Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Hill v. Garda CL Northwest, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1

March 27, 2017

LAWRENCE HILL, ADAM WISE, and ROBERT MILLER, on their own behalves and on behalf of all persons similarly situated, Respondents,
v.
GARDA CL NORTHWEST, INC., f/k/a AT SYSTEMS NORTHWEST, INC., a Washington corporation, Appellant.

          Trickey, A.C.J.

         In this class action case, the Plaintiffs, nearly 500 employees of Garda CL Northwest, Inc. (Garda), an armored vehicle company, successfully sued Garda for denying them meal periods and rest breaks guaranteed under Washington's Industrial Welfare Act, chapter 49.12 RCW, and Minimum Wage Act, chapter 49.46 RCW. The trial court awarded the Plaintiffs double damages, prejudgment interest, and attorney fees. Garda appeals the trial court's certification of the class, denial of its motions for summary judgment, grant of the Plaintiffs' partial summary judgment motion on liability, award of double damages, award of prejudgment interest, and use of a lodestar to multiply the Plaintiffs' attorney fee award.

         Garda contends that the trial court abused its discretion by certifying the class without making a clear record of its reasons or considering the criteria of CR 23. We hold that the trial court's order was sufficient because it identified the common question that predominated and explained why a class action was superior to individual actions.

          Garda argues that the trial court erred by concluding that neither the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA) nor section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) preempts the Plaintiffs' claims. We hold that the FAAAA does not preempt the Plaintiffs' claims because complying with Washington law would not have had a significant impact on Garda's operations if Garda had sought a variance. We also hold that section 301 of the LMRA does not preempt the Plaintiffs' claims because the Plaintiffs' rights are independent and non-negotiable, and we do not have to interpret the Plaintiffs' various collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with Garda in order to resolve the issue.

         Garda maintains that the trial court erred by granting the Plaintiffs' summary judgment motion on Garda's liability for failing to provide meal periods and rest breaks. It argues that the Plaintiffs' waived their right to meal periods when they acknowledged their CBAs, which purported to contain waivers. Because the Plaintiffs could not waive their meal periods through a CBA, we hold that acknowledging their CBAs did not constitute a waiver. Garda argues further that questions of material fact remain whether the Plaintiffs were able to take rest breaks. We hold that Garda's own testimony and materials established that there was a policy against taking true breaks. Accordingly, we affirm summary judgment on Garda's liability.

         Garda also argues that the court erred by awarding double damages for the missed meal periods because those are not wage violations and Garda's conduct was not willful. We hold that failing to provide meal breaks is a wage violation, but agree that Garda's conduct was not willful. Therefore, we reverse the award of double damages for the meal period violations.

          Garda also argues that the court should not have awarded prejudgment interest for any damages for which it awarded double damages. Because prejudgment interest is not available when the plaintiff receives punitive damages, such as double damages, we reverse the award of prejudgment interest on the rest break damages.

         Finally, Garda contends that the trial court abused its discretion by applying a 1.5 lodestar multiplier to the Plaintiffs' attorney fee award. This multiplier was reasonable given the risks of the case and the fact that the Plaintiffs' attorneys took the case on a contingency basis. We affirm.

         FACTS

         Garda is an armored truck company that picks up, transports, and delivers currency and other valuables. Each truck has a two-person crew, consisting of a driver and a messenger. The truck routes vary in length and number of stops, with some requiring as long as 10 hours to complete.

         Garda operates branches in seven cities in Washington: Seattle, Tacoma, Mount Vernon, Wenatchee, Yakima, Spokane, and Pasco. Company-wide policies, applicable to all Washington branches, include rules for ensuring the safety and security of the truck, the crew, and the valuables. The policies require Garda drivers and messengers to be alert at all times and prohibit Garda employees from bringing personal cell phones or reading materials on the trucks.

         Most branches have their own managers. Each branch has its own drivers association, which negotiates CBAs on behalf of that branch's employees. A large percentage of Garda employees signed acknowledgments of their branches' CBAs. Each CBA had one of the following provisions regarding meal breaks:

• "[R]outes will be scheduled without a designated lunch break.[1]
• "Employees hereto agree to an on-duty meal period."[2]
• "The Employees hereto waive any meal period(s) to which they would otherwise be entitled."[3]

         Garda employees often go to the bathroom or buy food and beverages while on their routes, but do not take official meal breaks. Garda managers agree that, because of the dangerous nature of their work, all Garda employees must maintain some level of alertness during the entirety of their routes.

