Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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The Supreme Court of Louisiana was asked by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on whether the commencement of a suit in a court of competent jurisdiction and venue interrupts prescription as to causes of action, understood as legal claims rather than the facts giving rise to them, not asserted in that suit. This query arose from the case of Randall Kling who initially filed suit in state court alleging his dismissal from the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control was in retaliation for submitting written complaints about workplace and ethics violations. He later filed a complaint in federal district court citing substantially similar facts and seeking relief for violations of his federal First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.The Supreme Court of Louisiana answered the certified question by stating that prescription or the period within which a lawsuit may be filed is interrupted when notice is sufficient to fully inform the defendant of the nature of the claim of the plaintiff, and what is demanded of the defendant. The Court explained that the essence of interruption of prescription by suit is notice to the defendant of the legal proceedings based on the claim involved. The court emphasized that notice is sufficient when it fully informs the defendant of the nature of the plaintiff's claim, and what is demanded of the defendant. Thus, the court took a balanced approach between a broad interpretation of interruption and a narrow one, placing emphasis on notice to the defendant, addressed on a case-by-case basis. View "KLING VS. HEBERT" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between Onecimo Sierra Suarez, an employee, and his employer, Rudolph & Sletten, Inc. (R&S), concerning the payment of arbitration fees. Suarez had initially sued his employer for alleged wage and hour violations. R&S successfully moved to have the case resolved through arbitration, as provided in their employment agreement. However, R&S delayed in paying its share of the initial arbitration fee, leading Suarez to argue that R&S has waived its right to arbitration. The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District Division One, State of California held that the employer's delay in paying the arbitration fees constituted a material breach of the arbitration agreement, thereby waiving its right to arbitration. The court concluded that R&S's payment was late, even if certain provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure could potentially extend the deadline. The court also held that R&S's argument -- that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempted California's arbitration-specific procedural rules for fee payment -- was incorrect. The court found that such rules neither prohibited nor discouraged the formation of arbitration agreements, and therefore, were not preempted by the FAA. The court granted Suarez's petition and ruled that the case should proceed in court. View "Suarez v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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In the case before the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois, the State of Illinois, represented by the Attorney General, alleged that Elite Staffing, Inc., Metro Staff, Inc., and Midway Staffing, Inc. (collectively, the staffing agencies) violated the Illinois Antitrust Act. The agencies, which supplied temporary workers to a company called Colony Display, were claimed to have agreed to fix wages for their employees at below-market rates and agreed not to hire each other's employees. The staffing agencies argued that the Act did not apply to the charged conduct, and the case was sent to the Supreme Court for interlocutory review.The Supreme Court held that the Illinois Antitrust Act does not exempt agreements between competitors to hold down wages and to limit employment opportunities for their employees from antitrust scrutiny. For the purposes of the Act, the court clarified that "service" does not exclude all agreements concerning labor services. It particularly noted that multiemployer agreements concerning wages they will pay their employees and whether they will hire each other's employees may violate the Act unless the agreement arises as part of the bargaining process and the affected employees, through their collective bargaining representatives, have sought to bargain with the multiemployer unit.The court vacated the appellate court’s answer to a question it had formulated and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "State ex rel. Raoul v. Elite Staffing, Inc." on Justia Law

