In deciding whether certification is appropriate, 7th Cir. R. 52(a), Kan. Stat. Ann. § 60-3201, the most important consideration guiding the exercise of the court's discretion is whether the court finds itself genuinely uncertain about a question of state law that is vital to a correct disposition of the case.
A nationwide class of plaintiffs, current and former delivery drivers, was certified and cases were consolidated and transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. Plaintiffs claimed that for wage and hour purposes defendant employer wrongly classified them as independent contractors. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendant on the issue of plaintiffs' employment status. Plaintiffs appealed. The court certified questions to the Kansas Supreme Court.
Was certification to the Kansas Supreme Court appropriate?
Each case arose under a different state's substantive law. As proposed by the parties, the court took up the appeal of the "lead" case which applied Kansas law and stayed the remaining appeals. Kansas cases were difficult to reconcile and reflected that the determination of whether an employer-employee relationship existed was based on the facts in each case. Other than that the right of control was the primary factor, the court was unsure what guided the weighing process. Perhaps the Kansas public policy tipped the scales in favor of finding employee status for purposes of the Kansas Wage Payment Act, Kan. Stat. Ann. § 44-313 et seq., in close cases. The Kansas Supreme Court was in a better position to provide a definitive answer on that controlling question of state law. The issue of plaintiffs' employment status under Kansas law was outcome determinative and a decision had ramifications beyond the particular case. Certification would have furthered the interests of cooperative federalism.