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Hoffman v. Strobel

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

February 16, 2018




         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on the Joint Motion to Approve Settlement and Stipulation of Dismissal (“Joint Motion”). (Doc. 95). The undersigned has reviewed the filings in this case and finds that there is no need for a hearing. For the reasons stated herein, the undersigned recommends that the Joint Motion be GRANTED, the Settlement Agreement (Doc. 95-1) be APPROVED, and the case be DISMISSED with prejudice.

         I. Background

         On February 2, 2015, Plaintiffs brought this action under, inter alia, the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., seeking to recover, inter alia, overtime compensation, liquidated damages, attorney's fees, and costs for Defendants' alleged failure to compensate them at the statutory rate of one and one-half times his regular rate of pay for any overtime hours worked. Following negotiations, Defendants, without admitting any liability and after raising complete defenses, reached a settlement agreement to resolve this action. (See generally Doc. 95.) The parties ultimately reduced their arrangement to a settlement agreement.

         On December 5, 2017, the parties filed a joint notice of settlement. (Doc. 87.) On December 6, 2017, Judge Corrigan issued an Order referring the matter to the undersigned for preparation of a report and recommendation and instructed the parties to file their joint proposal for settlement on or before January 15, 2018. (Doc. 88.) Subsequent to receiving an extension of time from the Court to file the settlement documents, the parties filed their Joint Motion to Approve Settlement on January 22, 2018. (Doc. 91.) The Court issued an order on January 23, 2018 taking the Joint Motion under advisement and requiring the parties to supplement the Joint Motion with sufficient information to allow the Court to evaluate the reasonableness of the settlement. (Doc. 92.) The parties filed their renewed Joint Motion, thus complying with the Order on February 13, 2018. (Doc. 95.)

         The matter is now ripe for review.

         II. Standard

         Section 216(b) of the FLSA provides in part:

Any employer who violates the provisions of section 206 or section 207 of this title shall be liable to the employee or employees affected in the amount of . . . their unpaid overtime compensation . . . and in an additional equal amount as liquidated damages. . . . The court in such action shall, in addition to any judgment awarded to the plaintiff or plaintiffs, allow a reasonable attorney's fee to be paid by the defendant, and costs of the action.

29 U.S.C. § 216(b).

         “[I]n the context of suits brought directly by employees against their employer under section 216(b) . . . the district court may enter a stipulated judgment after scrutinizing the settlement for fairness.” Lynn's Food Stores, Inc. v. United States, 679 F.2d 1350, 1353 (11th Cir. 1982). Judicial review is required because the FLSA was meant to protect employees from substandard wages and oppressive working hours, and to prohibit the contracting away of these rights. Id. at 1352. “If a settlement in an employee FLSA suit does reflect a reasonable compromise over issues, such as FLSA coverage or computation of back wages, that are actually in dispute, ” the district court is allowed “to approve the settlement in order to promote the policy of encouraging settlement of litigation.” Id. at 1354. “FLSA requires judicial review of the reasonableness of counsel's legal fees to assure both that counsel is compensated adequately and that no conflict of interest taints the amount the wronged employee recovers under a settlement agreement.” Silva v. Miller, 307 Fed. App'x 349, 351 (11th Cir. Jan. 13, 2009) (per curiam).

         In Bonetti v. Embarq Management Company, the court analyzed its role in determining the fairness of a proposed settlement under the FLSA, and concluded:

[I]f the parties submit a proposed FLSA settlement that, (1) constitutes a compromise of the plaintiff's claims; (2) makes full and adequate disclosure of the terms of settlement, including the factors and reasons considered in reaching same and justifying the compromise of the plaintiff's claims; and (3) represents that the plaintiff's attorneys' fee was agreed upon separately and without regard to the amount paid to the plaintiff, then, unless the settlement does not appear reasonable on its face or there is reason to believe that the plaintiff's recovery was adversely affected by the amount of fees paid to his attorney, the Court will approve the settlement without separately considering the reasonableness of the fee to be paid to plaintiff's counsel.

715 F.Supp.2d 1222, 1228 (M.D. Fla. 2009). Other courts in this district have indicated that when attorney's fees are negotiated separately from the payment to plaintiff(s), “an in depth analysis [of the reasonableness of the fees] is not necessary unless the unreasonableness is apparent from the face of the documents.” King v. My Online Neighborhood, Inc., 2007 WL 737575, at *4 (M.D. Fla. ...

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