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In the Supreme Court of California, the case revolved around the question of whether trial courts have the inherent authority to dismiss a claim under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) on the grounds of manageability. PAGA permits aggrieved employees to act as private attorneys general to recover civil penalties on behalf of the state for Labor Code violations. In this case, defendant Royalty Carpet Mills, Inc. (Royalty) argued that trial courts should have the power to dismiss PAGA claims if they are deemed unmanageable.The Supreme Court of California held that trial courts do not have the inherent authority to dismiss PAGA claims on manageability grounds. The court emphasized that trial courts do not generally possess a broad inherent authority to dismiss claims, nor is it appropriate for them to dismiss PAGA claims by using class action manageability requirements. The court also affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which had reached the same conclusion.The court also discussed the facts of the case. Jorge Luis Estrada and Paulina Medina, former employees of Royalty, brought a PAGA claim against the company for alleged violations of Labor Code provisions requiring the provision of meal periods. The trial court certified a class action suit and later decertified it, dismissing the PAGA claim on manageability grounds. The Court of Appeal reversed this decision, which led to Royalty's appeal to the Supreme Court.The Supreme Court stated that while trial courts may use various tools to efficiently manage PAGA claims, striking such claims due to manageability concerns is not among these tools. It also noted that while trial courts and the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) share discretion in assessing a civil penalty, the trial court's discretion does not extend to determining which cases can be investigated and enforced, a power reserved for the LWDA.The Supreme Court further rejected the argument that the retrial of the plaintiffs' representative PAGA claim would violate Royalty's right to due process. It stated that while defendants have a due process right to present an affirmative defense, this does not include the right to present the testimony of an unlimited number of individual employees. It also concluded that trial courts lack inherent authority to dismiss a PAGA claim on manageability grounds to protect a defendant's due process rights. However, the court left open the possibility that a defendant could show that a trial court's use of case management techniques so abridged the defendant's right to present a defense that its right to due process was violated.The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal, and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Estrada v. Royalty Carpet Mills, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over an arbitration agreement between an employee and her employer. The employee, Aljarice Hasty, was employed by the American Automobile Association of Northern California, Nevada & Utah (Association). After her employment ended, Hasty sued the Association for race discrimination, disability discrimination, retaliation, harassment, wrongful discharge, and retaliation. The Association sought to compel arbitration per an agreement in Hasty's employment contract, but the trial court found the arbitration agreement was unconscionable and declined to sever the unconscionable terms. The Association appealed this decision.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Third Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s decision. The court found the arbitration agreement to be both procedurally and substantively unconscionable. Procedural unconscionability was found due to the adhesive nature of the agreement, the lack of negotiation, and the hidden nature of the unconscionable provision within the complex document. Substantive unconscionability was found due to the agreement's one-sided nature, the overly broad confidentiality provision, and the waiver of the employee's right to bring representative actions under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004. The court also found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to sever the unconscionable terms, as the arbitration agreement was permeated with unconscionability. View "Hasty v. American Automobile Assn. of Northern Cal., Nev. & Utah" on Justia Law

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The case concerned a lawsuit brought by Ariana Miles against her former employer, Kirkland's Stores Inc., alleging that two of the company's employee policies violated California law. The first policy required employees to take rest breaks on store property, while the second necessitated employees to undergo bag checks when they finished their shifts. Miles sought class certification for subclasses of employees affected by these two policies from May 2014 to the present. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of class certification for subclasses related to the Rest Break Claim due to the inaccuracy of the district court's finding that the rest break policy was inconsistently applied. The court held that overwhelming record evidence indicated that the company consistently enforced its rest break policy across all employees. However, the court upheld the district court's denial of class certification for the Bag Check Claim, as the evidence suggested that the bag check policy was sporadically enforced, which would require individualized inquiries. The case was thus remanded for further proceedings concerning the Rest Break Claim. View "MILES V. KIRKLAND'S STORES, INC." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the decision of the District Court, which denied attorneys' fees and nontaxable costs under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) to the defendants-appellants, Brian Bowers, Dexter Kubota, and Bowers + Kubota Consulting, Inc. The Department of Labor had alleged that the defendants sold their company to an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) at an inflated value. The government's case relied on a single valuation expert, whose opinion was ultimately rejected by the District Court, resulting in the government losing the case. Nonetheless, the District Court found that the government's litigation position was "substantially justified." On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the government's position at trial was substantially justified, and thus, in denying attorneys' fees and nontaxable costs under EAJA. The Court also held that the District Court abused its discretion in reducing the award of taxable costs, as it was based on a clearly erroneous finding of fact. Therefore, the case was remanded for reconsideration of the award of taxable costs. View "SU V. BOWERS" on Justia Law

