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Hart v. Crab Addison, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 24, 2017

CHRISTOPHER HART, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CRAB ADDISON, INC., d/b/a Joe's Crab Shack, et al., Defendants.

          DECISION & ORDER

          MARIAN W. PAYSON United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiffs commenced this action on August 28, 2013, asserting claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and various state laws. (Docket # 1). On January 27, 2015, United States District Judge Charles J. Siragusa conditionally certified this case as a collective action under the FLSA. (Docket # 80). Currently pending before this Court are plaintiffs' motion to compel and for a sanctions hearing (Docket # 326) and defendants' motion for reconsideration of this Court's June 10, 2016 Order scheduling a sanctions hearing (Docket ## 357, 363).

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Both pending motions arise out of disputes concerning the accuracy of the class list produced by defendants in this matter. The litigated disputes have been protracted and have involved extensive correspondence, filings, motions, conferences, and proceedings before the Court. This opinion summarizes only those proceedings relevant to resolve the pending motions.[1]

         I. Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel

         On March 22, 2016, plaintiffs filed the pending motion to compel. (Docket # 326). The motion arises from defendants' repeated failures to comply with Judge Siragusa's January 27, 2015 Order, requiring defendants to produce a list of members of the class - namely, current and former employees of Joe's Crab Shack who were paid subminimum wage - in order to facilitate notice of the litigation to those potential class members.

         The initial class list produced by defendants contained approximately 124, 000 current and former Joe's Crab Shack employees whom defendants had identified as class members (the “original class list”). In late June 2015, defendants informed the Court that the original class list was inaccurate and contained tens of thousands of employees who should not have been included. (See Docket # 232-2 at ¶¶ 8-21). This Court conducted many conferences with counsel, and the parties filed several motions, addressing issues concerning the inaccuracy of the original class list and the notice that issued to individuals on that list. (See Docket ## 149, 178, 207, 217, 220, 232, 250, 255, 256, 278, 291, 300). On May 17, 2016, by Stipulation and Order, the parties resolved the majority of the issues raised by those motions, including plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint or to sever (Docket # 207), defendants' motion to compel and for a protective order (Docket # 232), plaintiffs' motion to strike (Docket # 255), and plaintiffs' motion for corrective notice and costs (Docket # 256). (Docket # 346).

         On July 17, 2015, defendants provided a corrected class list containing approximately 33, 000 putative class members (the “July 2015 class list”). (Docket ## 326-1 at 4; 326-3). Despite defendants' representations that the July 2015 class list was accurate, beginning in March 2016 plaintiffs raised concerns with defendants about the accuracy of the class list. (Docket ## 326-1 at 4; 326-6). Plaintiffs identified approximately fifteen potential class members whom they maintained were improperly excluded from the July 2015 class list. (Docket ## 326-1 at 4-5; 326-9).

         On March 22, 2016, plaintiffs filed the pending motion to compel compliance with Judge Siragusa's January 2015 Order requiring defendants to produce a class list. (Docket # 326). The motion sought the following relief:

(1) an order compelling defendants to provide the basis for not including the fifteen identified potential class members in the July 2015 list;
(2) an order compelling defendants to produce a corrected class list; and,
(3) an order setting a date for a sanctions hearing.

(Id.).

         Defendants opposed the motion, maintaining that plaintiffs had failed to confer in good faith prior to filing the motion and that the motion was unnecessary. (Docket # 340). Defendants' opposition included a chart explaining why the employees identified by plaintiffs had not been included in the July 2015 class list. (Docket ## 340 at 10; 340-1 at Exhibit (“Ex.”) A). Of the fifteen employees in dispute, defendants maintained that only two had been wrongly excluded from the July 2015 class list and that their exclusion had resulted from inadvertence. (Id.). Defendants also represented that they were “undertaking an investigation to determine whether any other putative class members were excluded from the [July 2015 class list], and, to the extent there were, [they] would provide a supplemental class [list] identifying these individuals upon completion of the investigation. (Docket # 340 at 10). Finally, defendants argued that a sanctions hearing was not warranted because they had already agreed to pay the costs associated with their error and their conduct did not justify sanctions. (Id. at 11-12).

         In reply, plaintiffs countered that their motion to compel was not moot because defendants had not yet produced a corrected class list; they also requested leave to depose a defense witness in order to identify the source of the inaccuracies in the July 2015 class list. (Docket # 342). Finally, plaintiffs maintained that they had complied with any applicable meet and confer obligations and were entitled to a sanctions hearing. (Id.).

         At oral argument on the motion, in response to questioning from the Court, counsel for defendants reported that the July 2015 class list may have excluded more than one hundred potential class members. (Docket # 349 at 12-13). Counsel was unable to provide any further information regarding the scope or cause of the errors or an anticipated date by which defendants would produce an accurate list. (Id.). The Court expressed significant concern over defendants' inability either to produce an accurate class list or to identify the scope or source of the errors in the July 2015 list. (Id. at 15-17). In an attempt to address those concerns, ...


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