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Sandoval v. Philippe North America Restaurants, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 4, 2018

OSCAR SANDOVAL, et al., on behalf of themselves and on behalf of other similarly-situated individuals, Plaintiffs,

          David E. Gottlieb Wigdor LLP Counsel for Plaintiffs

          Jamie S. Felsen Milman Labuda Law Group, PLLC Counsel for Defendants

          OPINION & ORDER


         Plaintiffs Oscar Sandoval, Esteban Aca, Elmer Bonilla, Henrique Castillo, Edvin Chavez, Felix Maldonado Diaz, Alexandru Dobrin, Enrique Flores, Kerry Nohoth Hernandez-Rodriguez, Pablo Lainez, Jose Luis Maldonado Lopez, Martin Lopez, Edin Muratvoc, Juan Carlos Navarrete-Rodriguez, Kihel Noureddine, Daniele Perugini, Angel Quito, Leonardo Ramon, Flavio Soto, Filiberto Villalba, Edwin Zevallos, and Freddy Zevallos (collectively, “Plaintiffs”), on behalf of themselves and all other similarly-situated individuals in this putative class and collective action, without opposition from Defendants Dave 60 NYC, Inc., Philippe NYC I LLC, Philippe Chow East Hampton LLC, Philippe Chow Holdings LLC, Philippe Chow Mgmt LLC, Philippe Equities LLC, Merchants Hospitality, Inc., Philippe Chow, Abraham Merchant, Joseph Goldsmith, Steven Kantor, Steven Boxer, Richard Cohn, and Adam Hochfelder (collectively, “Defendants”), renew their motion for an order (1) granting preliminary approval of the proposed class and collective action Settlement Agreement and Release (the “Settlement Agreement”) reached by the parties in this action; (2) conditionally certifying the proposed class; (3) approving the proposed notice of settlement; and (4) appointing class counsel. (See Docs. 110, 120.) Plaintiffs brought this action alleging that Defendants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., and New York Labor Law (the “NYLL”), § 190, et seq. For the reasons set forth herein, Plaintiffs' unopposed motion is GRANTED.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The facts underlying this action are detailed in my Memorandum and Order denying Plaintiffs' initial motion, (Doc. 114), so I do not recount them here. On May 12, 2017, Plaintiffs filed an unopposed motion seeking preliminary settlement approval, conditional certification of the proposed class, approval of the proposed notice of settlement, and appointment of Wigdor LLP as class counsel. (Doc. 110.) They filed a memorandum of law in support of their motion, (Doc. 111), as well as the Declaration of David E. Gottlieb, (Doc. 112), on the same date.

         On August 31, 2017, I denied Plaintiffs' unopposed motion because § 5.1(E) of the proposed Settlement Agreement contained an overbroad general release. (See Doc. 114, at 4-6.) The parties jointly moved for reconsideration on September 14, 2017, (Doc. 115), which I also denied because it did not meet the standards for granting such a motion, (Doc. 117).

         On January 10, 2018, the parties submitted a joint letter informing me that they had reached an agreement (the “Stipulation”) to strike the general release language contained in § 5.1(E) such that it has no force or effect. (Docs. 120, 120-1.) The Stipulation provides that it “shall be an addendum to the Settlement Agreement.” (Doc. 120-1.) The parties requested that I so order the Stipulation and renewed their request for preliminary approval of the Settlement Agreement, which, apart from the addition of the Stipulation, was identical to the settlement agreement submitted with Plaintiffs' original motion. (Id.) On February 20, 2018, Plaintiffs submitted a letter inquiring whether I needed any additional information with regard to their unopposed motion. (Doc. 123.)

         II Discussion

         A. Preliminary Approval of the Class Settlement

         District courts have discretion to approve proposed class action settlements. See Maywalt v. Parker & Parsley Petroleum Co., 67 F.3d 1072, 1079 (2d Cir. 1995). The parties and their counsel are in a unique position to assess the potential risks of litigation, and thus district courts in exercising their discretion often give weight to the fact that the parties have chosen to settle. See Yuzary v. HSBC Bank USA, N.A., No. 12 Civ. 3693(PGG), 2013 WL 1832181, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 30, 2013).

         Review of a proposed settlement generally involves preliminary approval followed by a fairness hearing. Silver v. 31 Great Jones Rest., No. 11 CV 7442(KMW)(DCF), 2013 WL 208918, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 4, 2013). To grant preliminary approval, a court need only find “probable cause to submit the [settlement] proposal to class members and hold a full-scale hearing as to its fairness.” In re Traffic Exec. Ass'n E. R.R.s, 627 F.2d 631, 634 (2d Cir. 1980) (internal quotation marks omitted). Preliminary approval is typically granted “where the proposed settlement appears to be the product of serious, informed, non-collusive negotiations, has no obvious deficiencies, does not improperly grant preferential treatment to class representatives or segments of the class and falls within the range of possible approval.” Silver, 2013 WL 208918, at *1 (quoting In re Initial Pub. Offering Sec. Litig., 226 F.R.D. 186, 191 (S.D.N.Y. 2005)).

         Having reviewed Plaintiff's submissions, including the proposed Settlement Agreement and Stipulation, (Doc. 120-1), I conclude that the Settlement Agreement and Stipulation are the result of substantial investigative efforts, [1] arm's length negotiations, [2] and the assistance of a neutral mediator, and that terms are within the range of possible settlement approval. The parties' Stipulation to strike the general release contained in § 5.1(E) cures the defect identified in my previous order. As such, I preliminarily approve the Settlement Agreement.

         B. Conditional Certification of the Proposed Class and ...

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