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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers, Inc.: Court Reverses (In Part) Order Denying Certification In Independent Contractor Action

In Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers, Inc. (9/19/12, pub. 10/17/12), the plaintiffs "sought to certify a class of newspaper home delivery carriers in a lawsuit against defendant Antelope Valley Newspapers, Inc. (AVP), alleging that AVP improperly classified the carriers as independent contractors rather than employees and violated California labor laws. The trial court found there were numerous variations in how the carriers performed their jobs, and therefore common issues did not predominate." Slip op. at 2. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding:
[V]ariations [in how individuals perform their work] do not present individual issues that preclude class certification. Instead, because all of the carriers perform the same job under virtually identical contracts, those variations simply constitute common evidence that tends to show AVP's lack of control over certain aspects of the carriers' work. Similarly, the so-called “secondary factors” that must be considered when determining the primary issue in this case -- whether AVP improperly classified the carriers as independent contractors rather than employees -- also may be established for the most part through common proof, since almost all of those factors relate to the type of work involved, which is common to the class. Therefore, we hold the trial court erred in finding that the independent contractor-employee issue is not amenable to class treatment.  
Our holding that the independent contractor-employee issue may be determined on a class wide basis through common proof does not entirely resolve the class certification question as to all of the causes of action plaintiffs allege.  The trial court also found that plaintiffs' claims of overtime and meal/rest period violations (Lab. Code, §§ 1194, 226.7, 512) were not amenable to class treatment because of wide variation in the amount of time each carrier spent performing the required work, and their varied use of helpers or substitutes.  Therefore, the trial court found that individual inquiries would have to be made to determine AVP's liability as to each carrier (assuming, of course, the carriers were found to be employees).  We agree, and affirm the trial court's denial of class certification as to the first, second, and third causes of action.  We reverse the order denying certification as to the remaining causes of action because the court's denial as to those claims was based solely upon its determination that the independent contractor-employee issue is not suitable for class treatment.  Unless the trial court determines, on remand, that the remaining causes of action present predominately individual issues as to liability (as opposed to damages), the court shall certify the class for the fourth through eighth causes of action.
Slip op. at 2-3.

The opinion is available here.  

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