         In February 2009, three Garda employees, Lawrence Hill, Adam Wise, and Robert Miller, sued Garda, alleging that Garda did not provide them with legally sufficient rest breaks or meal periods, in violation of the Washington Industrial Welfare Act, chapter 49.12 RCW, and the Minimum Wage Act, chapter 49.46 RCW. They moved for class certification, which the trial court granted in July 2010.

         The class consists of nearly 500 current and former Garda employees (collectively, the Plaintiffs) who worked for Garda between February 11, 2006, and February 7, 2015. The court appointed Hill, Wise, and Miller as the named representatives of the class. Garda moved to compel arbitration under the terms of the CBAs, but the Washington Supreme Court held that the arbitration procedures were unconscionable and remanded the case back to the trial court in September 2013.[4]

         Garda moved for summary judgment on the ground that the Plaintiffs' claims were preempted by section 301 of the LMRA or, in the alternative, that the Plaintiffs had waived their right to meal breaks through their CBAs. The trial court denied Garda's motion.

         In December 2014, Garda received permission to amend its answer to add the affirmative defense that the FAAAA preempted the Plaintiffs' claims. Garda moved for summary judgment on this preemption argument and the trial court denied it. Garda then moved unsuccessfully to decertify the class.

         The Plaintiffs moved for partial summary judgment on the issues of liability and their entitlement to double damages. The trial court granted the motion as to liability but denied summary judgment on double damages.

         In June 2015, the case proceeded to a bench trial on the issue of damages and, in September, to a trial on double damages. In October, the court found for the Plaintiffs, awarding $4, 209, 596.61 in back pay damages, $1, 668, 235.62 in double damages, and $2, 350, 255.63 in prejudgment interest. In December, the trial court awarded the Plaintiffs $1, 127, 734.50 in attorney fees, after applying a 1.5 lodestar multiplier.

         Garda appeals.

         ANALYSIS

         Class Certification

         Garda argues that the trial court erred by certifying the class and denying its motion to decertify the class. It contends that the trial court oversimplified the case and neglected to weigh individual questions against common questions. We disagree. The trial court's order certifying the class identified the overriding question for this case as whether Garda had provided legally-sufficient rest breaks and meal periods to all class members. The trial court did not abuse its discretion.

         Civil Rule 23 governs class actions. Individuals "may sue or be sued" as representatives of a class if

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable, (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 representatives will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

CR 23(a).

         Additionally, to maintain a class action, the court must find "that the questions of law or fact common to the members of the class predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy." CR 23(b)(3).[5]

         "This court reviews a trial court's decision to certify a class for [an] abuse of discretion." Miller v. Farmer Bros. Co., 115 Wn.App. 815, 820, 64 P.3d 49 (2003). A court abuses its discretion if its decision is manifestly unreasonable or based on untenable grounds. Miller. 115 Wn.App. at 820. "The court must articulate on the record each of the CR 23 factors for its decision on the certification issue." Schwendeman v. USAA Cas. Ins. Co., 116 Wn.App. 9, 19, 65 P.3d 1 (2003). We review class decisions "liberally" and will "err in favor of certifying a class." Miller, 115 Wn.App. at 820.

         In Miller, the trial court certified the class but did not make any findings regarding whether joinder of the 29 individual plaintiffs would be impracticable. 115 Wn.App. at 821. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded to the trial court for additional findings showing it had rigorously considered the CR 23 criteria. Miller, 115 Wn.App. at 821. By contrast, in Eriks v. Denver, the Supreme Court held that the trial court had not erred by certifying a class when it "specifically concluded there were common questions of fact and that 'the interests of justice would be impaired by requiring [class] members to proceed individually.'" 118 Wn.2d 451, 467, 824 P.2d 1207 (1992). The Supreme Court noted that the "judge also incorporated by reference the authorities and arguments cited in the investors' brief. Therefore, it [was] obvious the judge considered all of the criteria of CR 23." Eriks, 118 Wn.2d at 467.

