAFT SERVICE, INC. and LUFTHANSA TECHNIK NORTH AMERICA HOLDING CORP., Defendants.

ORDER ON PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION AND DEFENDANTS’ MOTIONS FOR COLLECTIVE ACTION DECERTIFICATION

Nancy Torresen United States Chief District Judge

Before the Court are the Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification with respect to their state law claims (ECF No. 73) and the Defendants’ motions for collective action decertification with respect to the Fair Labor Standards Act claims (ECF Nos. 94 & 95). For the reasons stated below, the Plaintiffs’ motion is GRANTED and the Defendants’ motions are DENIED.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In 2007, Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung purchased three Lockheed Super Star aircraft at auction. LTNA Am. Answer ¶ 13 (ECF No. 38). Defendant Lufthansa Technik North America Holding Corporation (“LTNA”) was tasked with restoring one of the planes to airworthy condition. LTNA Am. Answer ¶ 14. The Super Star restoration project began in 2008 in an LTNA hangar on the grounds of the Lewiston-Auburn Municipal Airport in Auburn, Maine. LTNA (Lusky) Dep. 17:11-17 (ECF No. 80-3). In 2009, LTNA contracted with Defendant Global Aircraft Service, Inc. (“GAS”) to provide workers to deseal the plane’s wings, change out fasteners and dome nuts, and reseal the wings. GAS Dep. 18:23-19:23 (ECF No. 73-1). The point of this process, which GAS characterizes as “repair[ing] the wing fuel system, ” was to address corrosion and remove any microbial growth from the aircraft’s wings. Oct. 8, 2014 Young Decl. ¶ 3 (ECF No. 79-2); see GAS Dep. 25:3-10 (ECF No. 73-1).[1] Performing this type of work for clients was within GAS’s regular course of business. GAS Dep. 25:3-11 (ECF No. 73-1); Oct. 8, 2014 Young Decl. ¶ 2. GAS typically classifies workers it sends to such projects as employees, but for the Super Star project, it classified most of the workers it sent to Auburn as independent contractors. GAS Dep. 23:16-22, 25:11-20 (ECF No. 73-1).

As GAS began its wing work, it became clear that there was significant corrosion inside at least one wing and on other parts of the aircraft. GAS Dep. 26:3-14 (ECF No. 79-1); Oct. 8, 2014 Young Decl. ¶ 4. In light of these developments, LTNA asked GAS to provide sheet metal technicians to help with the additional work. GAS Dep. 26:3-14 (ECF No. 79-1). In 2010, GAS agreed to supply sheet metal workers to LTNA on the Auburn site.[2] Oct. 8, 2014 Young Decl. ¶¶ 4-6. These workers all signed the same agreement with GAS to work as independent contractors at an hourly rate, restoring the Super Star aircraft.[3] GAS Dep. 57:10-20, 58:6-9 (ECF No. 73-1). Venegas himself began working on the project in early 2013. July 18, 2014 Venegas Decl. ¶ 3 (ECF No. 44-1).

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Venegas filed suit in 2014 on behalf of himself and other workers on the Super Star project alleging violations of federal and Maine wage and hour laws. Compl. ¶¶ 62-69 (ECF No. 1). The crux of Venegas’s claims is that GAS and LTNA (the “Defendants”[4]) misclassified him and other workers as independent contractors, meaning they were not paid all legally-required wages. Compl. ¶¶ 63-64, 66-68. In early 2015, I conditionally certified a group of metal workers on the Super Star project as a collective action under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Order on Pl.’s Mot. for Conditional Certification 8-9 (ECF No. 56).

In August of 2015 I held a conference of counsel to discuss class certification/collective action decertification motions, a motion for summary judgment on exemption/preemption, and a contemplated motion from LTNA on joint employer issues. See Local Rule 56(h) Pre-Filing Conference Report & Order 1-3 (ECF No. 93). Counsel agreed that the class certification/decertification motions should be resolved first. Local Rule 56(h) Pre-Filing Conference Report & Order 1.

In the motion for class certification, the Plaintiffs request that I certify a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) class with respect to their state law claims, defined as follows:

All sheet metal workers and mechanics at any time since June 24, 2009, whom Defendants classified as independent contractors and who worked on Defendants’ aircraft restoration project occurring in Auburn, Maine, such that they were not paid for overtime work performed at a rate equal to one and one-half times their regular compensation rate.

Pls.’ Mot. for Class Certification 2 (ECF No. 73).

Additionally, both Defendants now seek to have me decertify the collective action which I conditionally certified on February 5, 2015. Global Aircraft Service, Inc.’s Mot. to Decertify the Conditional Certification of this Matter as a Collective Action Under the FLSA (“GAS Mot. to Decertify”) (ECF No. 94); LTNA’s Mot. to Decertify Collective Action (“LTNA Mot. to Decertify”) (ECF No. 95).

DISCUSSION

I. Motion to Certify the Class Action

A. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 governs class actions. Under that rule, an individual may sue in a representative capacity if certain conditions are met. First, the party moving for class certification must demonstrate the following prerequisites:

(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. v. Dukes, 131 S.Ct. 2541, 2548 (2011). Plaintiffs seeking damages proceed under Rule 23(b)(3). “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)).

B. Application: Rule 23(a) Prerequisites

As described below, Venegas has established the Rule 23(a) prerequisites: numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy.

1. Numerosity

Rule 23(a)(1) requires that the class be “so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable.” Rule 23(a)(1) does not mandate any strict numerical cutoff for class certification, but courts in this circuit have generally found that a class of 40 or more individuals satisfies numerosity. See, e.g., Coffin v. Bowater, Inc., 228 F.R.D. 397, 402 (D. Me. 2005). Here, Venegas maintains that the class would consist of “well over” 80 workers.[5] Pls.’ Mot. for Class Certification 14. The numerosity requirement is met.

2. Commonality

Rule 23(a)(2) requires that there be “questions of law or fact common to the class.” The Supreme Court analyzed this requirement at length in Wal-Mart, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S.Ct. 2541, 2550-2557 (2011). Under Dukes, commonality analysis requires an understanding of the merits of the plaintiffs’ underlying claims. Dukes, 131 S.Ct. at 2552. The Dukes majority directs courts resolving class certification motions to consider not just whether there exist common questions among the class, but also whether there exist “ ‘common answers apt to drive the resolution of the ...


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