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Andreas-Moses v. Hartford Fire Insurance Co.

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

June 18, 2018

KAREN ANDREAS-MOSES; ELIZABETH WAGNER; JACQUELINE WRIGHT; MIKAELA DELPHA; STEPHANIE WEST; JOSEPH J. WOJCIK; TINA PALMER; and AMY COOK, Plaintiffs,
v.
HARTFORD FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          ROY B. DALTON, JR., United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification and Appointment of Plaintiffs' Counsel as Class Counsel (Doc. 93 (“Motion”)), and responsive filings (Docs. 98, 101, 102). The Court held a hearing on the Motion (Docs. 117, 122); this Order follows.

         I. Background

         This putative class action originated in the Northern District of New York (“NDNY”) on November 18, 2016. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiffs are eight individuals currently or formerly employed by Defendant Hartford Fire Insurance Company (“Hartford”) as “Analysts” processing disability claims. (Doc. 25, ¶ 1.) They claim that Hartford misclassified them as exempt from overtime and failed to provide them accurate wage statements in violation of New York Labor Law (“NYLL”). (Id. ¶¶ 2-3.) Accordingly, Plaintiffs seek to certify a class of similarly situated employees to recover, inter alia, unpaid overtime and statutory damages. (Id. ¶¶ 86, 92, 93; Doc. 93.) With their Motion, Plaintiffs submitted an internal memorandum from Hartford classifying certain positions as exempt from overtime (Doc. 93-1 (“Golden Memo”)) and declarations from each Plaintiff about their job duties (Docs. 93-2-93-11 (“Declarations”).)

         In opposition, Hartford argues that class certification is improper because individualized inquiries predominate both the merits issue of the Analysts' proper classification and the issue of damages. (Doc. 98.) Hartford submitted their own declarations and portions of deposition testimony from several plaintiffs in support. (Docs. 98-1-98-14.)

         Plaintiffs then submitted a reply, as permitted by NDNY. (Doc. 101.) Alongside, Plaintiffs appended additional evidence, including: other portions of Plaintiffs' deposition testimony to rebut Hartford's extractions, internal Hartford training documents, and documents and filings from two previous, related cases. (Docs. 101-1- 101-27.) NDNY U.S. Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles heard argument on the Motion and two other motions to dismiss (Docs. 32, 33) on August 16, 2017. Following that hearing, he allowed Hartford to file a letter brief (Doc. 102) and directed Plaintiffs to file full deposition transcripts (Doc. 50). Magistrate Judge Peebles then issued a Report and Recommendation on October 30, 2017, recommending that the action be transferred to this district under the first-filed doctrine raised by Hartford in one of its motions to dismiss. (Doc. 56.) NDNY presiding U.S. District Judge Brenda K. Sannes adopted the recommendation on November 22, 2017, and transferred the action here without ruling on the outstanding motions. (Doc. 60.)

         On receiving the case, the Court held a status conference to determine how best to proceed, since this case mirrors the pending action Dearth v. Hartford Fire Insurance Company, No. 6:16-cv-1603-37KRS (M.D. Fla. Sept. 13, 2016) (“Dearth”), where the Court conditionally certified a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) for the same claim of whether Analysts qualify as exempt, Dearth Doc. 163. (Doc. 90.) Hartford ultimately re-filed one motion to dismiss (Doc. 91), since resolved (Doc. 108), and Plaintiff re-filed this Motion.[1] As the Court heard argument on the Motion on May 15, 2018 (“Hearing”), the matter is ripe. (Docs. 117, 122.)

         II. Legal Standard

         “Questions concerning class certification are left to the sound discretion of the district court.” Griffin v. Carlin, 755 F.2d 1516, 1531 (11th Cir. 1985). To certify a class action, the named plaintiffs must have standing, and the proposed class must: (1) be adequately defined and clearly ascertainable; (2) meet each of the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a); and (3) meet at least one of the requirements of Rule 23(b). Little v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., 691 F.3d 1302, 1304 (11th Cir. 2012); Busby v. JRHBW Realty Inc., 513 F.3d 1314, 1321 (11th Cir. 2008). Rule 23(a) requires the plaintiffs to demonstrate that the proposed class satisfies the prerequisites of “numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation.” Babineau v. Fed. Exp. Corp., 576 F.3d 1183, 1189-90 (11th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). To certify a class under Rule 23(b)(3), which Plaintiffs seek here, the plaintiffs must demonstrate: (1) that questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members (“predominance”); and (2) a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy (“superiority”). Id.

