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Gilliam v. Addicts Rehabilitation Center Fund

March 25, 2008

SHARON GILLIAM, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ADDICTS REHABILITATION CENTER FUND, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ronald L. Ellis, United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Sharon Gilliam, Trina Grant, Timothy Mitchell, Geraldine Carthen, James Johnson and Calvin White, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, bring this action against Defendants Addicts Rehabilitation Center Foundation, Inc. ("ARC Foundation"), Addicts Rehabilitation Center Fund, Inc. ("ARC"), James Allen, and Reginald Williams (together, "Defendants"). Plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging that Defendants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and the New York Labor Law ("NYLL") by failing to pay overtime to hourly, non-exempt employees. Before the Court is Plaintiffs' request, pursuant to Rule 23(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for final approval of a settlement agreement. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED, the settlement is APPROVED.

II. BACKGROUND

On April 1, 2005, Plaintiffs filed their initial class action complaint, and on April 20, 2006, filed an amended complaint. On September 5, 2006, the Parties agreed to settle. On October 2, 2007, the Court provisionally certified the class and ordered that notice be given to putative class members. On January 3, 2008, Plaintiffs filed a motion for certification of a settlement class and for final approval of a class action settlement. A hearing was held on January 17, 2008. There were no objections to the proposed settlement.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Certification of Settlement Class

Before reaching the merits of the proposed settlement, the Court must ensure that the settlement class is certifiable. See Denney v. Deutsche Bank AG, 443 F.3d 252, 270 (2d Cir. 2006) ("Before certification is proper for any purpose --settlement, litigation, or otherwise-- a court must ensure that the requirements of Rule 23(a) and (b) have been met."). Plaintiffs seek to certify the following settlement class: all individuals employed by ARC Fund as hourly, non-supervisory employees in its residential drug rehabilitation centers in New York City between November 19, 1998, and April 1, 2005. Certifiability turns on whether Plaintiffs can satisfy the four Rule 23(a) requirements: numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation. FED. R. CIV. P. 23(a); see also Amchem Products, Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 613 (1997)."[P]arties seeking class certification must [also] show that the action is maintainable under Rule 23(b)(1), (2), or (3)." Amchem, 521 U.S. at 614.

The numerosity criteria, which requires that joinder of all members is impracticable, see Robidoux v. Celani, 987 F.2d 931, 935 (2d Cir. 1993), is satisfied. The putative class is sufficiently large because it consists of approximately 245 members, see Consol. Rail Corp. v. Town of Hyde Park, 47 F.3d 473, 483 (2d Cir. 2003) (presuming that 40 members meets test for numerosity), and the value of the individual claims is sufficiently small. It is unlikely that this case would be brought by the individual class members since, on the individual level, it is of small monetary value as compared to the burdens of litigation.

The commonality requirement is satisfied because there are "questions of law or fact common to the class," FED. R. CIV. P. 23(a)(2), and the "injuries derive from a unitary course of conduct by a single system," Marisol A. v. Giuliani, 126 F.3d 372, 377 (2d Cir. 1997). The proposed class members' claims all derive from the same alleged breach of law by Defendants.

The typicality requirement is satisfied because, since the claims of the named Plaintiffs and the putative class members follow from allegations that Defendants failed to pay them in violation of state and federal law, the claims of the class representatives are typical of those of the class. See Robinson v. Metro-North Commuter R.R. Co., 267 F.3d 147, 155 (2d Cir. 2001). Furthermore, each putative class member's claim arises from the same course of events, and each would make similar legal arguments to prove Defendants' liability. Id. Therefore, there is a sufficient showing of Rule 23(a)(3) typicality.

The adequacy of representation requirement is satisfied. First, "the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class." FED. R. CIV. P. 23(a)(4). Second, "class counsel [are] qualified, experienced, and generally able to conduct the litigation." In re Drexel Burnham Lambert Group, Inc., 960 F.2d 285, 291 (2d Cir. 1992). They have substantial experience prosecuting class action cases involving wage and hour claims. Finally, there is "no conflict of interest between the named plaintiffs and other members of the plaintiff class." Marisol A., 126 F.3d at 378. The Court has no reason to believe named Plaintiffs may have conflicting interests, as their interests are sufficiently aligned with those of the putative class members to ensure that the interests of the latter are protected.

Finally, certification under Rule 23(b)(3) is proper because "questions of law or fact common to members of the class predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and . . . a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy." FED. R. CIV. PRO. 23(b)(3). This determination follows from these considerations:

(A) the class members' interest in individually controlling the prosecution or defense of separate actions; (B) the extent and nature of any litigation concerning the controversy already commenced by or against members of the class; (C) the desirability or undesirability of concentrating the litigation of the claims in the particular forum; (D) the difficulties to be encountered in the management of a class action.

Id. In this case, the disposition of a common issue --whether employees were illegitimately denied overtime pay-- subsumes questions affecting only individual members; there is no other pending litigation; the action is pending in a district to which most if not all putative class members have ready access; and ...


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