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Alberonys Cuevas, On Behalf of Himself and All Other Similarly Situated Persons v. Citizens Financial Group

May 21, 2011

ALBERONYS CUEVAS, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND ALL OTHER SIMILARLY SITUATED PERSONS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITIZENS FINANCIAL GROUP, INC. AND RBS CITIZENS, N.A. (D/B/A CITIZENS BANK), DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Block, Senior District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Alberonys Cuevas brings this putative class action, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, against defendants Citizens Financial Group, Inc. and Citizens N.A. Plaintiff and the putative class members worked as Assistant Bank Managers ("ABMs") at defendants' Citizens Bank locations in New York State. Plaintiff claims that defendants violated the New York Labor Law, Article 19, §§ 650 et seq. ("NYLL") by classifying all ABMs as exempt from the state law's overtime requirements.*fn1 Defendants oppose class certification. For the reasons set forth below, the motion for class certification is granted.

I

Defendants operate approximately 230 Citizens Bank branches located in New York State. Approximately 107 of those branches are classified as "traditional," meaning they are freestanding bank establishments, and the remainder are "in-store," which are banks located within another retailer, such as a supermarket. Most branches, regardless of type, employ one Branch Manager ("BM"), who reports to a Regional Manager, and one or two ABMs, who report to the BM. Defendants classify all BMs and ABMs as exempt from the NYLL overtime pay mandate. Branches also employ bankers, tellers, teller managers, head tellers, and senior tellers, all classified as non-exempt employees because their positions do not have supervisory or discretionary authority. Cuevas worked as an ABM at the Freeport, New York in-store Citizens Bank branch from March 23, 2009, through December 19, 2009.

II

To succeed on a motion for class certification, the plaintiff must establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the prerequisites listed in Federal Rule of Evidence 23(a) and one part of Rule 23(b) are satisfied. See Teamsters Local 445 Freight Div. Pension Fund v. Bombardier, Inc., 546 F.3d 196, 201-02 (2d Cir. 2008). A district court evaluating a motion for class certification must conduct a "rigorous analysis," assessing "all of the relevant evidence admitted at the class certification stage" to "determine whether each Rule 23 requirement has been met." In re Initial Public Offerings Securities Litig., 471 F.3d 24, 29, 42 (2d Cir. 2006).

The Rule 23(a) prerequisites are: "(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;*fn2 (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class; (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class." Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a). Plaintiff seeks certification under Rule 23(b)(3), which states that a class may be certified if "questions of law or fact common to class members 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. P. 23(b)(3).

As a preliminary matter, plaintiff calls attention to a recent Northern District of Illinois case certifying a class nearly identical to the proposed class here: current and former ABM employees of Charter One bank branches located in Illinois who claimed that defendants unlawfully classified them as exempt from federal and state overtime requirements. See Ross v. RBS Citizens, N.A., 2010 WL 3980113, at *2 (N.D. Ill. 2010). The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court decision, noting that "the glue holding together the [ABM class] is based on the common question of whether an unlawful overtime policy prevented employees from collecting lawfully earned overtime compensation." Ross v. RBS Citizens, N.A., 667 F.3d 900, 910 (7th Cir. 2012). Although this court is not bound by the decisions of the Northern District of Illinois and the Seventh Circuit, the reasoning found in this comparable class certification provides guidance here.

III

Plaintiff defines the proposed class as follows: "All [ABMs] employed at Citizens Bank retail branches in the state of New York during any workweek since December 1, 2004 who were paid a salary and classified by Defendants as exempt from [NYLL's] overtime pay mandates." Compl. ¶ 33.

Defendants oppose certification of the class for the following reasons: (1) plaintiff cannot satisfy the Rule 23(a)(2) commonality requirement because actual ABM job duties varied from one branch location to another and individual proof would be required for each class member; (2) common questions do not "predominate" under Rule 23(b)(3) because ABM daily activities varied; (3) a class action is not a superior method of adjudicating the controversy; (4) Cuevas 's claims and defenses are not typical of the class, nor is he capable of adequately protecting the interests of the class because he lacks credibility.

A. Commonality

The Rule 23 commonality prerequisite "requires the plaintiff to demonstrate that the class members have suffered the same injury. This does not mean merely that they have all suffered a violation of the same provision of law." Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541, 2551 (2011) ("Dukes"). Class members' claims must "depend upon a common contention," which "must be of such a nature that it is capable of classwide resolution -- which means that determination of its truth or falsity will resolve an issue that is central to the validity of each of the claims in one stroke." Id.

Defendants argue that there is no "common contention" because the record shows that "actual job duties vary from ABM to ABM and branch to branch, and proof specific to each ABM will be required" to determine whether ABMs were properly categorized as exempt. Def's Mem. of Law at 18. In support of that contention, defendants cite declarations submitted by potential class members describing their daily activities. Several ABMs, for example, attested that they had been active in interviewing and hiring ...


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