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Franklin v. Magnolia Flooring Mill, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, El Dorado Division

June 10, 2019

McCOY FRANKLIN, Individually and on Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated PLAINTIFF
v.
MAGNOLIA FLOORING MILL, LLC DEFENDANT

          ORDER

          Susan O. Hickey Chief United States District Judge

         Before the Court is the parties' Joint Motion for Stipulated Collective Action Settlement and Settlement Approval. ECF No. 43. Also before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Costs and Attorneys' Fees. ECF No. 48. Defendant Magnolia Flooring Mill, LLC (“Magnolia Flooring”) has filed a response. ECF No. 52. Plaintiff has filed a reply. ECF No. 57. Defendant has filed a sur-reply. ECF No. 60. The Court finds these matters ripe for consideration.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint on December 15, 2017. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff brings this action individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq., and the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act (“AMWA”), Ark. Code Ann. §§ 11-4-201, et seq. ECF No. 1, ¶ 1. Plaintiff states that he was employed by Defendant Magnolia Flooring as an hourly paid forklift driver.[1] ECF No. 1, ¶ 19. Plaintiff alleges that he and other similarly situated hourly paid employees were classified by Defendant as non-exempt from the overtime requirements of the FLSA. ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 22, 83. Plaintiff claims that Defendant paid him and other hourly paid employees “non-discretionary monetary bonuses” that “were fixed amounts” based on the employee's “performance and ability to meet certain criteria set by Defendant[.]” ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 24, 25, 34. However, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant failed to include these bonuses when calculating employees' regular pay rate for overtime pay calculations. ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 26, 37. Plaintiff claims that he and other hourly paid employees worked more than forty hours in at least one week in which they earned a bonus and that the bonus was not included in the calculation of their overtime pay. ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 27, 28. Plaintiff asserts that the failure to include his and other hourly paid employees' bonuses in calculating overtime pay violated the FLSA and AMWA. ECF No. 1, ¶ 29.

         On July 23, 2018, the Court conditionally certified a collective action with the following collective action class description:

Each hourly-paid employee who worked for Magnolia Flooring Mill, LLC (“Magnolia Flooring”), since December 15, 2014, and to whom Magnolia Flooring paid a bonus pursuant to any bonus plan in at least one week in which the employee worked more than forty hours.

         ECF No. 22, pp. 7-8. Nine individuals opted into the collective action.[2] The Court was subsequently informed that this matter had been settled except for the amount of attorneys' fees to be awarded to Plaintiff's counsel. The parties have now submitted their proposed terms of settlement to the Court for approval and have, further, submitted the issue of attorneys' fees and costs to the Court for decision.

         DISCUSSION

         The Court will first address the parties' Joint Motion for Stipulated Collective Action Settlement and Settlement Approval and then turn to Plaintiff's Motion for Costs and Attorneys' Fees.

         I. Joint Motion for Stipulated Collective Action Settlement and Settlement Approval

         In the instant motion, the parties jointly move the Court to: (1) certify a FLSA settlement class; (2) appoint Josh Sanford and Josh West of Sanford Law Firm, PLLC, as group counsel; (3) approve the parties' Settlement Agreement and Settlement Notice; and (4) thereafter dismiss this matter with prejudice.

         To begin, the Court may only approve the proffered settlement agreement if it arises from adversarial litigation that involves a bona fide dispute and the proposed settlement is fair and equitable to all parties. Lynn's Food Stores, Inc. v. U.S., 679 F.2d 1350, 1353 n.8. (11th Cir. 1982).

         In determining whether a proposed settlement is fair, courts:

may consider . . . the stage of the litigation and the amount of discovery exchanged, the experience of counsel, the probability of success on the merits, any ‘overreaching' by the employer in the settlement negotiations, and whether the settlement was the product of arm's length negotiations between the parties based on the merits of the case.

Martinez v. Bost, Inc., No. 2:14-CV-02090, 2017 WL 6008048, at *2 (W.D. Ark., March 7, 2017) (citing Carrillo v. Dandan Inc., 51 F.Supp.3d 124, 132-33 (D.D.C. 2014) (taking into account the “totality of the circumstances” to determine the fairness of an FLSA settlement)).

         The parties assert that “[a] bona fide dispute exists between [the parties] as to the period in which the alleged nondiscretionary bonus program operated, whether the bonus program was nondiscretionary, and whether Defendant acted willfully.” ECF No. 44, p. 3. The Court finds the parties' argument persuasive and agrees that a bona fide dispute exists.

         The Court now turns to the question of whether the proposed settlement is fair. Upon consideration, the Court finds that the settlement is fair. In coming to this conclusion, the Court notes that this matter is well developed and that, at the time of settlement, the trial date was imminent. Moreover, there does not appear to be any overreaching by Defendant, as the terms of the settlement appear just and, further, Plaintiff is represented by counsel that is experienced in the litigation of wage and hour matters. Likewise, the Court notes that the opt-in plaintiffs will each recover both unpaid overtime as well as liquidated damages. The parties contend that this amount will fully compensate the opt-in plaintiffs and is “at least what they would likely recover at trial in a best-case scenario.” ECF No. 44, p. 4. Taking these facts and arguments together, it appears that the ...


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