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Frank v. Enviro-Tech Services

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

June 18, 2019

BRAD FRANK, ET AL., Appellants,
v.
ENVIRO-TECH SERVICES, Respondent.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jefferson County Cause No. 15JE-CC00416 Honorable Dianna L. Bartels

          OPINION

          COLLEEN DOLAN, JUDGE

         Brad Frank, Patrick Rigney, Matthew Ross, and Daniel Bishop (collectively, "Class Representatives") appeal the trial court's denial of their amended motion for class certification in their action against Enviro-Tech Services ("Enviro-Tech") involving claims that Enviro-Tech failed to properly pay its employees (such as Class Representatives) overtime compensation as required by § 290.505.[1] Class Representatives raise two points on appeal. In their first point, Class Representatives argue that the trial court erred in denying their amended motion to certify their proposed class for their class action claims against Enviro-Tech because the trial court incorrectly determined that Class Representatives did not meet the numerosity requirement of Rule 52.08(a).[2] Specifically, Class Representatives argue that the trial court erroneously evaluated the numerosity element based upon the number of affidavits produced by Class Representatives instead of the number of potential class members. And in their second point, Class Representatives argue that the trial court erred in denying their amended motion for class certification because they presented evidence demonstrating that the proposed class satisfied all of the elements required for a class to be certified under Rule 52.08(a). We find that the trial court erred in denying Class Representatives' amended motion for class certification based upon a lack of numerosity. We therefore reverse the judgment of the trial court in regards to its finding that Class Representatives did not fulfill the numerosity requirement, and remand with instructions for the trial court to find that Class Representatives satisfied the numerosity requirement, to make findings and conclusions on the remaining three requirements of Rule 52.08(a), and for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On May 29, 2015, Class Representatives filed their petition asserting a class action claim against Enviro-Tech, alleging that Enviro-Tech violated § 290.505 by failing to pay its employees (the putative class) overtime compensation.[3] Class Representatives also individually filed affidavits supporting the facts alleged in their petition. The trial court thereafter ordered Enviro-Tech to produce documentation of the job locations and recorded work hours for its employees. After Enviro-Tech produced these documents, Class Representatives filed their amended motion for class certification, arguing that their proposed class (which consisted of 82 former and current Enviro-Tech employees) should be certified because it met the requirements for a class as set forth by Rule 52.08(a). In their amended motion for class certification and memorandum in support of their amended motion, Class Representatives argued that certification of their proposed class was appropriate because (1) the class was so numerous that joinder of all its members was impracticable; (2) there were questions of law and fact common to the class (specifically, whether Enviro-Tech violated § 290.505 by failing to pay its employees overtime compensation); (3) the claims of Class Representatives were typical of the claims of the class; and (4) Class Representatives would fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class. Specifically, in regards to the numerosity requirement of Rule 52.08(a), Class Representatives argued that "[Enviro-Tech] has employed approximately 82 individuals who could be class members," and that "[b]ased upon these facts, there is no doubt that numerosity is present in this suit…."

         On December 7, 2018, the trial court entered its order denying Class Representatives' amended motion for class certification on the grounds that Class Representatives did not meet the numerosity requirement of Rule 52.08(a). The trial court reasoned that "Of the 80 employees, [Class Representatives] ha[ve] provided two additional affidavits of former employees. This makes the potential pool of employees to join the lawsuit five. The definition of numerosity is; multitudinoisness.-. [sic] a very large number. The court finds that five does not meet the numerosity requirement." On December 17, 2018, Class Representatives filed their petition for leave to appeal the trial court's denial of their class action certification motion with this Court, pursuant to Rule 84.035. Our Court entered our order granting Class Representatives' petition for leave to appeal the trial court's denial of their amended motion for class certification on January 17, 2019.

         This appeal follows.

         II. Standard of Review

         "The determination of class certification under Rule 52.08 lies within the trial court's sound discretion." Doyle v. Fluor Corp., 199 S.W.3d 784, 787 (Mo. App. E.D. 2006). We therefore review the grant or denial of a motion for class certification for abuse of discretion. Meyer ex rel. Coplin v. Fluor Corp., 220 S.W.3d 712, 715 (Mo. banc 2007). "We will find an abuse of discretion only if the trial court's ruling is so arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock one's sense of justice and indicate a lack of careful consideration." Karen S. Little, L.L.C. v. Drury Inns, Inc., 306 S.W.3d 577, 580 (Mo. App. E.D. 2010).

         III. Discussion

         In their first point on appeal, Class Representatives argue that the trial court erred in denying their motion for class certification based upon its finding that the numerosity requirement of Rule 52.08(a) was not met. Finding that the trial court abused its discretion in denying Class Representatives' amended motion for class certification based upon its erroneous finding that the numerosity element was not satisfied, we grant Class Representatives' Point I.

         In determining whether to certify a proposed class, "a court should err in favor of, and not against, allowing maintenance of the class action" because "class certification is subject to later modification." Hale v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 231 S.W.3d 215, 222 (Mo. App. W.D. 2007) (further noting that "Rule 52.08(c)(1) provides for de-certification of a class before a decision on the merits"); see also Karen S. Little, L.L.C., 306 S.W.3d at 580. Rule 52.08(a) establishes that:

One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all 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.

         The first element of Rule 52.08(a), known as "numerosity," requires that plaintiffs show that "[j]oinder of all members [of a putative class] is 'impracticable' for purposes of the rule when it would be inefficient, costly, time-consuming and probably confusing." Dale v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 204 S.W.3d 151, 167 (Mo. App. W.D. 2006). "A plaintiff does not have to specify an exact number of class members to satisfy the numerosity prerequisite for class certification, but must show only that joinder is impracticable through some evidence or reasonable, good faith estimate of the number ...


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