United States District Court, District of Columbia
TIMOTHY J. KELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
who worked at several restaurants operated by Defendants in
Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, bring
claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and District
of Columbia and Maryland law, alleging that Defendants
violated federal and state minimum-wage, overtime-pay, and
sick-leave requirements. The parties have reached a
settlement agreement resolving all claims, which the Court
preliminarily approved, and they now seek final approval of
that agreement. Before the Court are the parties' Joint
Motion for Final Approval of the Settlement Agreement, ECF
No. 62, as well as Plaintiffs' Unopposed Motion for
Attorney's Fees and Expenses, ECF No. 64. For the reasons
explained below, the motions will be granted.
Court described in detail the factual and procedural
background of this case in its two prior opinions. See
Stephens v. Farmers Rest. Grp., 291 F.Supp.3d 95 (D.D.C.
2018) (“Stephens I”); Stephens v.
Farmers Rest. Grp., 329 F.R.D. 476 (D.D.C. 2019)
(“Stephens II”). Thus, the
Court recites only the salient aspects of that background
here in addition to recounting the developments since the
Court preliminarily approved the settlement agreement.
Factual and Procedural History
Restaurant Group and co-owners Daniel Simon and Michael
Vucurevich (collectively, “Defendants”) operate
five restaurants in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of
Columbia. ECF No. 5 (“Am. Compl.”) ¶¶
8-9. On June 7, 2017, six then-current and former employees
of Defendants commenced this action, alleging Defendants
violated various federal and state labor laws.
Plaintiffs' complaint, as amended, brings claims under
the FLSA, the District of Columbia Minimum Wage Act (DCMWA),
D.C. Code § 32-1001 et seq., the District of Columbia
Sick Leave Act (DCSLA), Id. § 32-131, the
Maryland Wage and Hour Law (MWHL), Md. Code Ann., Lab. &
Empl. § 3-401 et seq., and the Maryland Wage Payment and
Collection Law (MWPCL), Id. § 3-501 et seq. See
Am. Compl. ¶¶ 45-101.
2017, Plaintiffs sought conditional certification of a
collective action for their FLSA, DCMWA, and DCSLA claims.
See ECF No. 13. The Court granted Plaintiffs' motion over
Defendants' opposition, conditionally certifying a
collective of current and former servers based on some-though
not all-of the alleged policies Plaintiffs claimed violated
the applicable federal and state wage and hour laws. See
Stephens I, 291 F.Supp.3d at 107-21. After Plaintiffs'
counsel sent putative members a notice of lawsuit, 119
individuals opted to join the collective action. See Stephens
II, 329 F.R.D. at 481.
March 2018, Plaintiffs moved to certify two classes covering
their District of Columbia and Maryland state-law claims
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, see ECF No. 36,
which Defendants opposed, see ECF No. 42. In May of that
year, however, and after Plaintiffs' motion was fully
briefed, the parties agreed to pursue mediation. Several
months later, the parties submitted a proposed settlement
agreement to the Court for preliminary approval. See Stephens
II, 329 F.R.D. at 481. The Court requested supplemental
briefing from the parties on certain aspects of the agreement
and the negotiations. See Id. Upon consideration of
the parties' filings, the Court granted their motion,
provisionally certifying the proposed Rule 23 classes for
settlement purposes and preliminarily approving the proposed
settlement agreement. See Id. at 491. In that order,
the Court also approved the proposed notices to be sent to
members of the collective action and to putative Rule 23
class members, appointed a settlement administrator, approved
the proposed class representatives for the Rule 23 Maryland
and District of Columbia classes, and approved Molly Elkin as
class counsel. See id.
the Court's preliminary approval, the settlement
administrator mailed notices to the 119 members of the
collective action and to 861 members of the Rule 23 classes.
See ECF No. 63-1 (“Schwartz Decl.”) ¶ 9. 154
notices were initially returned as undeliverable, but the
settlement administrator was ultimately able to locate
correct addresses for all but 38 of those individuals.
Id. ¶ 10. By the deadline to postmark claims,
226 Rule 23 class members submitted a claim form.
Id. ¶ 14. Though advised in the notice of the
right to opt out of the settlement and the consequences of
taking no action, no member of the Rule 23 classes opted out.
See ECF No. 59-5; Schwartz Decl. ¶ 17. And though
apprised in the notice of the opportunity to object, no
member of the collective action or the Rule 23 classes
objected to the settlement agreement. See ECF No. 56-3; ECF
No. 59-5; Schwartz Decl. ¶¶ 17-18.