         Certifying a class involves “rigorous analysis of the [R]ule 23 prerequisites.”[2] Vega v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., 564 F.3d 1256, 1266 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Castano v. Am. Tobacco Co., 84 F.3d 734, 740 (5th Cir. 1996)). Although the class certification stage does not equal a determination on the merits, a court “can and should consider the merits of the case to the degree necessary to determine whether the requirements of Rule 23 will be satisfied.” Babineau, 576 F.3d at 1190 (quoting Valley Drug v. Geneva Pharm., 350 F.3d 1181, 1188 n.15 (11th Cir. 2003)). Inescapably, sometimes the demands of class certification and whether the plaintiffs can succeed on the merits overlap, so “the principle that a district court should not evaluate the merits of plaintiffs' claims should not be talismanically invoked to artificially limit a trial court's examination of the factors necessary to a reasoned determination of whether [the] plaintiff[s] ha[ve] met [their] burden of establishing each of the Rule 23 class action requirements.'” Id. (quoting Love v. Turlington, 733 F.2d 1562, 1564 (11th Cir. 1984)) (alteration omitted). To that end, a court may, if necessary, “look beyond the pleadings and examine the parties' claims, defenses, and evidence to ensure that class certification would comport with Rule 23's standards.” Id.

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiffs seek certification of a Rule 23(b)(3) damages class action for their two NYLL claims. (Doc. 93, p. 8.) To proceed, the named plaintiffs must have standing. See Busby, 513 F.3d at 1321; Griffin v. Dugger, 823 F.2d 1476, 1482 (11th Cir. 1987). This threshold question is not in dispute, and the Court's independent review finds that the named plaintiffs have satisfied standing here. Each alleges they work or worked for Hartford for more than forty hours a week without receiving overtime pay. (Docs. 93-2- 93-5, 93-8-93-11.) As this is a sufficient, cognizable injury giving rise to both NYLL claims, standing is met. See Griffin, 823 F.2d at 1482-83.

         Next, the Court considers whether the proposed class is adequately defined and clearly ascertainable. See Little, 691 F.3d at 1304. Plaintiffs propose this class:

All employees of Defendant who, from November 18, 2010 through the present (“Class Period”), worked for Defendant in New York, processed disability claims, were classified as exempt from overtime under [NYLL], were paid a salary, worked more than forty (40) hours in a single work week, and were not paid overtime at a rate of one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for any and all hours worked in excess of forty (40) hours in a single work week, and who did not receive accurate wage statements (“Class”).

(Doc. 25, ¶ 19; see also Doc. 93, pp. 1 n.1, 4.) From this definition, Hartford identified 116 individuals who satisfy these criteria. (See Doc. 98-1, ¶ 5.) Those 116 individuals are employees from three departments within Hartford's Group Benefits Claims Field Operations (“GBC”) business group: (1) Long-Term Disability (“LTD”); (2) Short-Term Disability (“STD”); and (3) Continuing Annual Review (“CAR”). (Doc. 98-1, ¶ 6.)

         Hartford's derivation of potential class members shows the Court that Plaintiffs' proposed class meets ascertainability. See Karhu v. Vital Pharm, Inc., 621 Fed.Appx. 945, 946 (11th Cir. 2015) (noting ascertainability requires “the class definition contain[] objective criteria that allow for class members to be identified in an administratively feasible way”).[3] With these threshold requirements down, the Court turns to the Rule 23 requirements.

         A. Rule 23(a) Requirements

         To certify their proposed class, Plaintiffs must meet numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy under Rule 23(a).

         1. Numerosity

         Numerosity is met when “the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable.” Rule 23(a)(1). Generally, a class of less than twenty-one is inadequate, but more than forty suffices. Vega, 564 F.3d at 1267. Plaintiffs must make “some showing, affording the district court the means to make a supported factual finding, that the class actually certified meets the numerosity requirement.” Id.

         Here, Plaintiffs rely on their declarations and a phone list of Hartford employees to show that their proposed class has at least sixty-eight members. (Doc. 93, p. 8 (citing Doc. 93-2).) That numerosity is met here is confirmed by Hartford's records, identifying 116 individuals who could be part of Plaintiffs' proposed class. (Doc. 98-1, ¶ 5.) Breaking this number down, the clear majority stem from the LTD department-108 to be exact. (Id. ¶ 10.) Numerosity exists here.

         2. Commonality

         Commonality requires there be “questions of law or fact common to the class.” Rule 23(a)(2). Unlike predominance, commonality is a “relatively light burden.” Vega, 564 F.3d at 1256. It requires “at least one issue whose resolution will affect all or a significant number of the putative class members.” Williams v. Mohawk Indus., Inc., 568 F.3d 1350, 1355 (11th Cir. 2009).

         Here, the common question of law for the proposed class is whether Hartford properly classified these employees as exempt. (Doc. 93, pp. 11-14.) With this-and without Hartford's dispute (see Doc. 98)-the Court finds that commonality is met.

         3. ...


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