Eleventh Circuit Denies Class Certification on State Law Claims Where Individualized Issues Predominate

On July 27, 2009, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of class certification in Babineau, et al. v. Federal Express Corporation, a decision that may impact wage and hour cases brought under state law. The plaintiffs sought Rule 23 certification of a broad class of hourly employees in Florida, alleging state law claims for breach of contract and quantum meruit. The breach of contract claim consisted of allegations that plaintiffs were not paid for: (1) work performed during “gap periods” (any time interval between their manual punch in and their scheduled start time and/or any time interval between their manual punch out and their scheduled stop time); and (2) work performed during unpaid break periods. 

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s conclusion that certification of each claim was improper under Rule 23(b)(3) because individualized factual inquiries into whether each employee worked without compensation and, if so, for how long, would swamp any issues that were common to the proposed class. The court analyzed the gap period, break period and quantum meruit claims separately, but in each instance reached the same conclusion: that individualized inquiries would predominate with respect to each claim. Notable points made by the Eleventh Circuit in the discussion of each claim include the following:

Breach of Contract Claim (Gap Period)
• The time records the plaintiffs proposed to rely on did not provide common proof of any uncompensated work during gap periods, particularly in light of employee testimony about various non-work related activities that took place during gap periods and various personal reasons that employees listed for coming in early and staying late;
• Even if a contract to pay for such gap time existed (an issue the parties disputed that was not ruled on), an individualized defense existed as to whether an employee knew of FedEx’s policy prohibiting off-the-clock work and yet deliberately chose to engage in such work in breach of contract;
• Even if, as the plaintiffs asserted, the FLSA was incorporated into the alleged contract, an individualized inquiry would still be necessary to determine whether each employee voluntarily arrived early or stayed late, and whether the employee engaged in any work during that time (under 29 C.F.R. § 785.48(a) early or late clock punching may be disregarded if it was voluntary and no work was performed); and
• Even if, as the plaintiffs alleged, there was a policy requiring or encouraging employees to arrive early or stay late, it would not predominate individualized issues, as the record showed that many employees arrived early or stayed late voluntarily and purely for personal reasons.

Breach of Contract Claim (Break Period)
• The time records that the plaintiffs proposed to rely on might not be sufficient to prove that an employee actually worked during a break, which would then require individualized inquiries;
• Even if work occurred, there is no way to tell from those time records how long an employee worked during a break; and
• Even if a contract to pay for such break time existed (an issue the parties disputed that was not ruled on), an individualized defense existed as to whether an employee who worked during the break violated the terms of the contract.

Quantum Meruit Claim
• A quantum meruit claim is highly individualized and would require an inquiry into whether each employee expected compensation for non-work related tasks or for activities performed while the employee was supposed to be on break.

The Eleventh Circuit also affirmed the district court’s refusal to certify a class under Rule 23(b)(1)(A). The appellate court agreed that certification under this Rule is improper where, as here, the plaintiffs request compensatory damages in addition to injunctive relief. In fact, the court noted that the primary remedy sought by the plaintiffs was unquestionably monetary relief.

The Eleventh Circuit characterized Babineau as “round two” of the plaintiffs’ litigation against FedEx, because the same district court previously denied certification of a nationwide class of FedEx employees who asserted substantially similar claims in the matter of Clausnitzer, et al. v. Federal Express Corp., 248 F.R.D. 647 (S.D. Fla. 2008). The Eleventh Circuit referred to Babineau as an attempt by the plaintiffs to cure the defects that the district court identified in Clausnitzer, by limiting the scope of the class to Florida employees, adding the quantum meruit claim and altering the breach of contract claim. Nonetheless, as discussed above, the plaintiffs’ “round two” attempt at class certification has now been rejected as well.

This blog entry was authored by Aaron Reed.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.