Play Ball! California Federal Court Reconsiders Order Denying Minor League Baseball Players’ Motion For Class Certification

by Carlton Fields
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The Northern District of California recently renewed hope in a minor league baseball player class action wage dispute by granting the plaintiffs class certification after they narrowed the class. The court had previously denied class certification in July 2016, finding that the experiences of the class members varied too widely to satisfy Rule 23. The original class certification motion sought to certify “classes consisting of ‘[a]ll persons who under a Minor League Uniform Player contract, work or worked for MLB or any MLB franchise as a minor league baseball player within the relevant state at any time,” and “asserted wage and hour claims under the laws of eight different states based on a variety of activities the putative class members perform throughout the year.” Of particular concern for the putative class were “problems associated with determining membership in the State Classes based on [the baseball players’] winter training,” which was highly individualized. The court found that, given the variety of activities in which the minor leaguers engaged, they could not satisfy the Rule 23(b)(3), 23(b)(2), or the ascertainability requirement of Rule 23(a). In August, the plaintiffs moved for leave to file a motion for reconsideration (the “Motion”), which the court granted, instructing the plaintiffs to “propose narrower classes.”

In their Motion, the plaintiffs proposed Florida, Arizona, and California classes and eliminated the issues associated with winter training by opting not to seek certification as to those claims. Despite the defendants’ argument to the contrary, the court found that the claims of the new Rule 23(b)(3) classes could be proved using representative evidence, rather than common evidence, obtained from an employment survey used to estimate the hours worked by the baseball players. The court explained that “by dropping these [winter training] claims, [plaintiffs] significantly reduced the variations that led the Court to [previously] conclude that [p]laintiffs were attempting to stretch the holding of Tyson Foods too far.”

The court also found that all three classes met the requirements of Rule 23(a), but determined that “the adequacy requirement [was] not met as to the Arizona and Florida classes.” While the plaintiffs asked the court to apply the law of the particular state for each class, the defendants argued that this would force some absent members to forfeit their right to recover damages under the laws of other states. The court found that the plaintiff’s approach would work for the California class because “California has a strong interest in applying its wage and hour laws to work performed in California even if it is performed by non-residents.” However, the court determined that “there is a danger that choice of law questions will overwhelm the common issues raised by the Arizona and Florida classes,” and that the predominance requirement was therefore defeated as to those subclasses because “[p]laintiffs have not met their burden of showing that the claims of all of the Florida and Arizona Class members are governed by the laws of those two states.”

Senne v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Corp., No. 14-00608 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 7, 2017)

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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