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Infinity Healthcare Management of Arkansas, LLC v. Boyd

Supreme Court of Arkansas

November 21, 2019

INFINITY HEALTHCARE MANAGEMENT OF ARKANSAS, LLC; SKYLINE HEALTHCARE, LLC; HIGHLANDS OF NORTH LITTLE ROCK JOHN ASHLEY HOLDINGS, LLC, D/B/A NORTH LITTLE ROCK HEALTH AND REHABILITATION; 2501 JOHN ASHLEY DRIVE HOLDINGS, LLC; SKYLINE HIGHLAND HOLDINGS, LLC; JS HIGHLAND HOLDINGS, LLC; SKYLINE SERVICES GROUP, LLC; SKYLINE ARKANSAS HEALTHCARE, LLC; AND SKYLINE ARKANSAS HOLDINGS, LLC APPELLANTS
v.
DAFONY BOYD, DEANA ATKINS-DAVIS, LATOYIA FLOYD, AND HANNAH BARNES APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 60CV-18-4245] HONORABLE WENDELL GRIFFEN, JUDGE

          Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates & Woodyard, P.L.L.C., by: R.T. Beard III, Nathan A. Read, and Lauren S. Grinder, for appellants.

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

          COURTNEY RAE HUDSON, Associate Justice

         Appellants Infinity Healthcare Management of Arkansas, LLC (Infinity); and Skyline Healthcare, LLC; Highlands of North Little Rock John Ashley Holdings, LLC, d/b/a North Little Rock Health and Rehabilitation; 2501 John Ashley Drive Holdings, LLC; Skyline Highland Holdings, LLC; JS Highland Holdings, LLC; Skyline Services Group, LLC; Skyline Arkansas Healthcare, LLC; and Skyline Arkansas Holdings, LLC (collectively Skyline); appeal the Pulaski County Circuit Court's March 7, 2019 order granting class certification for nursing employees at a health and rehabilitation facility. Infinity also appeals the circuit court's March 15, 2019 ruling on its objections to class certification; the circuit court's April 1, 2019 order on its motion for rulings on its opposition to class certification, motion for findings of fact and conclusions of law under Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 52(b)(1), and motion to modify class-certification order under Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 60(a); and all intermediate rulings involving the substance of those orders, merged with those orders, or necessarily affecting those orders. Skyline also appeals the circuit court's April 1, 2019 ruling on their motion for rulings on their opposition to class certification, motion for findings of fact and conclusions of law under Rule 52(b)(1), and motion to modify class-certification order under Rule 60(a).

         For reversal, Skyline and Infinity both argue that appellees failed to meet their burden to prove class-certification requirements of numerosity, commonality, typicality, adequacy, predominance, and superiority, and that the circuit court's class-certification order is insufficient under Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b) and 52(a)(1). Infinity further argues that (1) the plaintiffs below are not "members of a class" to sue as a representative party because Infinity did not exist when they were employed at the facility, and (2) this court should direct the circuit court to decide its motion to dismiss before taking up any remaining class-certification issues. Our jurisdiction is pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Appellate Procedure-Civil 2(a)(9). We affirm.

Appellees Dafony Boyd, Deana Atkins-Davis, Latoyia Floyd, and Hannah Barnes filed a class-action complaint on June 21, 2018, naming twelve original defendants. Appellees voluntarily dismissed their claims against three of the original defendants and filed an amended complaint against the remaining nine defendants on October 4, 2018. The amended complaint asserted that the appellees worked as non-exempt, hourly-paid, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) at a nursing home and rehabilitation center known as "Northridge" or "the facility" located on John Ashley Drive in North Little Rock. Appellees claimed that Northridge had a common policy and practice of deducting a thirty-minute meal break from the plaintiffs' and putative class members' hours worked each shift whether or not those employees were actually able to take the break. Appellees alleged that they routinely worked through their shifts without taking the break and were not paid for the work that they performed during that time. Appellees thus alleged that Northridge's meal-deduction policy violated the minimum-wage and overtime provisions of the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act (AMWA). Ark. Code Ann. sections 11-4-210(a), -211(a). The AMWA provides that
[b]eginning January 1, 2015, every employer shall pay each of his or her employees wages at the rate of not less than seven dollars and fifty cents ($7.50) per hour, beginning January 1, 2016, the rate of not less than eight dollars ($8.00) per hour, and beginning January 1, 2017, the rate of not less than eight dollars and fifty cents ($8.50) per hour, except as otherwise provided in this subchapter.

Ark. Code Ann. § 11-4-210(a)(2) (Pamp. No. 3, Apr. 2019).[1]

         With exceptions not relevant here, the AMWA also provides that "no employer shall employ any of his or her employees for a work week longer than forty (40) hours unless the employee receives compensation for his or her employment in excess of the hours above specified at a rate not less than one and one-half (11/2) times the regular rate of pay at which he or she is employed." Ark. Code Ann. § 11-4-211(a).

         On June 22, 2018, appellees filed a motion for class certification in the circuit court. Although a hearing was requested, the court decided the issue without a hearing and entered a March 7, 2019 order certifying a class as follows:

All individuals who worked at the facility located at 2501 John Ashley Drive, North Little Rock, Arkansas 72114 as an LPN or CNA, within the past (3) years, excluding named Defendants and relatives of named Defendants.

         In its order, the circuit court noted that the class was so numerous that joinder was impracticable because an average of fifty employees worked at the facility on any given day and that common factual and legal issues predominated over individual issues, including, but not limited to:

A. Whether the facility owners satisfied the obligation to pay plaintiffs and putative class members at least the minimum wage for the hours worked as required by the Act;
B. Whether the facility owners satisfied the obligation to pay overtime compensation to plaintiffs and putative class members for hours worked over forty hours in a work week as required by the Act; and
C. Whether the facility owners had a policy or practice of automatic deduction of meal time hours.

         The circuit court further found that the claims are typical because the alleged unlawful conduct is directed at plaintiffs and the putative class and that the class representatives will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class because they are members of the proposed class and are intimately familiar with the facility owners' conduct and policy governing the issues in this case. The circuit court determined that resolution of the common issues through a class action is the superior method and a fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy.

         After its order granting class certification, the circuit court entered orders granting Skyline's and Infinity's motions for a ruling on their objections to the class and for findings pursuant to Rules 23(b) and 52(b)(1). The circuit court overruled the objections and made specific findings using ...


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