San Francisco, CA. International law firm Nixon Peabody LLP recently secured a major victory for agri-business client, Sun Pacific Farming Cooperative, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the district court’s denial of class certification of a 10,000-member class in a case that plaintiffs’ counsel had valued at $176 million. This is the first class action of which Sun Pacific Farming is aware arising in federal court in the Central Valley—the heart of California’s $14-billion-per-year agricultural business—in which certification has been denied.
Sun Pacific is a farming cooperative based in California’s Central Valley that hires crews to grow, harvest, and pack table grapes and other fruits. The lawsuit alleged that Sun Pacific had committed numerous and systematic violations of California wage and hour laws, including overtime violations, off-the-clock violations, and failure to provide meal and rest periods.
In May 2008 the district court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification in a 21-page decision which, relying on the employee declarations submitted by Sun Pacific, concluded that the plaintiffs had not established either commonality or typicality, two prerequisites for class certification. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals then granted the plaintiffs’ application for leave to file an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Rule 5(a)(1), FRAP. In November 2009, the Ninth Circuit heard oral argument. Shortly thereafter, the court of appeals issued its memorandum opinion, unanimously affirming the district court’s denial of class certification in all respects. The court of appeal held that the district court had not abused its discretion in denying class certification, and rejected all other arguments raised by the plaintiffs.
Nixon Peabody’s legal team was led by San Francisco Labor and Employment partner Rob Carrol and included Los Angeles Labor and Employment counsel Dale Hudson and San Francisco Labor and Employment associate Matt Frankel.