17, 2019, the parties submitted a joint motion for final
approval of the settlement agreement. ECF No. 62. Plaintiffs
also submitted an unopposed motion for attorney's fees
and expenses under the applicable fee-shifting provisions for
the federal and state law claims, as agreed to in the
settlement agreement. ECF No. 64; see also ECF No. 65-1
(“Elkin Decl.”). On May 30, 2019, the Court held
a fairness hearing to assess the settlement. As there were no
objectors, only counsel for the parties were present, and
they discussed in more detail the negotiations, the agreement
terms, and their opinions about the settlement.
terms of the settlement agreement have not changed since the
Court preliminarily approved it. ECF No. 63 (“Final
Approval Mot.”) at 3; see also ECF No. 56-2
(“Agreement”); Stephens II, 329 F.R.D. at 481-82.
agreement settles all federal and state wage and hour claims
of the 119 servers who opted in to the collective action as
well as all claims of members of the Rule 23 class action.
The two Rule 23 settlement classes, under Maryland and
District of Columbia law, respectively, consist of 861
current and former servers who worked in one of
Defendants' restaurants in either Maryland or the
District of Columbia between June 7, 2014, and July 20, 2018.
Agreement ¶ 1.2.
final approval of the settlement, Defendants will deposit $1,
490, 000 in a settlement fund to be distributed as described
below. Id. ¶ 9.3. Class counsel will receive an
award of $388, 484 in attorney's fees and $8, 516 for
litigation expenses, and the settlement administrator will be
paid in an amount not to exceed $35, 000 for its services.
Id. ¶¶ 10.3-.4. Each of the seven named
plaintiffs, as representatives of the collective action and
Rule 23 classes, will receive a service award of $5, 000.
Id. ¶ 10.5. The 119 individuals who opted in to
the collective action will receive $498, 715, to be
distributed to each individual based on the total number of
weeks that he or she worked as a server during the applicable
period. Id. ¶¶ 10.6-.7. Of the remaining
$524, 285 set aside for members of the Rule 23 class, $179,
538.52 has been claimed by the 226 individuals who submitted
proper claim forms. Schwartz Decl. ¶ 16. The unclaimed
balance of $344, 746.48 will revert to Defendants.
23 Class Certification
seeking class certification, even for settlement purposes
only, must show that they meet the prerequisites of Rule
23(a) and fall within at least one of the categories
described in Rule 23(b). See Amchem Prods., Inc. v.
Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 613-14 (1997); see also
Trombley v. Nat 'l City Bank, 826 F.Supp.2d
179, 191-92 (D.D.C. 2011) (“Trombley
II”). Rule 23(a) requires: (1) that the
proposed class be “so numerous that joinder of all
members is impracticable”; (2) that there be
“questions of law or fact common to the class”;
(3) that “the claims or defenses of the representative
parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the
class”; and (4) that the representatives “will
fairly and adequately protect the interests of the
class.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a). And under Rule 23(b)(3), by
which the parties seek certification, the parties must
“demonstrate (1) predominance of common questions of
law and fact to the entire class, and (2) superiority of the
class action method to other methods of adjudication for the
controversy.” Trombley II, 826 F.Supp.2d at
Final Approval of the Settlement Agreement
to a class action cannot enter into a binding settlement
agreement without court approval. Fed. R Civ. P. 23(e);
see also Thomas v. Albright, 139 F.3d 227, 231 (D.C.
Cir. 1998). A reviewing court may approve a proposed
agreement “only after a hearing and only on finding
that it is fair, reasonable, and adequate.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e)(2). In making that determination, a court
must consider whether: (1) “the class representatives
and class counsel have adequately represented the
class”; (2) “the proposal was negotiated at
arm's length”; (3) “the relief provided for
the class is adequate, taking into account, ” as
relevant here, the costs, risks, and delay of trial and
appeal, the effectiveness of the proposed method of
distributing relief to the class, and the proposed
attorney's fee awards; and (4) “the proposal treats
class members equitably relative to each other.”
Id. When the parties are “seeking class
certification and settlement at the same time, however,
” the court must apply “‘closer judicial
scrutiny' than settlements that are reached after class
certification.” Trombley v. Nat 'l
City Bank, 759 F.Supp.2d 20, 23 (D.D.C. 2011)
(“Trombley I”) (quoting Manual for
Complex Litigation (Fourth) § 21.612 (2004)).
to approve a proposed settlement agreement is ultimately
within the discretion of the reviewing court. In re
Lorazepam & Clorazepate Antitrust Litig., 205 F.R.D.
369, 375 (D.D.C. 2002). But that discretion “is
constrained by the ‘principle of preference'
favoring and encouraging settlement in appropriate
cases.” In re Vitamins Antitrust Litig, 305
F.Supp.2d 100, 103 (D.D.C. 2004) (quoting Pigford v.
Glickman,185 F.R.D. 82, 103 (D.D.C. 1999)). Indeed, in
this Circuit, “[settlement is highly favored, as
‘ [n]ot only the parties, but the general public as
well, benefit from the saving of time and money that results
from the voluntary settlement of litigation.'”