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Thursday, April 12, 2012

California Supreme Court Issues Mixed Decision in Brinker

It seems that everyone is finding something to like in the Supreme Court's opinion in Brinker v. Superior Court. Plaintiffs' lawyers like the language on class certification standards, and defense attorneys like the holding on the ensure v. make available standard for meal periods, among other points. I will cover it more in depth tomorrow, but for the time being, here is the court's summary:
We conclude, contrary to the Court of Appeal, that trial courts are not obligated as a matter of law to resolve threshold disputes over the elements of a plaintiff’s claims, unless a particular determination is necessarily dispositive of the certification question. Because the parties have so requested, however, we nevertheless address several such threshold disputes here. On the most contentious of these, the nature of an employer’s duty to provide meal periods, we conclude an employer’s obligation is to relieve its employee of all duty, with the employee thereafter at liberty to use the meal period for whatever purpose he or she desires, but the employer need not ensure that no work is done.
On the ultimate question of class certification, we review the trial court’s ruling for abuse of discretion. In light of the substantial evidence submitted by plaintiffs of defendants’ uniform policy, we conclude the trial court properly certified a rest break subclass. On the question of meal break subclass certification, we remand to the trial court for reconsideration. With respect to the third contested subclass, covering allegations that employees were required to work “off-the-clock,” no evidence of common policies or means of proof was supplied, and the trial court therefore erred in certifying a subclass. Accordingly, because the Court of Appeal rejected certification of all three subclasses, we will affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.
The opinion is available here.

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