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Koppers, Inc. v. Trotter

Supreme Court of Arkansas

May 2, 2019

KOPPERS, INC., APPELLANT
v.
KELVIN TROTTER, NATHANE DAVIS, LONZO ALLEN, AND KEN PIGGEE, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 60CV-16-3025] HONORABLE CHRISTOPHER CHARLES PIAZZA, JUDGE.

          Quattlebaum, Grooms & Tull PLLC, by: E.B. Chiles IV, Joseph R. Falasco, and Sarah E. DeLoach, for appellant.

          Holleman & Associates, P.A., by: John Holleman, Timothy A. Steadman, Jerry Garner, for appellees.

          JOHN DAN KEMP, Chief Justice.

         Koppers, Inc., appeals the Pulaski County Circuit Court's order certifying a class action lawsuit filed by Koppers employees Kelvin Trotter, Nathane Davis, Lonzo Allen, and Ken Piggee, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated (collectively referred to as employees). Koppers contends that the circuit court failed to provide any reasoning supporting class certification, precluding meaningful review and requiring reversal. Alternatively, Koppers contends that employees did not meet their burden of proving the requirements for class certification. We remand the case with instructions to enter an order that complies with Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 23 (2018).

         I. Facts

         Koppers operates a crosstie-treatment plant in North Little Rock, Arkansas. While working at the plant, employees must wear protective clothing and equipment provided by Koppers. Employees start each workday by clocking in at one of two bathhouses, taking off their street clothes, putting on ("donning") specified uniforms and personal protective equipment, and walking to their workstations. At the end of the shift, employees walk back to the bathhouses, remove ("doff") their uniforms and protective equipment, change back into their street clothes, and clock out.[1]

         Employees filed suit against Koppers pursuant to the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act (AMWA), Ark. Code Ann. §§ 11-4-201 et seq. for unpaid overtime. They claimed that Koppers violated the AMWA by failing to compensate them for time spent donning and doffing their uniforms and protective equipment and walking to and from their workstations. After filing their complaint, employees moved to certify a class of

[a]ll individuals who were, are, or will be employed by Defendant as hourly paid employees at the Koppers plant in North Little Rock, Arkansas, at any time within the three years prior to the filing of this Complaint through the date of the final disposition of this action, and who were, are, or will be required to perform donning and doffing activities.

         Koppers removed the case to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction. After the case was removed, employees amended their complaint to add the current manager and a former manager of the North Little Rock plant as defendants. The addition of these defendants destroyed diversity, and the case was remanded to the circuit court.

         After remand, Koppers answered and denied that employees were entitled to compensation for unpaid overtime. Koppers asserted that for each shift they worked, employees were paid for five minutes of time for putting on their uniforms and personal protective equipment, five minutes of time for walking to their workstations, and ten minutes of time for walking from their workstations to the bathhouses and changing out of their uniforms and personal protective equipment. Koppers also asserted that employees could not meet the requirements for class certification.

         After discovery and briefing, the circuit court held a hearing on the motion for class certification. The circuit court took the motion under advisement and made no rulings from the bench. Subsequently, the circuit court notified the parties that it had decided to grant the motion.[2] Employees submitted a proposed order, and Koppers objected to the form of the proposed order on several grounds, including that it contained "factual statements, legal reasoning, and legal conclusions [that] were never announced by the court."[3] Koppers stated that the court had "not relayed any findings of fact or conclusions of law to the parties, other than its indication that it would certify a class." Koppers submitted its own proposed order that it contended "reflects the decision to grant class certification."

         On November 21, 2017, the circuit court entered an order granting employees' motion for class certification:

Having considered the submissions of the parties and the arguments of counsel, the court finds that the requirements of Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 23 are satisfied and therefore GRANTS the motion for class ...

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