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Legros v. Mud Control Equipment Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division

March 6, 2017

TYLER LEGROS, on Behalf of Himself and Others Similarly Situated
v.
MUD CONTROL EQUIPMENT, CO.

          HANNA MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          REBECCA F. DHOETRY UNITED STATE DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Following a settlement conference with the Magistrate Judge, the parties reached a settlement in this case, which previously had been conditionally certified as a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. Thereafter, counsel filed a Joint Motion for Approval of the Settlement and to Dismiss the Collective Action With Prejudice. [Doc. 67] Under the proposed Settlement Agreement, thirty collective action members will receive backpay and an equal amount of liquidated damages under the FLSA, no collective action member's payment will be reduced by attorneys' fees and expenses, the action will be dismissed with prejudice, and each party will bear its own attorney's fees and costs except as provided in the proposed settlement agreement. For the following reasons, the Joint Motion for Approval of the Settlement and to Dismiss the Collective Action With Prejudice [Doc. 67] is GRANTED.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Because this case has been conditionally certified as a collective action under the FLSA, this Courtmust approve the settlement before itmay be finalized. Rivas v. Beaucoup Crawfish of Eunice, Inc., 2014 WL 5488390, *2 (W.D. La. 2014)(citing Brooklyn Sav. Bank v. Oneil, 324 U.S. 697 (1945); Camp v. Progressive Corp., 2004 WL 2149079 (E.D. La. 2004); and Liger v. New Orleans Hornets NBA Limited Partnership. 2009 WL 2856246 (E.D. La. 2009)). Before the Court may approve a settlement in a collective action brought under the FLSA, it must first determine whether the settlement involves the resolution of a bona fide dispute over an FLSA provision and then decide whether the settlement is fair and reasonable. Id. (citing Camp at *4); see also Lynn's Food Stores, Inc. v. United States, 679 F.2d 1350, 1352-55 (llthCir. \9S2), Jarradv. Southern Shipbldg. Corp., 163 F.2d 960 (5th Cir. 1947); and Stalnaker v. Novar Corp., 293 F.Supp.2d 1260, 1263 (M.D. Ala. 2003).

         In the instant case, the Parties fiercely contested the claims and defenses asserted. Plaintiff alleged that Mud Control's employees performed largely manual labor in routine fashion, which included operating, servicing, and repairing solids control equipment. Mud Control argued some of the Plaintiffs performed work-related tasks by exercising their own independent judgement and discretion, made high level decisions that affected the overall success of business projects, supervised more than 2 employees for over 80 hours in a single workweek, and some were highly compensated earning in excess of $100, 000 a year.

         Further, Plaintiffs argued that all Plaintiffs were similarly situated in the terms of relevant job duties and compensation practices, regardless of the length of time or location worked for Mud Control. On the other hand, Mud Control maintained that it would seek decertification of the FLSA classes because it believed that its employees were not similarly situated and the cases should be tried independent of each other.

         The Parties further disagreed on whether Plaintiffs could satisfy their burden to demonstrate that Mud Control acted willfully, which in turn affects whether Plaintiffs' recovery would be limited to two (2) years or three (3) years. See 29 U.S.C. § 255. Plaintiff also contended that Mud Control would not be able to meet its burden to prove that it acted in good faith, which would implicate the amount of any of liquidated damages. See 29U.S.C.§260. Mud Control maintained that at all times it acted in good faith, and damages (if any) should be recovered only for a two (2) year period.

         The Court finds the instant action (as set forth above) presents a bona fide dispute over FLSA provisions. Because these issues are sufficient for this Court to find "that genuine uncertainty as to the outcome existed" for each side, a bona fide dispute exists in this case. Rivas at *2 (citing Liger at *3).

         In determining whether a settlement is fair, adequate and reasonable, the Court should consider the following six factors: (1) the existence of fraud or collusion behind the settlement; (2) the complexity, expense, and likely duration of the litigation; (3) the stage of the proceedings and the amount of discovery completed; (4) the probability of plaintiffs' success on the merits; (5) the range of possible recovery; and (6) the opinions of the class counsel, class representatives, and absent class members. Reed v. General Motors Corp., 703 F.2d 170, 172 (5th Cir. 1983); see also Camp at *5; Rivas at *2. When considering these factors, the court should keep in mind the "strong presumption" in favor of finding a settlement fair. Camp at *J (citing Cotton v. Hinton, 559 F.2d 1326, 1331 (5th Cir. 1977); Henderson v. Eaton, 2002 WL 31415728, at *2 (E.D. La. 2002)).

         In this matter, there is no evidence of any fraud or collusion behind the settlement. This Court may presume that no fraud or collusion occurred between counsel, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary. Camp at *7. Moreover, since this case was filed in 2014, counsel for the parties have vigorously represented and advanced the position of their clients, engaging in discovery, and competently addressed the issues presented in this litigation. Furthermore, given the Magistrate Judge's active role in overseeing this litigation and the attendance by the parties at a settlement conference held on July 28, 2016, which culminated in the proposed November 2016 Settlement Agreement, it is clear that the settlement has been arrived at by arms-length bargaining and good faith negotiations. The first factor favors approval of the settlement as fair, adequate and reasonable.

         With regard to the inquiries set forth in the second factor - the complexity, expense, and likely duration of the litigation - this FLSA action presented multiple complex legal issues which have been zealously litigated by experienced counsel, at significant expense. Had a settlement not been consummated, the Court is of the opinion that this case would likely have remained in litigation for a significant amount of time, in excess of at least one or two years, causing the parties to have incurred significant additional expense. Following the opt-in deadline, the defendants intended to file a motion to decertify the collective action, which would have necessitated additional discovery, briefing and court appearances. Accordingly, the second factor weighs in favor of finding that the settlement is fair, adequate and reasonable.

         The third factor - the stage of the proceedings and the amount of discovery completed -likewise supports a finding that the settlement is fair, adequate and reasonable, and accordingly, should be approved. This case has been pending for almost three years. During its pendency, the parties have conducted discovery and factual and legal investigations. The parties stipulated to conditional certification and issuance of notice to a proposed class consisting of current and former day rate field service technicians employed by defendant for the previous three years. While several substantive issues remain outstanding, including whether this collective action should be decertified, this case is ripe for settlement.

         The fourth factor - probability of plaintiff s success on the merits - supports a finding that the settlement is fair, adequate and reasonable. This case has been litigated by competent lawyers on each side. Accordingly, while at present, the plaintiffs enj oy a high probability of success on the merits, given the competency of defense counsel and the uncertainty of adverse rulings on the undecided decertification issue, failure on the merits is equally likely. Moreover, depending on the outcome of this litigation, an appeal to the Fifth Circuit by each side would be likely. Thus, based upon the ...


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