         Here, the trial court granted class certification under CR 23(a) and CR 23(b)(3).[6] The court specifically found

that common questions of law and fact will predominate over any individual questions. The single common and overriding issue presented is whether Drivers and Messengers are allowed legally sufficient rest or meal breaks and whether Drivers and Messengers are entitled to compensation for missed meal periods and rest breaks. The claims of individual class members are likely valued at a few thousand dollars each and adjudicating the claims presented on a class basis will be manageable; Class adjudication of common issues is therefore superior.[7]

         Garda argues that these findings are not adequate to support the trial court's finding that common questions predominated and a class action would be superior to individual actions. But, by finding that a single issue was "overriding, " the trial court signaled that it had considered the individual issues and determined that that this one was common to all putative class members and would predominate. By naming the specific issue, the court demonstrated that it had engaged in a critical examination of the issues. In addition, the court stated that it had "considered" the parties' motions, which thoroughly examined these issues.[8] We conclude that the trial court's findings were sufficient to show that a question common to the Plaintiffs predominated.

         Additionally, the trial court estimated the value of each individual's claim and concluded that the action would be manageable as a class action. These findings, together with the court's findings that there were likely hundreds of class members and that a common question predominated, are adequate to show the court's reasons for determining that a class action was superior to individual actions.

         The record also supports the trial court's decision to certify the class. The FAAAA and section 301 preemption issues are legal questions that are common to the whole class and do not require analyzing the different CBAs.[9] And, while individual branch managers may have treated individual class members differently, the summary judgment motion on liability relied on Garda's state-wide policies and the concessions by Garda's corporate designee, which applied to all class members.

         Garda also argues that the trial court did not make adequate findings in response to its motion to decertify the class. It is true that the trial court's order addressing that motion simply recited the documents it considered and then denied the motion. But Garda cites no authority for its position that the trial court must offer new findings to support a decision not to decertify. The trial court's original findings were adequate to support its decision to deny Garda's motion.

         In short, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by certifying the class and declining to decertify the class.

         Garda's Summary Judgment Motions on Preemption

         Garda argues that the trial court should have granted its motions for summary judgment on the grounds that the FAAAA and section 301 of the LMRA preempt the Plaintiffs' claims. We disagree.

         Summary judgment is proper if, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, no genuine issues of material fact exist and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Dowler v. Clover Park Sch. Dist. No. 400, 172 Wn.2d 471, 484, 258 P.3d 676 (2011); CR 56. We review summary judgment decisions de novo. Dowler, 172 Wn.2d at 484.

         FAAAA Preemption

         Garda argues that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the FAAAA preempts the Plaintiffs' claims. Specifically, it argues that complying with Washington's meal and rest period requirements would have a significant impact on its prices, routes, and services. We hold that the FAAAA does not preempt the Plaintiffs' claims because, by obtaining a variance, Garda can comply with the meal and rest period rules without significantly impacting its operations.

         Whether federal law preempts state law is a question of congressional intent. Dep't of Labor & Indus, of State of Wash, v. Common Carriers. Inc., 111 Wn.2d 586, 588, 762 P.2d 348 (1988). Federal law preempts state law when Congress has explicitly said so, when federal regulation of a field is so comprehensive that there is no room for state action, or when there is an actual conflict between federal and state law. Common Carriers, 111 Wn.2d at 588. There is a strong presumption against federal preemption when a state acts within its historic police powers. Common Carriers, 111 Wn.2d at 588; Hawaiian Airlines. Inc. v. Norris, 512 U.S. 246, 252, 114 S.Ct. 2239, 129 L.Ed.2d 203 (1994).

         Preemption is an affirmative defense; the proponent of the defense bears the burden of establishing it. Dilts v. Penske Logistics. LLC, 769 F.3d 637, 649 (9th Cir. 2014). This court reviews preemption determinations de novo. Robertson v. State Liquor Control Bd., 102 Wn.App. 848, 853, 10 P.3d 1079 (2000).

         The FAAAA forbids states from enacting or enforcing any law "related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier. . . with respect to the transportation of property." 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1). Congress passed the FAAAA in order to "eliminate non-uniform state regulations of motor carriers" and "'even the playing field' between air carriers and motor carriers." Californians for Safe & Competitive Dump Truck Transp. v. Mendonca, 152 F.3d 1184, 1187 (9th Cir. 1998) (quoting H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 103-677, at 86-88 (1994), reprinted in 1994 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1715, 1757, 1759).

