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SYREETA WRIGHT, Individually and on Behalf of All Others Similarly v. Judge Robert W. Gettleman

November 30, 2010

SYREETA WRIGHT, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JUDGE ROBERT W. GETTLEMAN FAMILY DOLLAR, INC., A FOREIGN CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert W. Gettleman United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Syreeta Wright filed a two-count putative class action complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County, alleging that her former employer, defendant Family Dollar, failed to pay actual and overtime compensation to her and other "associates" (non-exempt, store-level employees) in violation of the Illinois Wage Payment & Collection Act, 820 ILCS § 115, et seq. (Count I), and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, 820 ILCS § 105, et seq. (Count II). Defendant removed the case to federal district court pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1453. Defendant has filed the instant motion to strike class allegations pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(c)(1)(A) and (d)(1)(D), contending that plaintiff cannot establish typicality and adequacy of representation, Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(3)-(4). For the following reasons, defendant's motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that defendant withheld compensation from associates by giving its store managers unfeasibly low payroll budgets which, despite defendant's official policy prohibiting managers from requiring associates to work without compensation, effectively forced all managers to do exactly that. Plaintiff's putative class consists of "all individuals who were employed by the Defendant as an Associate in any Illinois store at any time during the relevant statute of limitations period who: 1) were not paid for regular hours worked; or 2) worked more than forty (40) hours in a week, but did not receive overtime pay." The complaint alleges that, during the limitations period, plaintiff worked as an Associate (from September 2008 through January 2009) and then as a Store Manager (from February 2009 through May 2009).

DISCUSSION

I. Motions to Strike Class Allegations

Defendant brings its motion to strike class allegations pursuant to Rule 23(c)(1)(A) and (d)(1)(D). Rule 23(c)(1)(A) provides that the court, "[a]t an early practicable time . . . , must determine by order whether to certify the action as a class action." Rule 23(d)(1)(D) provides that, "[i]n conducting an action under this rule, the court may issue orders that . . . require that the pleadings be amended to eliminate allegations about representation of absent persons and that the action proceed accordingly." District courts, both within this district and others, have held that a motion to strike class allegations, made pursuant to these provisions, is an appropriate device to determine whether the case will proceed as a class action. E.g., Muehlbauer v. General Motors Corp., 431 F. Supp. 2d 847, 870 (N.D. Ill. 2006); Cornette v. Jenny Garton Ins. Agency, Inc., No. 2:10-CV-60, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52809, at *4 (N.D. W. Va. May 27, 2010).

Plaintiff argues that motions to strike class allegations are disfavored, and that the proper course of action is to oppose the plaintiff's motion for class certification. E.g., Thorpe v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc., 534 F. Supp. 2d 1120, 1125 (N.D. Cal. 2008); Korman v. Walking Co., 503 F. Supp. 2d 755, 762 (E.D. Pa. 2007). It is true that where the dispute is factual and discovery is needed to determine whether a class should be certified, it may be premature to strike class allegations. But when the defendant advances a legal argument based on the pleadings, discovery is not necessary for the court to evaluate whether a class action may be maintained. Particularly given that Rule 23(c)(1)(A) instructs courts to determine whether a class may be certified "[a]t an early practicable time," courts may-and should-address the plaintiff's class allegations when the pleadings are facially defective and definitively establish that a class action cannot be maintained.

II. Legal Standards

Rule 23 requires a two-step analysis to determine whether class certification is appropriate. First, plaintiffs must satisfy all four requirements of Rule 23(a): (1) numerosity; (2) commonality; (3) typicality; and (4) adequacy of representation. Failure to meet any one of these four requirements precludes class certification. Oshana v. Coca-Cola Co., 472 F.3d 506, 513 (7th Cir. 2006). Further, plaintiffs must satisfy at least one provision of Rule 23(b). In the instant case, plaintiff seeks monetary damages and therefore must satisfy Rule 23(b)(3), which requires the plaintiff to establish that questions of law or fact common to class members do not predominate over any questions affecting only individual class members.

In determining whether class certification is appropriate, a district court does not presume that all well-pleaded allegations are true and can look beneath the surface of a complaint to conduct the inquiries Rule 23 requires. Szabo v. Bridgeport Machs., Inc., 249 F.3d 672, 677 (7th Cir. 2001). Even when the defendant initiates the court's review of class allegations, the burden remains on the plaintiff to establish that the suit may be maintained as a class action. See Oshana, 472 F.3d at 513, citing Trotter v. Klincar, 748 F.2d 1177, 1184 (7th Cir. 1984) ("it is the plaintiff's burden to prove the class should be certified"); but see Ramos v. U.S. Bank Nat. Ass'n, No. CV 08-1150-PK, 2009 WL 3834035 (D. Oreg. Nov. 16, 2009) ("[I]n the context of a motion to strike class allegations, in particular where such a motion is brought in advance of the close of class discovery, it is properly the defendant who must bear the burden of proving that the class is not certifiable."); Romano v. Motorola, Inc., No. 07-CIV-60517, 2007 WL 4199781, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Nov. 26, 2007) ("Defendants, in contending that class certification in this case is precluded as a matter of law, have the burden of demonstrating from the face of plaintiffs' complaint that it will be impossible to certify the classes alleged by the plaintiffs regardless of the facts the plaintiffs may be able to prove.") (internal citation and quotation omitted).

III. Analysis

Defendant argues that plaintiff can establish neither adequacy of representation nor typicality. Because the court agrees, defendant's motion ...


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