United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
ROBERT PENDERGRASS, ERIC KOECHLING, and JAMES PATTON, Plaintiffs,
BI-STATE UTILITIES CO., Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
C. COLLINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the parties' Joint Motion
for Approval of Settlement (Doc. 37). The parties have
consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United
States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)
(Doc. 11). For the following reasons, the Court
GRANTS the parties' Joint Motion for
Approval of Settlement.
17, 2018, Plaintiffs Robert Pendergrass, Eric Koechling, and
James Patton (“Plaintiffs”) filed this suit
against Defendant Bi-State Utilities Co.
(“Defendant”) for unpaid overtime wages in
violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act
(“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq.,
and Missouri wage and hour laws, Mo. Rev. Stat. §
290.505, et seq., (Counts I and II), for Quantum
Meruit (Count III), for Unjust Enrichment (Count IV), and for
Workers' Compensation Retaliation (Count V) in the
Circuit Court of Saint Louis County, Missouri (Doc. 3).
Counts I-IV are raised by all Plaintiffs against Bi-State and
Count V, the Workers' Compensation claim, is brought by
Plaintiff Robert Pendergrass alone against Bi-State
(Id.). On July 5, 2018, Bi-State timely removed the
case to this Court based on federal question jurisdiction
(Doc. 1). On August 8, 2018, on the parties' stipulation,
the Court severed Count V and remanded the claim to the
Circuit Court of Saint Louis, County Missouri (Doc. 19). On
October 15, 2018, the Court denied Defendant's Motion to
dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint and, on November 5, 2018,
Defendant answered the Complaint denying all allegations in
the complaint (Docs. 12, 24). A Rule 16 Conference was held
on November 6, 2018, and a case management order was issued
that same day (Docs. 25, 26). Per the Case Management Order,
this case was referred to alternative dispute resolution on
May 13, 2019, and the parties settled the action at their
conference (Docs. 30, 35). On July 19, 2019, the parties
filed a Joint Motion for Approval of Settlement (Doc. 37) and
copies of the settlement agreements (Doc. 37-1).
law is unsettled as to whether judicial approval of a
proposed settlement of FLSA claims is required in the absence
of a certified class.” Boland v. Baue Funeral Home
Co., No. 4:15-CV-00469 RLW, 2015 WL 7300507, at *1 (E.D.
Mo. Nov. 18, 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted).
See, e.g., King v. Raineri Const., LLC, No.
4:14-CV-1828 CEJ, 2015 WL 631253, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Feb. 12,
2015) (collecting cases). Nonetheless, because declining to
review the proposed settlement agreement would leave the
parties in an uncertain position, the Court will review the
settlement's FLSA-related terms for fairness. See
King, 2015 WL 631253, at *2. “A district court may
only approve a settlement agreement in a case brought under
§ 2l6(b) of the FLSA after it determines that the
litigation involves a bona fide dispute and that the proposed
settlement is fair and equitable to all parties.”
Williams v. BPV Mkt. Place Investors, L.L.C., No.
4:14-CV-1047 CAS, 2014 WL 5017934, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Oct. 7,
2014). Among the factors the court may consider in evaluating
the settlement's fairness are “the stage of the
litigation, the amount of discovery exchanged, the experience
of counsel, and the reasonableness of the settlement amount
based on the probability of plaintiffs' success with
respect to any potential recovery.” Id.
Court must also assess the reasonableness of the
plaintiffs' attorney's fees. Id. at *2.
“Attorney's fees in FLSA settlements are examined
to ensure that the interest of plaintiffs' counsel in
counsel's own compensation did not adversely affect the
extent of the relief counsel procured for the clients.”
Collins v. Veolia ES Indus. Servs., Inc., No.
4:15-CV-00743-AGF, 2016 WL 1275598, at *2 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 1,
2016). “In a private FLSA action where the parties
settled on the fee through negotiation, there is a greater
range of reasonableness for approving attorney's
fees.” Id. (citation omitted); see also
Dail v. George A. Arab Inc., 391 F.Supp.2d 1142, 1146
(M.D. Fla. 2005) (“In an individual FLSA claim, where
separate amounts are set forth for the payments of unpaid
wages and payments for attorneys' fees, the Court has
greater flexibility in exercising its discretion in
determining the reasonableness of the attorneys'
the totality of the circumstances, the Court finds the
parties' proposed settlements to be fair and reasonable
to all parties. The Court finds no evidence of overreaching
on the part of Defendant based upon the amount of the
settlement proceeds provided to the Plaintiffs. The
settlements are products of arm's length negotiations and
all parties involved have been represented by experienced
counsel throughout the litigation. Bonetti v. Embarq
Mgmt. Co., 715 F.Supp.2d 1222, 1227 (M.D. Fla. 2009)
(“If the parties are represented by competent counsel
in an adversary context, the settlement they reach will,
almost by definition, be reasonable.”). Additionally,
the parties agreed to the settlements only after completion
of significant discovery. Indeed, the settlements were
reached just after the close of discovery. See Risch v.
Natoli Engineering Co., LLC, No. 4:11-CV-1621 AGF, 2012
WL 4357953, at *3 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 24, 2012) (the settlement
agreement occurred after the parties engaged in
“extensive fact discovery, exchanging and reviewing
significant numbers of documents . . . all documents
necessary to evaluate the class claims and damages.”).
The Court also finds the amount of attorney's fees in the
proposed FLSA settlements to be reasonable as the amount of
attorney's fees are less than 50% of the final settlement
amounts for each plaintiff. Finally, the parties seek leave
to file a Joint Stipulation for Dismissal after the parties
fulfil the terms of the Settlement Agreements (Doc. 37 at 3).
The Court is mindful of the parties' intent but will not
indefinitely stay the resolution of this action. Therefore,
the Court will afford the parties sixty days to file their
Joint Stipulation for Dismissal with the Court.
Court reiterates that it has reviewed and approved only the
material terms of the proposed settlement as they relate to
the FLSA claims. “No opinion is necessary as to the
enforceability of [other] terms and none is given. The
Court's review of a proposed FLSA settlement is properly
limited only to those terms precisely addressing the
compromised monetary amounts to resolve pending wage and
overtime claims.” King, 2015 WL 631253, at *4.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the parties'
Joint Motion for Approval of Settlement (Doc. 37) is
IS FURTHER ORDERED that the parties shall file a
Joint Stipulation for Dismissal within sixty (60) ...