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Jama v. Gca Services Group, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

October 20, 2017

ABDIKHADAR JAMA, et al., Plaintiffs,



         This matter comes before the Court on “Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification, Appointment of Class Counsel and Appointment of Class Representative.” Dkt. # 41. Having reviewed the memoranda, declarations, and exhibits submitted by the parties, [1] the Court finds as follows:

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs initially filed this suit against GCA Services Group, Inc., alleging that GCA Services had failed to pay the minimum wage required by SeaTac Municipal Code § 7.45 (the “Ordinance”) and seeking back pay. The Court found, however, that GCA Services does not fall within the definition of “Transportation Employer” and was not subject to the ordinance. Plaintiffs requested and were granted leave to amend their complaint to add claims against a different entity, Avis Budget Car Rental, LLC, on the ground that it was also their employer under the economic realities test set forth in Becerra v. Expert Janitorial, LLC, 181 Wn.2d 186, 196-97 (2014). On January 18, 2017, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint restating their claims against GCA Services and adding Avis Budget Group, Inc., and Avis Rent a Car System, LLC (collectively, “Avis-Budget”) as defendants. The claims against GCA Services were subsequently dismissed by stipulation of the parties.

         Plaintiffs seek to certify a class comprised of:

All employees of [GCA Services] jointly employed by Avis-Budget who have been either Hospitality Workers or Transportation Workers and who worked one or more hours within the City of SeaTac at any time during the time period between January 1, 2014, to [] April 2016, who were paid less than the prevailing minimum wage prescribed by City of SeaTac Ordinance 7.45.050, and who have not released fully their claims arising under that statute.

Dkt. # 41 at 4. The Avis-Budget defendants oppose class certification on a number of grounds, many of which are based on the assertion that plaintiffs have named the wrong Avis-Budget entities as defendants. Avis-Budget also argues that some or all of the named plaintiffs are atypical/unrepresentative of the class and objects to the proposed class definition on the ground that it would create an impermissible “failsafe” class. While not conceding that the “failsafe” argument has merit, plaintiffs note in reply that any unknowns can be avoided by amending the class definition to remove the reference to “jointly employed by Avis-Budget” and to insert “as part of GCA [Services'] contract to provide labor services to Avis-Budget.”


         A. Standing

         Plaintiffs filed their amended complaint on January 18, 2017. In their answer, the Avis-Budget defendants acknowledged that unnamed subsidiaries of Avis Budget Group, Inc., provide rental car services at SeaTac. Dkt. # 39 at ¶¶ 7-8. They denied that they contracted with GCA Services, however, and also denied being joint employers of the putative class, asserting affirmative defenses based on lack of standing and failure to join indispensable parties. Defendants have not filed a motion to dismiss or otherwise sought a resolution of the factual disputes regarding their potential liability as joint employers.

         The issue currently before the Court is whether the named plaintiffs should be permitted to litigate on behalf of a class of individuals who shuttled Avis-Budget cars around the SeaTac airport. If defendants intend to seek dismissal of plaintiffs' claims on standing or other grounds, they must file a motion, noted for the fourth Friday after filing, so that the issues may be properly briefed.

         B. Prerequisites of a Class

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a), a court may certify a class only 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 representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

         A court must conduct a rigorous analysis to determine whether a purported class satisfies the prerequisites of Rule 23. Mazza v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 666 F.3d 581, 588 (9th Cir. 2012). The Rule “does not set forth a mere pleading standard:” the party seeking class certification must “affirmatively demonstrate his compliance with the Rule -- that is, he must be prepared to prove that there are in fact sufficiently numerous parties, common questions of law or fact, etc.” Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338, 350 (2011) (emphasis in original).

         (1) Numerosity

         Most of the named plaintiffs have submitted declarations stating that, at any given time, GCA Services and the Avis-Budget defendants jointly employed approximately 80 people at the SeaTac facility. See Dkt. # 44 at ¶ 2. Defendants challenge the sufficiency of this evidence, arguing that the declarations contain other statements that are false and that the Court should simply ignore the declarations in their entirety because the declarants are not credible. Credibility determinations are rarely made on the papers, however, and defendants have not provided any contrary evidence regarding the number of putative class members. Defendants submitted the declaration of the Senior Regional Manager for GCA Services with their opposition, but he does not controvert plaintiffs' statements regarding the number of employees at issue, does not disclose what that number is, and makes no attempt to support defendants' assertion that some employees identified by plaintiffs never worked in the City of SeaTac.[2] The documents attached to Mr. Fisher's declaration suggest that there were at least 93 putative class members who filed wage complaints with the Department of Labor & Industries, in addition to the eleven named plaintiffs. Dkt. # 56-2 at 24-27. The Court finds that this class size is sufficient to meet the numerosity requirement. See Ali v. Menzies Aviation, Inc., No. 2:16-cv-00262RSL, 2016 WL 4611542 (W.D. Wash. Sept. 6, 2016) (“As a general rule a potential class of 40 members is considered impractical to join.”) (citing Cox v. Am. Cast Iron Pipe Co., 784 F.2d 1546, 1553 (11th Cir. 1986)).

         In the alternative, defendants argue that the class definition must be altered to exclude the 93 individuals who filed a DLI claim against GCA Services, presumably because DLI told two of the named plaintiffs that they could not file an administrative claim if they had an attorney. Dkt. # 56-8 at 20 (Hirey); Dkt. # 56-11 at 11-12 (Salad).[3] Defendants offer no legal authority or analysis explaining how a pending administrative review impacts an employee's right to seek judicial relief or vice versa. Defendants' theory seems to be that the filing of a complaint will automatically terminate the DLI investigation, to the consternation of the 93 employees who opted to pursue relief from Labor & Industries. That possibility is considered below when evaluating adequacy of representation.[4] For purposes of the numerosity analysis, the members of the class, as defined, are sufficiently numerous to justify a class action. The Court will not exclude employees who clearly fall within the class definition absent some legal analysis showing that they cannot, as a matter of law, be members of the class.

         (2) Commonality

         In order to satisfy the commonality criterion, the class members' claims “must depend upon a common contention of such a nature that it is capable of classwide resolution.” Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338, 338 (2011). A class meets the commonality requirement when “the common questions it has raised are ‘apt to drive the resolution of the litigation' no matter their number.” Jimenez v. Allstate Ins. Co., 765 F.3d 1161, 1165 (9th Cir. 2014). As defendants' opposition makes abundantly clear, the key common question capable of classwide resolution is whether ...

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