Monday, December 14, 2009

District Court Grants Plaintiff’s Application to Relinquish Supplemental Jurisdiction By Finding Individual Issues will Predominate on Plaintiff’s State Law Wage Claims: Weltman v. Ortho Mattress

On December 10, 2009, Judge Jeffrey T. Miller of the Southern District of California entered an interesting order in response to the plaintiff’s request to relinquish supplemental jurisdiction over state law wage claims in Weltman v. Ortho Mattress, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115178 (S.D. Cal. Dec. 10, 2009).

In that case, the plaintiff filed a federal action that asserted federal question jurisdiction based upon an alleged violation of the FLSA, and supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 over seven state law causes of action. See id., at 2. Thereafter, plaintiff filed a motion seeking certification of the seven law state claims on a class-wide basis, leaving the federal FLSA misclassification claim out of the mix to be pursued on an individual basis. See id., at 4. In conjunction with filing a motion for class certification, however, plaintiff also filed an ex parte application to have the court relent its supplemental jurisdiction over the state law class claims so that plaintiff’s state-law claims could be pursued in state court. See id., at 1, 10-11 (“Plaintiff's counsel requested that Plaintiff be permitted to pursue his state claims in state court and that the court decline to exercise jurisdiction over the state claims.”).

In resolving the jurisdictional issue, the Court conducted an analysis of the issues posed by certification of plaintiff’s state-wide claims, concluding that individualized issues would likely predominate. See id., at 7-8 (“With respect to class-wide treatment of Plaintiff's state law claims, the court concludes that individualized issues seriously undermine the viability of the class action procedure.”). The Court thereafter used that determination as a basis to find that adjudication of the pendent state-law claims would predominate over the individual FLSA claim. See id., at 9 (“These individualized proof determinations – all involving state law class claims – would likely predominate over Plaintiff's single federal claim.”). Based this determination, the court concluded that supplemental jurisdiction was lacking:
Here, the court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law class claims because the state law claims substantially predominate over the relatively straight-forward FLSA claim. The anticipated economies and convenience anticipated by the class action device do not apply under the circumstances given the individualized determinations required to assess the state law class claims. See Executive Software, 24 F.3d at 1555-57. Further, the state law claims implicate no federal interest yet California courts have a strong interest in enforcing state law labor claims, like those asserted by Plaintiff herein.
See Weltman, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115178, at 10.

Not apparent within the opinion are plaintiff counsel's justifications for initially bringing the combination FLSA/State law action, and subsequent decision to limit the FLSA claim to plaintiff only.  While the Court's preliminary conclusions regarding predominance are likely not binding, a plaintiff confronted by such a scenario may have more efficient methods to resolve this issue – such as dismissing the plaintiff's individual FLSA claim.

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