New California Appellate Decision May Sound the Death Knell for Many Wage/Hour Class Actions

Duran v. U.S. Bank, is notable because it is the first decision to analyze thoroughly the defendant's due process rights as they were handled in one of the "innovative" class trial procedures that Sav-On v. Superior Court encouraged trial courts to formulate.  Before this case, the only case that significantly addressed class trial procedure was Bell v. Farmers Insurance. Bell, however, involved only a trial on damages after a court held that the defendant had misclassified all of its insurance adjusters as exempt.  Because liability was already decided classwide, the only issue was how much of a recovery each class member was entitled to receive.  What is worse, the Bell defense counsel waived several defenses by attempting to be "cooperative" with opposing counsel and thereby could not assert several good arguments on appeal.  Much mischief has been made by courts since Bell applying it as some sort of a template on how to conduct a class trial on liability.

Duran is strikingly different because U.S. Bank was effectively dragged kicking and screaming to trial, and it repeatedly objected to the many "innovative" procedures the trial court implemented.  Accordingly, the case presented the court of appeal with numerous, solid examples of a trial court running roughshod over the defendant's due process rights in the spirit of attempting to formulate a "streamlined" trial procedure.  The case thus provides binding authority (assuming the California Supreme Court does not grant review) that employers can cite when arguing that the plaintiff's trial plan improperly deprives the defendant of due process. In fact, if the guidance of this decision is followed, it is hard to see how many wage hour class actions that are routinely certified could actually proceed to trial.

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