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Sali v. Corona Regional Medical Center

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

May 3, 2018

Marlyn Sali and Deborah Spriggs, on behalf of themselves, all others similarly situated and the general public, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Corona Regional Medical Center; UHS of Delaware Inc., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued and Submitted February 16, 2018 Pasadena, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California Phillip S. Gutierrez, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 5:14-cv-00985-PSG-JPR

          Jerusalem F. Beligan (argued) and Brian D. Chase, Bisnar Chase LLP, Newport Beach, California, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

          Christina H. Hayes (argued), Khatereh Sage Fahimi, and Stacey E. James, Littler Mendelson P.C., San Diego, California, for Defendants-Appellees.

          Before: M. Margaret McKeown and Kim McLane Wardlaw, Circuit Judges, and Salvador Mendoza, Jr., [*] District Judge.

         SUMMARY [**]

         Class Certification

         The panel reversed the district court's denial of class certification in a putative class action alleging employment claims against Corona Medical Center and UHS of Delaware, Inc; and remanded.

         Plaintiffs Marlyn Sali and Deborah Spriggs moved for certification of seven classes of Registered Nurses, alleging they were underpaid by Corona as a result of certain employment policies and practices. The district court denied certification under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23 of each of the proposed classes on multiple grounds.

         The panel held that the district court's determination, that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate their injuries were typical of the proposed classes, was premised on an error of law. The panel held that the district court erred by striking a declaration at this preliminary stage, and the district court may not decline to consider evidence solely on the basis that the evidence is inadmissible at trial.

         The panel agreed with the district court's conclusion that plaintiff Spriggs was not an adequate class representative because she was not a member of any class she sought to represent. The panel held, however, that plaintiff Sali was an adequate class representative, and Spriggs's inadequacy was not a valid basis to deny class certification.

         The panel held that the district court abused its discretion by concluding that attorneys from the law firm Bisnar Chase could not serve as adequate class counsel. The panel also held that at this early stage of the litigation, the district court's decision on this issue was premature, but the district court was not precluded from considering counsel's prior sanctions as evidence of inadequacy if they continue to neglect their duties.

         The panel held that the district court erred by denying certification of the proposed rounding-time and wage-statement classes on the basis that they failed Rule 23(b)(3)'s predominance requirement. First, the panel held that the district court's determination that individual questions predominated in the claims of the proposed rounding-time class was based on an error of law. Under California law, the district court erred by interpreting time "actually worked" to mean only time spent engaged in work-related activities because time is compensable when an employee is working or under the control of his or her employer. Second, the panel held that the district court's determination - that individual questions predominate in the claims of the proposed wage-statement class - was premised on legal error. The district court erred by concluding that damages for members of the wage statement class would require an individualized determination because California Labor Code specifies that a violation of § 226 is a per se injury.

          OPINION

          MENDOZA, DISTRICT JUDGE

         Marlyn Sali and Deborah Spriggs ("Sali and Spriggs") appeal the district court's denial of class certification in this putative class action alleging employment claims against Corona Regional Medical Center and UHS of Delaware, Inc. (collectively "Corona").[1] Sali and Spriggs moved for certification of seven classes of Registered Nurses ("RNs") they allege were underpaid by Corona as a result of certain employment policies and practices. The district court denied certification on the basis that (1) Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a)'s typicality requirement is not satisfied for any of the proposed classes because Sali and Spriggs failed to submit admissible evidence of their injuries; (2) Plaintiff Spriggs and proposed class counsel have not demonstrated they will adequately represent the proposed classes; and (3) several proposed classes fail to satisfy Rule 23(b)(3)'s predominance requirement. Because the district court abused its discretion by relying on each of these reasons to deny class certification, we reverse.

         BACKGROUND

         Corona operates a hospital in Southern California that employs hourly-wage RNs. Sali and Spriggs are RNs formerly employed by Corona. They assert that a number of Corona's employment policies and practices with respect to RNs violate California law and have resulted in underpayment of wages. They filed this putative class action in California State Court on behalf of "all RNs employed by Defendants in California at any time during the Proposed Class Period who (a) were not paid all wages at their regular rate of pay; (b) not paid time and a-half and/or double time for all overtime hours worked; and (c) denied uninterrupted, 'off-duty' meal-and-rest periods." They allege Corona violated California law by (1) failing to pay all regular hourly wages; (2) failing to pay time-and-a-half for all overtime; (3) failing to pay double time for all hours worked in excess of twelve hours in a day; (4) not providing compliant meal and rest breaks; (5) failing to timely pay all wages due to separated former employees within seventy-two hours of separation; and (6) failing to provide accurate itemized wage statements. Corona removed the case to the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

         Sali and Spriggs moved for certification of the following seven classes:

         1. Rounding Time Class:

All current and former nurses who work or worked for Defendants during the Proposed Class Period who were not paid all wages due them, including straight time, overtime, double time, meal premiums, and rest premiums due to Defendants' rounding time policy.
2. Short Shift Class:
All current and former nurses of Defendants who work or worked pursuant to an Alternative Workweek Schedule ("AWS") during the Proposed Class Period who were "flexed" between the 8th and 12th hour of work due to low patient census and not paid daily overtime.
3. Meal Period Class:
All current and former nurses of Defendants who work or worked pursuant to an AWS during the Proposed Class Period who signed an invalid meal period waiver, and (1) not provided a second meal break after 10 hours of work; (2) not provided meal periods before 5 and 10 hours of work; and/or, (3) not provided a second meal period after 12 hours of work.
4. Rest Break Class:
All current and former nurses who work or worked for Defendants during the Proposed Class Period who were not relieved of all duty and therefore not authorized and permitted to take 10-minute, uninterrupted rest breaks for every four hours worked.
5. Regular Rate Class:
All current and former nurses who work or worked for Defendants during the Proposed Class Period who were not paid at the correct regular rate for overtime, double ...

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