Class Action Defense Cases–Lee v. Dynamex: California Court Reverses Denial Of Class Action Certification Holding Erroneous Discovery Ruling Precluded Plaintiff From Meeting Burden Of Showing Commonality And Typicality Of Claims
Trial Court Erroneous Order in Labor Law Class Action Denying Motion to Compel Discovery of Contact Information of Putative Class Members Deprived Plaintiff of Opportunity to Develop Evidence Required to Support Motion for Class Action Certification thus Requiring Remand California Court Holds
Plaintiff filed a putative class action against parcel delivery company, Dynamex, alleging labor law violations; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that Dynamex, a nationwide courier and delivery service, “had improperly reclassified the drivers from employees to independent contractors in violation of California law.” Lee v. Dynamex, Inc., ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Cal.App. August 26, 2008) [Slip Opn., at 2]. Prior to seeking class action certification, plaintiff sought to compel Dynamex to identify and provide contact information for putative class members; the trial court denied the motion, and subsequently denied class action treatment of the lawsuit. Id. The California Court of Appeal reversed, holding that “the trial court’s discovery ruling directly conflicts with the Supreme Court’s subsequent decision in Pioneer Electronics (USA), Inc. v. Superior Court (2007) 40 Cal.4th 360 (Pioneer), as well as our decisions in Belaire-West Landscape, Inc. v. Superior Court (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 554 and Puerto v. Superior Court (2008) 158 Cal.App.4th 1242 (Puerto), and that ruling improperly interfered with [plaintiff’s] ability to establish the necessary elements for class certification….”Id., at 2.
Since 2001, Dynamex has employed approximately 800 drivers and has operated out of four locations in California; and in December 2004, the company reclassified its drivers as independent contractors “after management concluded such a conversion would generate economic savings for the company.” Lee, at 2. We do not go into greater detail as to the facts underlying the class action allegations, as they are not material to the issue resolved by the appellate court. In brief, plaintiff worked for Dynamex for 15 days, and filed his class action complaint three months after he stopped working for the company. Id., at 3. In essence, the class action alleged that as independent contractors, Dynamex drivers “performed the same tasks in the same manner as they did when they were classified as employees,” id. Soon after filing his class action, plaintiff sought from Dynamex discovery of the names and addresses of all drivers who had worked as independent contractors for the company; Dynamex objected on the ground that its employees should be given the right to “opt-in” to the request, relying on the then-recent appellate opinion in Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc. v. Superior Court (Mar. 30, 2005, B174826), which held that “opt-in” letters protected consumer privacy rights by giving them the right to choose whether they wished to have their personal contact information shared with class action plaintiff lawyers. Id., at 3-4. The trial court denied plaintiff’s motion to compel as “premature,” and stated personal contact information would not be ordered disclosed unless and until the litigation had been certified as a class action. Id., at 4.