Hogue & Belong Defeats Morgan Lewis and Scores Major Victory In Class Action Against P.F. Chang’s
On May 21, 2015, District Court Judge Jesus G. Bernal ruled that Defendant P.F. Chang’s removal of a complaint alleging violations California’s Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”) was improper under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA.”)
California PAGA actions authorizes, aggrieved employees, acting as private attorneys general, to recover civil penalties from their employers for violations of the Labor Code. In essence, PAGA “deputizes” employees by allowing them to pursue the same civil monetary penalties that would otherwise only be available to state law enforcement agents. A PAGA is a representative action, not a class action.
Defendant’s counsel, Rebecca D. Eisen and Theresa Mak of Morgan Lewis & Bockius, LLP, filed a borderline frivolous Notice of Removal, arguing that Plaintiffs’ representative action was really a “secret” class action complaint. Unmoved by that argument, Judge Bernal stated, “the complaint does not request class action status….the Complaint is expressly captioned ‘PAGA REPRESENTATIVE ACTION COMPLAINT,’ and the body of the Complaint refers to the suit as PAGA action fourteen times, while never referring to the claims as a class action” and it simply “…does not appear that Plaintiffs are attempting to sneak a disguised class action past Defendant.” “When asked what he thought about P.F. Chang’s removal, Bryce Dodds stated, “Honestly, I’m surprised that a seasoned defense firm like Morgan Lewis would even attempt something like this. He continued: In our view, this removal was so misguided that we actually filed a Rule 11 Motion for sanctions at the same time as our remand.”
While the Court ultimately denied Plaintiffs’ request for sanctions, Judge Bernal made it abundantly clear that PAGA complaints remain a unique avenue for California employees to recover damages against an employer who violates labor codes and are not subject to Federal jurisdiction under CAFA.
To view the Order Granting Remand, click here.