Firm Wins Class Action Challenge in Published Opinion of the Court of Appeal

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limosine carol gillamCarol Gillam won reversal of a trial court's denial of their class certification motion. The published opinion issued August 14, 2014. The California Court of Appeal struck down defense attempts to defeat a class of limousine drivers employed by Ready to Roll, Inc. The employer secretly got drivers to sign releases and arbitration agreements. The appellate court ruled that the due process rights of the drivers were violated by the employer's and the trial court's actions. Since the court ruled, numerous legal treatises have cited the case for important legal propositions. A national law publication, Law360, described the case:

Limo Drivers Get Another Shot At Cert. In OT Suit

Share us on: By Michael Lipkin

Law360, Los Angeles (August 15, 2014, 3:52 PM ET) -- A California appeals court on Thursday gave limousine drivers in a proposed overtime class action against Ready To Roll Transportation Inc. another chance at certification, ruling that a trial judge improperly considered sandbagged arbitration agreements in deciding the class was too small.

Ready To Roll had fought certification by producing signed arbitration and settlement agreements with 44 out of 53 members of the proposed class, arguing that nine members were not enough to justify a class action. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Fahey sided with the company and denied the motion.

The appeals panel held that Judge Fahey's ruling essentially was that Ready To Roll’s affirmative defense had merit by agreeing there were only nine members in the class, but he was allowed to consider only how many drivers fit the plaintiffs’ class definition and whether it was impractical to have them try their cases separately.

“Although these defenses may overlap with the determination of whether the class representatives here can adequately represent members who have signed releases and arbitration agreements, or whether those representatives’ claims and defenses are typical of those of the class, the trial court did not address these matters.”

The panel added that no set number was required to justify class certification and that Judge Fahey provided no explanation for his “bare conclusion” that nine was too few members.

Three Ready To Roll drivers sued the company in May 2012, alleging that it failed to pay overtime wages and to pay drivers for time they were required to be on call between trips. Ready To Roll repeatedly asked for more time to respond to discovery requests, which the plaintiffs’ agreed to only if Ready To Roll promised to give substantive responses to all questions.

Ready to Roll failed to meet its discovery deadlines, according to the opinion, but its CEO used the time extension to meet individually with 29 drivers and have them sign settlement agreements, some in exchange for $5.

The company used those releases and separate arbitration agreements to oppose certification, arguing there were only nine drivers who could still participate in the class action. All of the arbitration agreements were signed before the trial court ordered Ready To Roll to fully comply with discovery requests, but were not included in its responses, according to the opinion.

The panel ruled that Judge Fahey violated the plaintiffs’ due process rights by allowing Ready To Roll to use the releases without giving the plaintiffs more time for discovery or a chance to further brief the court.

“The record establishes that the defendant withheld the releases and arbitration agreements from the plaintiffs despite a court order directing it to produce all documents in support of its defenses,” the opinion said. “In addition, the defendant did not produce the 17 releases until the eve of the due date for the motion for class certification — and did not produce the arbitration agreements until after the motion had been filed — despite having possessed them for many months.”

Ready To Roll abused the discovery process by failing to meet deadlines and breaking its agreement to produce its CEO for a deposition, according to the opinion, which supported the plaintiffs’ argument that they did not have enough time for discovery.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer told Law360 that many California trial courts abuse their discretion in denying certification motions only to have them overturned on appeal.

“With the court of appeal's decision to publish this case, we hope trial courts will understand that they cannot allow defense gamesmanship to interfere with the due process rights of workers in California," Carol L. Gillam of The Gillam Law Firm said.

An attorney for Ready To Roll did not respond Friday to a request for comment.

Justices H. Walter Croskey, Joan D. Klein and Richard D. Alrich sat on the panel that reached Thursday’s decision.

The plaintiffs are represented by Carol L. Gillam and Jody M. Borrelli of The Gillam Law Firm.

Ready To Roll is represented by Todd E. Coutch and Daniel K. Dik of Fraser Watson & Croutch LLP.

The case is Daniel Hendershot et al. v. Ready to Roll Transportation Inc. et al., case number B247730, in the Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District.


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