Leonard, et al v. Bess, et al
ORDER directing that the parties' 20 Joint Motion for Order Approving Settlement is GRANTED IN PART to the extent that the Motion requests this Court's approval of the parties' Settlement Agreement; the parties' 23 proposed Se ttlement Agreement is hereby approved; the Clerk of Court is hereby DIRECTED to UNSEAL the parties' 23 Settlement Agreement as of the date of this Court's Order; the parties are hereby ORDERED to file a joint stipulation of dismissal that complies with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41 and the local rules of this district on or before December 11, 2012. Signed by Honorable Judge Mark E. Fuller on 12/4/12. (scn, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR
THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
SCOTT LEONARD and
LEONARD BESS, et al.,
CASE NO. 2:12-cv-219-MEF
(WO – Do Not Publish)
A hearing on the parties’ Joint Motion for Order Approving Settlement and Dismissal
of Claims with Prejudice (Doc. #20) was held by this Court on October 10, 2012, with both
parties attending by telephone. At the hearing, the parties and the Court discussed whether the
circumstances warranted an in camera review of the parties’ proposed agreement settling
Plaintiffs’ claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., or
whether a copy of the proposed settlement agreement should be filed with the Court, under seal,
either permanently or for a limited period of time, such that public access to the terms and
conditions of this settlement would not unduly prejudice Defendants Leonard Bess, All State
Homebuilders, Inc., and Central Alabama Property Preservation, L.L.C. (collectively,
“Defendants”). Following the hearing, the Court ordered that the parties file their proposed
settlement agreement under seal. (Doc. #22.) On October 17, 2012, the parties filed their
Settlement Agreement (Doc. #23) with the Court.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) was enacted for the purpose of protecting
workers from substandard wages and oppressive working hours. Lynn’s Food Stores, Inc. v.
United States, 679 F.2d 1350, 1352 (11th Cir. 1982). There are only two ways in which backwage claims under the FLSA can be settled or compromised by employees. Id. First, the
Secretary of Labor is authorized to supervise payment to employees of unpaid wages owed to
them. 29 U.S.C. § 216(c). Second, an employee may sue his employer directly, reach a
settlement with the employer, and then “present to the district court” the parties’ proposed
settlement. The district court may enter a stipulated judgment after “scrutinizing the settlement
for fairness.” Lynn’s Food Stores, 679 F.2d at 1353.
To determine whether a proposed settlement of FLSA claims is fair, the Court examines
the following factors: (1) Was the settlement achieved in an adversarial context?; (2) Was the
plaintiff represented by attorneys who can protect his or her rights?; (3) Does the settlement
reflect a reasonable compromise of a bona fide dispute over FLSA provisions?; and (4) Is the
settlement fair and reasonable? Id. at 1354–55. Having reviewed the parties’ proposed
settlement agreement, and having considered the record as a whole, the Court is satisfied that
the above criteria have been met. The proposed settlement in this case was achieved in an
adversarial context, and Plaintiffs were represented by competent and capable counsel who
could protect their rights. The proposed settlement agreement reflects a reasonable compromise
of a bona fide dispute over FLSA provisions. The Court is also satisfied that the proposed
settlement is both fair and reasonable. Finally, the Court is satisfied that the fees and expenses
awarded to Plaintiffs’ counsel are reasonable. Accordingly, it is hereby ORDERED that the
parties’ Joint Motion for Order Approving Settlement (Doc. #20) is GRANTED IN PART to
the extent that the Motion requests this Court’s approval of the parties’ Settlement Agreement.
The parties’ proposed Settlement Agreement (Doc. #23) is hereby approved.
Courts typically do not examine or approve settlement agreements; they are instead
private contracts. However, when, as here, a settlement agreement is approved by the Court,
it becomes part of the judicial record. “There is a common-law presumption that judicial
records are public documents.” Stalnaker v. Novar Corp., 293 F. Supp. 2d 1260, 1263 (M.D.
Ala. 2003) (Thompson, J.). Yet, the strength of the presumption of openness and public access
to judicial records “falls along a continuum,” and courts “should weigh the interests protected
by the presumption of openness, namely, judicial transparency (especially in FLSA cases) . .
. against the parties’ interest in secrecy.” Id. at 1264. After reviewing the Settlement
Agreement and weighing the interests of openness and public access against Defendants’
interest in maintaining the confidentiality of the terms of the agreement, the Court finds no
reason why the Settlement Agreement should not be made a part of the public record.
Accordingly, the Clerk of Court is hereby DIRECTED to UNSEAL the parties’
Settlement Agreement (Doc. #23) as of the date of this Court’s Order.
Finally, the parties are hereby ORDERED to file a joint stipulation of dismissal that
complies with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41 and the local rules of this district on or
before December 11, 2012.
DONE this the 4th day of December, 2012.
/s/ Mark E. Fuller
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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