Paulette Barbee, Administrator of the Estate of Kimberly Hope Gillock Plaintiff - Appellant
Big River Steel, LLC Defendant-Appellee
Submitted: April 19, 2019
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Arkansas - Jonesboro Division
SHEPHERD, MELLOY, and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.
Barbee, Administrator of the Estate of Kimberly Hope Gillock
(formerly known as Kim Pierce), appeals the district
court's order modifying the attorney fees in the
parties' settlement agreement. Because the district court
lacked authority to review the settled attorney fees, we
vacate that portion of its judgment.
Pierce filed a proposed class action against Big River Steel,
LLC ("Big River Steel") for unpaid overtime wages.
She asserted claims under both the Fair Labor Standards Act
("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219, and the
Arkansas Minimum Wage Act, Ark. Code Ann. §§
11-4-201 to -222.
and Big River Steel reached a settlement and filed a joint
status report notifying the court they had settled and would
soon file a voluntary dismissal. The court ordered the
parties to submit the settlement for approval, including the
proposed agreement and any attorney billing records. The
reviewing the parties' settlement agreement, the district
court disapproved of both the settlement of the wage claims
and the settled amount of attorney fees for independent
reasons. Pierce passed away shortly thereafter, and the court
stayed the case until it could substitute her estate for her
as a party.
as the estate's administrator, and Big River Steel
submitted a new agreement addressing only the district
court's concerns on the wage settlement. The district
court then approved of the new wage settlement, again
disapproved of the amount of attorney fees, and entered a
judgment with the full wage settlement amount and a reduced
attorney fee amount. Barbee appeals, and Big River Steel does
not contest the appeal.
argues on appeal that any required review of the settlement
agreement did not extend to settled attorney fees. We
recently addressed the standard of review for settled
attorney fees under the assumption that district courts have
authority to review them. See Melgar v. OK Foods,
902 F.3d 775, 779 (8th Cir. 2018). Barbee asks a question we
left open in Melgar: whether the authority to review
FLSA settlements, or at least review settled attorney fees,
exists at all.
is a circuit split on whether to extend older Supreme Court
cases so as to require judicial approval of all FLSA
settlements. A pair of cases from the 1940s require judicial
approval for some releases of FLSA claims, but those cases
left open the question of whether the FLSA requires judicial
approval to settle bona fide disputes over hours worked or
wages owed. See D.A. Schulte, Inc., v. Gangi, 328
U.S. 108, 114 & n.10 (1946); Brooklyn Sav. Bank v.
O'Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 703-04, 714 (1945). The Fifth
Circuit would not extend Gangi and
O'Neil to require judicial approval of all FLSA
settlements, but the Second and Eleventh Circuits disagree.
Compare Martin v. Spring Break '83 Prods., LLC,
688 F.3d 247, 255 (5th Cir. 2012) (enforcing a settlement of
bona fide FLSA disputes over hours worked or wages owed
without judicial or Department of Labor approval), with
Cheeks v. Freeport Pancake House, Inc., 796 F.3d 199,
206 (2d Cir. 2015) (holding parties cannot settle FLSA claims
without approval from the district court or the Department of
Labor), and Lynn's Food Stores, Inc. v. United
States, 679 F.2d 1350, 1352-53 (11th Cir. 1982) (same).
See also Martinez v. Bohls Bearing Equip. Co., 361
F.Supp.2d 608, 618-31 (W.D. Tex. 2005) (extensively reviewing
the history behind this statutory interpretation dispute).
never taken a side on this issue. We have noted the Eleventh
Circuit's opinion, see Beauford v. ActionLink,
LLC, 781 F.3d 396, 405-06 (8th Cir. 2015); Copeland
v. ABB, Inc., 521 F.3d 1010, 1014 (8th Cir. 2008), but
we have never had occasion to interpret ...