United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
NANNETTE A. BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for
Approval of FLSA Settlement. [Doc. 31.] Plaintiffs, former
employees of the City of Pacific, Missouri, filed this action
as a collective action under 29 U.S.C. § 201. Plaintiffs
alleged that Defendant failed to pay them for overtime.
Plaintiffs also brought state law claims for breach of
contract and unjust enrichment. The Court conditionally
certified the class for a collective action on April 4, 2019.
The parties reached a settlement in this action on all
claims. Plaintiffs request that the Court enter an order to
approve the FLSA portion of the settlement agreement as fair
and reasonable, approve Plaintiffs' FLSA attorney's
fees in the amount of $29, 263.20, and dismiss this case with
Court first notes that “the law is unsettled as to
whether judicial approval of a proposed settlement of FLSA
claims is required in the absence of a certified
class.” King v. Raineri Const., LLC, No.
4:14-CV-1828 CEJ, 2015 WL 631253, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Feb. 12,
2015). 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. Id. The Court's
review “is properly limited only to those terms
precisely addressing the compromised monetary amounts to
resolve pending wage and overtime claims.” Carrillo
v. Dandan Inc., 51 F.Supp.3d 124, 134 (D.D.C. 2014).
district court may only approve an FLSA settlement agreement
after it determines that the litigation involves a bona fide
dispute and that the proposed settlement is fair and
equitable to all parties. Fry v. Accent Mktg. Servs.
L.L.C., No. 4:13-CV-59 (CDP), 2014 WL 294421, at *1
(E.D. Mo. Jan. 27, 2014); see also Lynn's Food
Stores, Inc. v. United States, 679 F.2d 1350, 1353 (11th
Cir. 1982). A settlement is bona fide if it reflects a
reasonable compromise over issues, actually in dispute, since
employees may not waive their entitlement to minimum wage and
overtime pay under FLSA. Here, the parties exchanged written
discovery and Plaintiffs' counsel conducted a detailed
review and analysis of each Plaintiff's time sheets and
payroll records, along with other documents produced by the
Defendant. At the time of mediation, the parties possessed
disputes as to whether Plaintiffs performed compensable work
during the periods before and after their scheduled shifts
during which they were clocked in, whether Defendants
directed Plaintiffs to perform work before and after their
scheduled shifts, the amount of overtime worked by
Plaintiffs, how any unpaid overtime damages should be
calculated and whether the facts and law supported
Plaintiffs' claims to liquidated damages for willful
violation of the FLSA. Therefore, the Court finds that this
action involves a bona fide dispute with regard to
Plaintiffs' claims for failure to pay overtime wages
under § 216(b) of the FLSA.
determine whether a proposed settlement is fair and
equitable, courts consider the totality of the circumstances.
“[F]actors a court may consider include the stage of
the litigation and amount of discovery exchanged, the
experience of counsel, the probability of plaintiffs'
success on the merits, any ‘overreaching' by the
employer in the settlement negotiations, and whether the
settlement was the product of arm's length negotiations
between represented parties based on the merits of the
case.” King, 2015 WL 631253, at *2. In making
a fairness determination, courts “should be mindful of
the strong presumption in favor of finding a settlement
fair.” Crabtree v. Volkert, Inc., No.
11-0529-WS-B, 2013 WL 593500, at *3 (S.D. Ala. Feb. 14, 2013)
(noting that “the Court is generally not in as good a
position as the parties to determine the reasonableness of a
FLSA settlement”) (quoting Bonetti v. Embarq Mgmt.
Co., 715 F.Supp.2d 1222, 1227 (M.D. Fla. 2009)).
the totality of the circumstances, the Court finds that the
proposed settlement is fair and equitable to all parties. The
settlement comes after a period of mediation. Plaintiffs'
counsel conducted a detailed review of the wage and hour and
personnel records for each Plaintiff for each day worked
during the class period. Counsel determined the precise
number of hours each dispatcher worked each workweek and then
compared each dispatcher's hours worked to
Defendant's payroll records to calculate the number of
unpaid hours during each workweek. According to the parties,
each Plaintiff is recovering 100% of the amount owed for
unpaid overtime and liquidated damages through the settlement
agreement. The parties have developed their cases enough to
know the potential recovery and the relative risks of
proceeding to trial with their claims, yet the litigation is
not so advanced that the parties will not realize significant
benefits by settling before filing dispositive motions and
proceeding to trial. The parties have been represented by
competent counsel and the settlement reflects a compromise
based on the merits of Plaintiffs' claims. Therefore, the
Court finds no basis to doubt that the settlement is fair and
equitable to all parties.
parties also request that the Court approve the
attorney's fees award to Plaintiffs' counsel in the
amount of $29, 263.20. The Eighth Circuit recently held that
“any authority for judicial approval of FLSA
settlements in 29 U.S.C. § 216 does not extend to review
of settled attorney fees.” Barbee v. Big River
Steel, LLC, 927 F.3d 1024, 1027 (8th Cir. 2019).
“When the parties negotiate the reasonable fee amount
separately and without regard to the plaintiffs FLSA claim,
the amount the employer pays to the employees' counsel
has no bearing on whether the employer has adequately paid
its employees in a settlement.” Barbee, 927
F.3d at 1027. Therefore, the statute does not require
approval of settled attorney's fees. Id. The
Court does retain the authority, however, to ensure the
attorney's fees were in fact negotiated separately
without regard to the plaintiffs FLSA claim, and there was
not a conflict of interest between the attorney and his or
her client. Barbee, 927 F.3d at 1027 n. 1. Because
the agreed fees are not so disproportionately exorbitant
alone to indicate collusion when compared to the compensation
paid to Plaintiffs, the settlement agreement- including
attorney's fees- will be approved without inquiry or
comment into the reasonableness of the attorneys' fees.
Kappelmeier v. Wil-Shar, Inc., No. 5:18-CV-05181,
2019 WL 4229686 at *2 (W.D. Ark. Sept. 4, 2019).
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the
Plaintiffs' Motion for Approval of FLSA Settlement is
GRANTED. [Doc. 31.]
IS FURTHER ORDERED that this action is
DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE in its entirety.
Each party will bear its own costs and fees except as