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Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court

Supreme Court of California

April 12, 2012, Filed

S166350

Opinion

 [***324]  [**520]   WERDEGAR, J.—For the better part of a century, California law has guaranteed to employees wage and hour protection, including meal and rest periods intended to ameliorate the consequences of long hours. For most of that time, only injunctive remedies were available for violations of meal and rest period guarantees. In 2000, however, both the Legislature and the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) adopted for the first time monetary remedies for the denial of meal and rest breaks. (Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. (2007) 40 Cal.4th 1094, 1105–1106 [56 Cal. Rptr. 3d 880, 155 P.3d 284].) These remedies engendered a wave of wage and hour class action litigation, including the instant suit in which the trial court granted class certification and the Court of Appeal then issued writ relief and ordered three subclasses decertified.

CA(1)(1) We granted review to consider issues of significance to class actions generally  [****8] and to meal and rest break class actions in particular. We conclude, contrary to the Court of Appeal, that ] trial courts are not obligated as a matter of law to resolve threshold disputes over the elements of a plaintiff's claims, unless a particular determination is necessarily dispositive of the certification question. Because the parties have so requested, however, we nevertheless address several such threshold disputes here. On the most contentious of these, the nature of an employer's duty to provide meal periods, we conclude an employer's obligation is to relieve its employee of all duty, with the employee thereafter at liberty to use the meal period for whatever  [**521]  purpose he or she desires, but the employer need not ensure that no work is done.

CA(2)(2) On the ultimate question of class certification, we review the trial court's ruling for abuse of discretion. In light of the substantial evidence submitted by plaintiffs of defendants' uniform policy, we conclude the trial court properly certified a rest break subclass. On the question of meal break subclass certification, we remand to the trial court for reconsideration. With respect to the third contested subclass, covering allegations  [****9] that employees were required to work “off-the-clock,” no evidence of common policies or means of proof was supplied, and the trial court therefore erred in certifying a subclass. Accordingly, because the Court of Appeal rejected certification of all three subclasses, we will affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

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53 Cal. 4th 1004 *; 273 P.3d 513 **; 139 Cal. Rptr. 3d 315 ***; 2012 Cal. LEXIS 3149 ****; 18 Wage & Hour Cas. 2d (BNA) 1852; 162 Lab. Cas. (CCH) P61,243

BRINKER RESTAURANT CORPORATION et al., Petitioners, v. THE SUPERIOR COURT OF SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Respondent; ADAM HOHNBAUM et al., Real Parties in Interest.

Subsequent History: Reported at Brinker Rest. Corp. v. S.C., 2012 Cal. LEXIS 3994 (Cal., Apr. 12, 2012)

Prior History:  [****1] Superior Court of San Diego County, No. GIC834348, Patricia Yim Cowett, Judge. Fourth Appellate District, Division One, No. D049331.

Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, 165 Cal. App. 4th 25, 80 Cal. Rptr. 3d 781, 2008 Cal. App. LEXIS 1138 (Cal. App. 4th Dist., 2008)

Disposition:  The court affirmed the appellate court's judgment as to the off-the-clock subclass, reversed its judgment as to the rest period subclass, and reversed its judgment as to the meal period subclass insofar as it directed the trial court to enter denial of certification with prejudice. The court remanded to the appellate court with directions.

CORE TERMS

meal period, wage order, meal, employees, subdivision, certification, trial court, rest break, minutes, rest period, subclass, class certification, work period, relieved, work hours, breaks, shifts, fraction, predominate, merits, off-the-clock, one-half, disputes, obligations, records, waived, class action, questions, class member, Restaurant

Civil Procedure, Special Proceedings, Class Actions, Certification of Classes, Business & Corporate Compliance, Wage & Hour Laws, Scope & Definitions, Overtime & Work Periods, General Overview, Prerequisites for Class Action, Pleadings, Complaints, Predominance, Appeals, Standards of Review, Abuse of Discretion, Appellate Review, Substantial Evidence, Reversible Errors, Labor & Employment Law, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Administrative Law, Judicial Review, Rule Interpretation, Agency Rulemaking, Rule Application & Interpretation, Validity, Administrative Proceedings, Enforcement Provisions