         Although "related to" expresses a broad preemptive purpose, there is no preemption "when a state statute's 'effect is no more than indirect, remote, and tenuous.'" Robertson. 102 Wn.App. at 854-55 (quoting Mendoca. 152 F.3d at 1189). While the FAAAA usually preempts laws that affect the way a carrier interacts with its customers, it often does not preempt laws that affect the way a carrier interacts with its workforce because they are "too tenuously connected to the carrier's relationship with its customers." Costello v. BeavEx. Inc.. 810 F.3d 1045, 1054 (7th Cir. 2016). "[G]enerally applicable background regulations that are several steps removed from prices, routes, or services, such as prevailing wage laws or safety regulations, are not preempted, even if employers must factor those provisions into their decisions about the prices that they set, the routes that they use, or the services that they provide." Dilts, 769 F.3d at 646.

         In Dilts, the Ninth Circuit held that the FAAAA did not preempt California's meal and rest break laws. 769 F.3d at 647. California's meal and break laws require employers to provide a 30 minute meal break for employees who work more than five hours a day and a paid 10 minute rest period every four hours for employees who work at least three and one-half hours. Dilts, 769 F.3d at 641-42; Cal. Lab. Code § 512(a); Cal. Code Regs. Tit. 8, § 11090(12)(A). Under certain circumstances, employees may waive their meal breaks or agree to an on-duty meal break. Dilts, 769 F.3d at 641-42. If the employer fails to provide the required breaks, it must pay the employee "for an additional hour of work at the employee's regular rate." Dilts, 769 F.3d at 642.

         The court held that the FAAAA did not preempt the claims of a class of delivery drivers and installers who asserted that their employers were not providing the required meal and rest breaks. Dilts, 769 F.3d at 640. It acknowledged that "motor carriers may have to take into account the meal and rest break requirements when allocating resources and scheduling routes, " but held that these "normal background rules" did not have a significant enough impact on prices, routes, or services to warrant preemption. Dilts, 769 F.3d at 647. It also held that modest increases in the cost of doing business, including having to hire more drivers or having drivers take longer to complete certain routes, were not the kind of impacts that Congress intended to preempt. Dilts, 769 F.3d at 648-49.

         Here, the Plaintiffs base their claims on Washington's meal period and rest break laws, which closely resemble California's. Washington's specific rules are set out in Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 296-126-092:

(1) Employees shall be allowed a meal period of at least thirty minutes which commences no less than two hours nor more than five hours from the beginning of the shift. Meal periods shall be on the employer's time when the employee is required by the employer to remain on duty on the premises or at a prescribed work site in the interest of the employer.
(2) No employee shall be required to work more than five consecutive hours without a meal period.
(4) Employees shall be allowed a rest period of not less than ten minutes, on the employer's time, for each four hours of working time. Rest periods shall be scheduled as near as possible to the midpoint of the work period. No employee shall be required to work more than three hours without a rest period.
(5) Where the nature of the work allows employees to take intermittent rest periods equivalent to ten minutes for each four hours worked, scheduled rest periods are not required.

         The employees must be free from work duties, including the duty to be '"vigilant, "" during these breaks. Pellino v. Brink's Inc., 164 Wn.App. 668, 685-86, 690, 267 P.3d 383(2011).

         Washington's meal period and rest break regulations are generally applicable background laws that govern how all employers interact with their employees. They do not single out motor carriers or explicitly attempt to regulate prices, routes/or services. Nevertheless, Garda argues that the FAAAA preempts Washington's regulations in this case because Garda cannot comply with the regulations without having to significantly change its prices, routes, and services.

         Due to the dangerous nature of their work, Garda employees must "remain on alert for possible threats, " "even when taking a break."[10] They "cannot merely pull off the road to a parking space or rest stop to take a rest break."[11] In order to provide completely vigilance-free breaks, Garda would have to dramatically change its routes to allow drivers to return to its secure facilities to take breaks every three hours. It would also have to stop services completely for rural routes that cannot be completed in three hours.

         Garda is correct that such significant impacts on its routes would likely warrant a finding of preemption under the FAAAA. But implementing these changes is only one way that Garda could comply with Washington's meal and rest period regulations. Garda also has the option to apply for a variance from Washington's Department of Labor and Industries (Department).

         Washington law provides that employers may receive a variance from meal and rest break rules if the employer can show "good cause." RCW 49.12.105. '"Good cause' means, but is not limited to, those situations where the employer can justify the variance and can prove that the variance does not have a harmful effect on the health, safety, and welfare of the employees involved." WAC 296-126-130(4). Garda's need for its employees to be alert at all times is based on ensuring the employees' personal safety and the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.