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Arkansas Dep't of Veterans Affairs v. Okeke

Supreme Court of Arkansas

June 18, 2015

ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS D/B/A ARKANSAS VETERANS HOME AND FAYETTEVILLE VETERANS HOME, APPELLANT
v.
DARLENE OKEKE ET AL., APPELLEES

Page 400

APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, THIRD DIVISION. NO. 60CV-13-2403. HONORABLE CHRIS PALMER, JUDGE.

Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: David A. Curran, Deputy Att'y Gen., and Amber R. Schubert, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellant., Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

Holleman & Associates, P.A., by: John Holleman, Maryna O. Jackson, and Matthew Ford, for appellees.

BAKER, HART and WOOD, JJ., dissent. BAKER and HART, JJ., join.

OPINION

Page 401

ROBIN F. WYNNE, Associate Justice

This is an appeal from the Pulaski County Circuit Court's order granting class certification to appellees in their case alleging violations of the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act (AMWA), Arkansas Code Annotated sections 11-4-201 et seq. Appellant, the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs (ADVA), d/b/a Arkansas Veterans Home and Fayetteville Veterans Home, argues that the circuit court abused its discretion in certifying the class. Specifically, ADVA challenges the circuit court's findings regarding the requirements of commonality, predominance, and superiority. An interlocutory appeal may be taken from an order certifying a case as a class action in accordance with Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 23. See Ark. R. App. P.-Civ. 2(a)(9) (2014). We affirm.

Background

Appellees, plaintiffs below, are Registered Nurses (RNs), Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) who worked for Arkansas Veterans Home in Little Rock and Fayetteville Veterans Home as hourly employees. They filed this complaint alleging violations of the AMWA for failing to pay them for all overtime hours worked, and they sought class certification.[1] Specifically, in their third amended complaint, appellees alleged that (1) ADVA automatically deducted thirty minutes per day from their hours worked to account for lunch breaks, even though they were regularly required to work during their lunch breaks (meal-break claims); and (2) ADVA required them to work before and after their shifts, in order to complete their job duties, without compensation (pre- and post-shift claims). They alleged that they frequently had to work through lunch due to understaffing and that they had to work off the clock to complete their job duties. Appellees alleged that they were not allowed to report all overtime hours worked and that they frequently complained to ADVA about these violations but nothing was done as a result of these complaints. In its answer, ADVA denied the allegations and denied that appellees were entitled to class status.[2]

A few days after the third amended complaint had been filed, appellees filed their amended and substituted motion for class certification under Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 23. Appellees alleged that the proposed class size was unknown but was over 100 individuals, and was likely hundreds, making joinder impractical; the claims of plaintiffs and the putative class

Page 402

present numerous common questions of law and fact; plaintiffs' claims are typical because the same unlawful conduct was directed both at them and at the putative class; both the representative parties and their counsel will fairly and adequately protect the interest of the class; the predominant issues in this litigation are whether ADVA's employees are entitled to compensation for all hours worked including work performed during meal breaks and work performed off-the-clock; and because this case requires resolution of common issues and involves a large number of relatively small claims, a class action is the superior method to adjudicate the controversy. They alleged several issues common to the proposed class:

Defendants have a common policy of understaffing their facilities, which ultimately requires employees who work in patient care to work through their lunches and off-the-clock in order to finish their required duties. The Named Plaintiffs and putative class members' supervisors knew that they were working through their meal breaks and working off-the-clock, but failed to compensate them for this time. These policies, combined with the fact that ADVA auto-deducted thirty minutes from its employees' pay for untaken lunch breaks, caused Named Plaintiffs and the putative class members to not receive their required compensation.

ADVA filed a response opposing the motion for class certification.

On June 9, 2014, the circuit court held a hearing on the class-certification motion. In addition to the parties presenting argument, ADVA called several witnesses who were current or former nurses or CNAs for ADVA. Their testimony can generally be summarized to say that those employees had not been required to work overtime without compensation. The order granting class certification was entered on August 21, 2014, and the circuit court held that common factual and legal issues included the following:

o Whether ADVA's policy of automatically deducting 30 minutes from hours worked by employee was illegal;
o Whether plaintiffs and putative class members worked through their meal breaks;
o Whether ADVA had a policy of allowing its employees to reclaim hours worked during their meal breaks;
o Whether ADVA had a policy of allowing its employees to reclaim hours worked off-the-clock;
o Whether plaintiffs and putative class members worked overtime;
o Whether plaintiffs and putative class members worked ...

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