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Cooper v. Integrity Home Care, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

July 18, 2018

DANA COOPER, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
INTEGRITY HOME CARE, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER CONDITIONALLY CERTIFYING SETTLEMENT CLASS AND GRANTING PRELIMINARY APPROVAL TO PROPOSED CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE

         This action arises from Plaintiff Dana Cooper's (“Cooper”), for herself and on behalf of a class of similarly situated individuals, allegations that Defendant Integrity Home Care, Inc. (“Integrity”), unlawfully withheld overtime wages from hourly, non-exempt home healthcare workers in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., and the Missouri Minimum Wage Law (“MMWL”), Mo. Rev. Stat. § 290.550, et seq.

         Now before the Court is the parties' joint motion for preliminary approval of a class action settlement (Doc. 111) and the parties' joint response to Court's request for additional information (Doc. 116). The parties seek Court approval of a comprehensive settlement (“the Settlement Agreement”) consisting of 1) an FLSA collective action opt-in settlement, and 2) a Rule 23 class action settlement. Finding that a settlement class should be conditionally certified and that the Settlement Agreement is bona fide, fair, reasonable, and adequate, the motion for preliminary approval is GRANTED.

         Background

         A. Procedural and Factual History

         Integrity provides healthcare services in private homes in order to help an individual manage special health needs, injury, chronic illness, aging, infirmity, or disability. Home healthcare services may include care from personal care aides (“PCA”) or advanced personal care aides (“APCA”). PCAs provide “a wide variety of services including, but not necessarily limited to, companionship, respite, meal preparation, transportation, assistance with house work, arranging for medical care, and assistance with activities of daily living including dressing, grooming, toileting, feeding, laundry and bathing.” Stepp Aff., Def.'s Ex. A ¶ 13 (Doc. 19-1). APCAs “provide additional services including, but not necessarily limited to, ostomy care, catheter care, bowel programs, and range of motion services, among other things.” Id. ¶ 14.

         Cooper began working for Integrity as a PCA in February of 2002. Cooper Aff., Pl.'s Ex. D at 1 (Doc. 11-4). It is undisputed that Plaintiff was exempt from the overtime pay requirements of the FLSA until 2015. A Department of Labor (“DOL”) Final Rule set to take effect on January 1, 2015, may have entitled Cooper, other PCAs, and APCAs to overtime pay under the FLSA. But, because the new rule was vacated before it was set to take effect and only later reinstated by the courts, Integrity did not begin paying its PCAs and APCAs overtime until November 12, 2015.

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on December 14, 2016, alleging that Integrity unlawfully withheld overtime wages from hourly, non-exempt home healthcare workers in violation of the FLSA and the MMWL. Integrity's answer denied all material allegations and set forth affirmative defenses. (Doc. 10). On May 9, 2017, the Court conditionally certified a FLSA collective action (Doc. 47), which resulted in a class of approximately 138 opt-in plaintiffs. On May 10, 2017, the parties held a mediation and reached a tentative settlement. On June 16, 2017, this Court denied Integrity's motion to dismiss, which argued that the DOL Final Rule did not require payment of overtime wages until November 12, 2015. (Doc. 65).

         B. Summary of the Settlement

         The settlement postulates two types of class members: FLSA opt-in plaintiffs and MMWL Rule 23 claimants. For both FLSA opt-in plaintiffs and Rule 23 claimants who submit a valid claim form, Integrity will pay seventy-five percent of the alleged unpaid overtime for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week at any time from January 1, 2015 to November 12, 2015, paid at the rate of one-half the regular rate of pay for each individual. Checks not cashed within 180 days of issuance will be voided and proceeds will be paid to the State of Missouri Unclaimed Property Fund in the name of any individual whose check remains uncashed.

         The parties have hired Analytics Consulting, LLC as the Settlement Administrator. Integrity will pay the settlement administration costs. In addition to notifying class members of the settlement and calculating settlement amounts, Analytics Consulting will establish a toll free telephone line and a website to answer class members' questions and provide information about the Settlement Agreement.

         Analytics Consulting will also send to each class member who did not previously opt-in a notice informing them of their right to participate in the settlement and the calculations for determining the settlement amount they are entitled to receive. Any class member who timely opts out by submitting a valid exclusion will not be paid any amount and will not release any federal or Missouri state law claims.

         The parties agree that if all eligible class members make claims, $174, 405.76 in total payments would be made to the class. However, the parties estimate that between 233 and 310 (about 30% to 40% of eligible class members) claims will be made, resulting in between $52, 321.73 and $69, 762.30 paid to the class.

         The parties agree that Cooper-as class representative-will receive a service award of $2, 500 for her efforts in prosecuting the case. Integrity also agrees not to oppose Plaintiff counsel's motion for approval of their fees, costs, and expenses, not to exceed $96, 263.05.

         Discussion

         I. The FLSA Collective Action Settlement

         A. The standard governing court approval of a FLSA collective action.

         A valid settlement of an FLSA claim requires Department of Labor or court approval. Lynn's Food Stores, Inc. v. United States, 679 F.2d 1350, 1353 (11th Cir. 1982). “To approve an FLSA settlement, the Court must find that: (1) the litigation involves a bona fide wage and hour dispute; (2) the proposed settlement is fair and equitable to all parties concerned; and (3) the proposed settlement contains an award of reasonable attorneys' fees.” Hill v. World Wide Tech. Holding Co., No. 4:11CV02108-AGF, 2012 WL 5285927, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Oct. 25, 2012) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). To determine whether an FLSA settlement is fair and equitable, courts use many of the same factors used in evaluating a proposed Rule 23 class action settlement, including: (1) at what stage of the litigation the settlement was reached, and the complexity, expense, and likely duration of the remaining litigation; (2) how the settlement was negotiated, i.e., whether there are any indicia of collusion; (3) class counsel, the parties, and the class ...


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