United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division
ORDER APPROVING SETTLEMENT
DOUGLAS HARPOOL, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on a motion to approve a settlement of this collective action (Doc. 83). Plaintiffs filed suit against Defendants alleging violations of the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, 29 U.S.C. 201 et seq. ("the Act"). There is a genuine and bona fide dispute between the parties as to liability and the amount of claimed damages. The parties have negotiated and agreed to settlement of these bona fide disputes. For purposes of settlement and compromise only, and to avoid the time, resources, staff attention, and expense associated with further litigation, the parties have reached an agreement to settle the claims without any admission of liability, fault or wrongdoing.
The parties have submitted the settlement agreement ("Settlement Agreement") in camera to the Court for approval, and the Court has duly reviewed the Settlement Agreement. Plaintiffs' counsel advises that all Plaintiffs in the case have been advised of the terms of the settlement and no one has objected to the proposed settlement.
The Court has reviewed the Settlement Agreement, the complaint, the stipulation of the parties, and the record as a whole, and has considered any supporting papers and materials filed by the parties in connection with the settlement. The Court hereby enters the following Order: District.
2. Plaintiffs have brought this private action under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended. The Court granted Plaintiff's motion for conditional class certification and Plaintiff sent notice of a collective action. Individuals timely filed consents to join the lawsuit. The Court now grants final certification of the collective action limited to the Plaintiffs herein. When used in this Order, the term "Plaintiffs" or "Plaintiff" means anyone who has timely filed with the Court a written election and consent to opt into this case and join this litigation. All Plaintiffs are listed and identified on Exhibit A to the Settlement Agreement.
3. The Court has the authority under the Act to scrutinize and approve a settlement of private litigation. Approval is necessary for the waiver of any wage hour claims against Defendant to be fully effective. Approval of such a settlement will be binding upon Plaintiffs who joined and/or opted in to the collective action.
4. The Court may approve a settlement where the settlement involves the resolution of a bona fide dispute and is a fair and reasonable compromise of issues that are actually in dispute. See Lynn's Food Stores, Inc. v. U.S., By and Through U.S. Dept. of Labor, Employment Standards Admin., Wage and Hour Div., 679 F.2d 1350, 1353 n. 8 (11th Cir. 1982); see also Sanderson v. Unilever Supply Chain, Inc., No. 10-CV-00775-FJG, 2011 WL 5822413, at *3 (W.D. Mo. Nov. 16, 2011).
5. In this case, the parties have a number of serious, genuine and bona fide disputes that are at issue. The disputes extend from the ability of this case to proceed as a collective action, to the ultimate issue of liability, to which statute of limitations applies and the period of time within the statute, and to the amount and extent of any claimed damages. Defendants contest whether Plaintiffs have any right to claim overtime or minimum wage based on the hours of work they actually reported, and contend that Plaintiffs do not have a right to the damages claimed. Defendants maintain they had a reasonable and good faith belief they were acting in compliance with the law based on advice from and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor of the pay practices at issue; that a two year statute of limitations should apply using the date when the consent to join the case was filed; that certain of the Plaintiffs worked in exempt positions; that there were no violations of the Act or other laws; that the claims for damages asserted are not valid or proper; and that the claims of a number of opt ins are barred in whole or in part by the applicable statute of limitations. Plaintiffs dispute these claims and maintain they have valid claims and that a three year statute of limitations should apply. In addition, the parties have a serious disagreement over the amount of time actually worked by any Plaintiff, as to whether the case should proceed as a collective action, and as to whether Defendant Scheppegrell is an employer within the meaning of the FLSA.
6. These disputes, if litigated to conclusion, could result in decertification of the collective action, a finding of no liability, the entry of a substantial verdict, or the entry of a verdict for far less than the amount of damages claimed. The disputes, if litigated to a conclusion, also could result in a favorable ruling for Plaintiffs that would result in a substantial damage award including liquidated damages and an award of attorney's fees.
7. The parties have entered into a settlement after extensive and protracted settlement negotiations, including two separate mediation sessions, and written and oral discovery. At the time of the settlement, there was pending a motion for partial summary judgment, including a motion regarding application of the two year statute of limitations. proceed to trial, and have the Court determine the pending motion to de-certify the collective action, and the motion for summary judgment.
9. The Court has reviewed the Settlement Agreement and the settlement terms contained therein, and it finds that the settlement reflects a fair and reasonable compromise of the issues in dispute and takes into account the relative merit of each of the Plaintiff's claims, including claims that may be precluded by the statute of limitations.
10. The settlement reflects a payment to Plaintiffs' Counsel in settlement of the claims for costs and attorney's fees in this case. This payment represents costs and fees incurred to date in filing and prosecuting this litigation and in consummating the settlement, including substantial costs and expenses incurred for travel to conduct discovery, mailings to potential opt in plaintiffs, and computer-related expenses. The Court finds the amount to be paid for attorney's fees and costs provided for in the Settlement Agreement to be fair and reasonable.
11. The Court finds the settlement and the terms of the Settlement Agreement to be fair and reasonable and the result of a reasonable compromise of genuine and serious disputes of law and fact between the parties. Accordingly, the Motion to Approve Settlement (Doc. 83) is hereby GRANTED and the Settlement Agreement submitted to the Court in camera is hereby approved. The parties are ordered to comply with the terms of the Settlement Agreement.
12. Within 30 days of the date that this Order becomes final and non-appealable, Defendant will issue a check to The Law Office of Kevin Dolley for the ...