Second Circuit: classwide measure of damages not required for class certification

In a case we've discussed before about the wage/hour claims of a class of Applebee's workers, the Second Circuit today delivered an important victory today for class-action plaintiffs. The court held that the Supreme Court's 2013 decision in Comcast v. Behrend does not foreclose the certification of a class action where the plaintiffs' damages must be calculated individually. Rather, the individualized nature of damages is just one factor courts should examine.

This principle is especially important for wage/hour classes — in which it is practically inevitable that damages will be individualized because workers work different hours at different rates of pay — but it has helpful ramifications for all class actions by avoiding an unduly narrow standard for certification. (For instance, damages could also vary among consumers injured to different degrees by the same product defect, or employees who suffered different types of harm as a result of a single discriminatory employment practice.)

The Second Circuit summarized its opinion this way:

Because the district court concluded damages were not capable of measurement on a classwide basis—and only because the district court concluded damages were not capable of measurement on a classwide basis—the district court refused to certify Plaintiffs’ spread-of-hours and rest-break claims. That holding was not required by Comcast, was contrary to the law of this Circuit—left undisturbed by Comcast—that individualized damages determinations alone cannot preclude certification under Rule 23(b)(3), and cannot support the district court’s denial of Plaintiffs’ motion for certification. (citation omitted)

The substantive allegations in the case are that the defendant company — a franchise operator with more than 50 Applebee's restaurants across New York State — shaved time off plaintiffs' time cards for breaks they did not take and denied them wages mandated by New York law. Now the plaintiffs will have a chance to seek class certification on remand under the proper standard.

Public Citizen, working with co-counsel at Thomas & Solomon LLP of Rochester, N.Y., and O’Hara, O’Connell & Ciotoli of Fayetteville, N.Y., represented the plaintiffs on appeal.

With this decision, the Second Circuit joins the First, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits in reading Comcast narrowly.

You can read today's decision, Roach v. T.L. Cannon, here.

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