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In a workers' compensation case, an employee was injured and sought compensation from her employer and its insurance carrier. The employee failed to provide her expert witness's evidence in a timely manner, serving them only two weeks before the arbitration hearing began. The employer and its insurance carrier objected, arguing that this late submission of evidence was unfairly prejudicial. The deputy workers’ compensation commissioner agreed with the employer and excluded the evidence. This decision was affirmed by the commissioner, but was later reversed on judicial review by the district court. The court of appeals affirmed the district court’s ruling. However, the Supreme Court of Iowa held that the commissioner’s decision to exclude untimely evidence was entitled to deference. The court found that the commissioner did not abuse his discretion by excluding the untimely evidence since the employee had disregarded multiple deadlines and submitted the reports only about two weeks before the hearing. Moreover, the reports were not from the employee’s treating physicians and the vocational report reached a conclusion that no other expert in the case shared. Therefore, the supreme court vacated the court of appeals decision, reversed the district court decision, and remanded the case back to the district court to enter a judgment affirming the commissioner's decision to exclude the untimely evidence. View "Hagen v. Serta/National Bedding Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Joseph Brent Mattingly, an employee of R.J. Corman Railroad Services, LLC (“Corman Services”), suffered injuries while repairing a bridge owned and operated by Memphis Line Railroad (“Memphis Line”). Mattingly filed a lawsuit seeking recovery under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”), which covers employees of common carriers by railroad. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, ruling that Mattingly was not employed by a common carrier, a prerequisite for FELA coverage.On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The appellate court rejected Mattingly’s argument that Corman Services, his employer, was a common carrier because it was part of a “unitary” railroad system managed by Corman Group. The court held that Corman Services' bridge repair and construction services did not provide an inextricable function for Memphis Line’s common carrier services and thus, did not qualify as a common carrier under FELA. The court further rejected Mattingly’s assertion that he was a “subservant” of a common carrier. The court found that Mattingly failed to demonstrate that Memphis Line, a common carrier, controlled or had the right to control the daily operations of Corman Services, as required to establish a master-servant relationship under common law.The court also held that Mattingly's claims regarding discovery issues were unpreserved for appeal, as he did not adequately inform the district court of his need for discovery in compliance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d). View "Mattingly v. R.J. Corman R.R. Grp., LLC" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a dispute between Gregory Garrabrants, the CEO of BofI Federal Bank (BofI), and Charles Matthew Erhart, a former internal auditor at BofI who acted as a whistleblower. Erhart copied, transmitted, and retained various documents he believed evidenced possible wrongdoing, some of which contained Garrabrants' personal and confidential information. Garrabrants sued Erhart for accessing, taking, and subsequently retaining his personal information. A jury awarded Garrabrants $1,502 on claims for invasion of privacy, receiving stolen property, and unauthorized access to computer data.However, the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, State of California, reversed the judgment and remanded the case. The court found that the trial court made prejudicial errors in its jury instructions. Specifically, the trial court erred in instructing the jury that bank customers have an unqualified reasonable expectation of privacy in financial documents disclosed to banks. The trial court also erred in instructing the jury that Erhart's whistleblower justification defense depended on proving at least one legally unsupported element. The instructions given for Penal Code section 496 misstated the law by defining “theft” in a manner that essentially renders receiving stolen property a strict liability offense. Furthermore, the special instruction on Penal Code section 502 erroneously removed from the jury’s consideration the foundational issue of whether Garrabrants “owned” the data about him residing in BofI’s computer systems such that he could pursue a civil action under the statute. The court concluded that, in light of the record evidence, there is a reasonable possibility a jury could have found in Erhart’s favor on each of Garrabrants’ claims absent the erroneous instructions, making them prejudicial. View "Garrabrants v. Erhart" on Justia Law