Schatz v. Quapaw House, Inc. et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting 40 Motion to Certify Class (see Order for specifics). Signed by Honorable Timothy L. Brooks on July 15, 2021. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit 1 Notice) (tg)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
AMANDA SCHATZ, Individually and
on Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated
CASE NO. 5:20-CV-5066
QUAPAW HOUSE, INC. and
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the Court is Plaintiff Amanda Schatz’s Amended Motion to Certify Class
(Doc. 40) and Memorandum Brief in Support (Doc. 41). Defendants have not responded
to the Amended Complaint or the Motion, and the Clerk has entered the default of each
Defendant (Doc. 36). For the reasons stated herein, the Motion (Doc. 40) is GRANTED.
Defendant Quapaw House, Inc. (“QHI”) is a non-profit organization headquartered
in Hot Springs, Arkansas, that provided residential treatment and mental health services
throughout the state. Defendant Casey Bright was the Chief Executive Officer of QHl
until he resigned on March 18, 2020. Ms. Schatz was a program director at QHI’s facility
in Bentonville. In early 2020, QHI was experiencing financial hardship. Ms. Schatz
alleges that she and other employees have not been paid for any work they performed
since February 25, 2020. Furthermore, Ms. Schatz alleges that deductions for health
insurance premiums were taken from paychecks issued in February, but QHI stopped
providing health insurance on January 31. On April 16, 2020, Ms. Schatz filed suit on
behalf of herself and others similarly situated, alleging violations of both the federal Fair
Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act (“AMWA”).
Defendants failed to respond, and a Clerk’s default was entered against each of them.
By that time, Ms. Schatz had been officially terminated on April 20, 2020, and QHI had
been placed in receivership. See Docs. 40-1 & 40-2. Ms. Schatz filed an Amended
Complaint, adding a claim for failure to pay wages owed at termination, in violation of
Arkansas Code § 11-4-405. Ms. Schatz was not able to locate Mr. Bright for service in
his personal capacity and as the registered agent of QHI, so the Court permitted service
via warning order. See Doc. 30. Defendants’ answer was due March 29, 2021, following
publication of the warning order. However, no responsive pleading was filed, and the
Clerk once again entered the default of each Defendant. See Doc. 36.
The Court held a status conference on May 7, 2021, during which Plaintiff’s
counsel acknowledged that Arkansas Code § 11-4-405 would provide Plaintiff and
putative class members with the most complete relief among the various claims alleged
in the Amended Complaint. Ms. Schatz now seeks certification of a class to pursue that
state law claim for unpaid wages on behalf of herself and other similarly situated QHI
employees pursuant to Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 1 Plaintiff asks
the Court to certify a class of all individuals “who were employees of Quapaw House, Inc.
and/or Casey Bright since January 1, 2020 who suffered nonpayment of wages upon and
subsequent to termination and improper deductions from select wages actually paid,”
(Doc. 40, p. 1), and approve the proposed form of the notice.
Earlier in the litigation, the question was raised (and briefed) whether Plaintiff’s minimum
wage and overtime claims under the AMWA could be handled as a Rule 23 class action
or whether a recent amendment to Arkansas Code § 11-4-218(e) would require a federal
court to use an opt-in class rather than an opt-out class to manage the claims of similarly
situated individuals. Since Plaintiff is pursuing relief under § 11-4-405, however, this
question is no longer relevant, as, by its plain language, § 11-4-218(e) applies only to
minimum wage and overtime claims under Subchapter 2 of Chapter 4.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
The party seeking class certification bears the burden of proving that the
requirements of Rule 23 are satisfied. See Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338,
350 (2011). Pursuant to Rule 23, certifying a class action requires a two-step analysis.
First, a class action may be maintained if: (1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all
members is impracticable, (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class, (3)
the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses
of the class, and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the
interests of the class. Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(1)–(4). Second, a class action will be deemed
appropriate if a court finds that questions of law or fact common to class members
predominate over questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is
superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3). The district court retains “broad discretion in determining whether
to certify a class, recognizing the essentially factual basis of the certification inquiry and
. . . the district court’s inherent power to manage and control pending litigation.” In re
Zurn Pex Plumbing Prods. Liab. Litig., 644 F.3d 604, 616 (8th Cir. 2011) (cleaned up).
1. Numerosity and Ascertainability
The Court begins its discussion by assessing whether the class is so numerous
that joinder of all members is impracticable, and, relatedly, whether the members of the
class are readily ascertainable. The Eighth Circuit, “unlike most other courts of appeals,
has not outlined a. . . separate, preliminary requirement” of ascertainability that would
require plaintiffs to demonstrate a method of identifying class members that is
administratively feasible. See Sandusky Wellness Ctr., LLC v. Medtox Sci., Inc., 821 F.3d
992, 996 (8th Cir. 2016). Rather, the Eighth Circuit simply adheres to a rigorous analysis
of the Rule 23 factors, and while it recognizes that this analysis necessarily entails that a
class be “adequately defined and clearly ascertainable,” the focus of this threshold inquiry
is on whether the proposed class definition identifies class members by objective criteria,
rather than on the administrative concerns that are already taken into account by the Rule
23(b)(3) factors of predominance and superiority. See id.
The Court is satisfied that this factor favors class certification. Ms. Schatz expects
that there are about two hundred potential class members. Without the benefit of input
from Defendants, the Court concludes that this is a reasonable estimate. QHI operated
facilities throughout Arkansas and went out of business suddenly, so many employees
may well have suffered the same law violation alleged by Ms. Schatz. A potential class
of this size is certainly too numerous for joinder to be practicable, and the members of
such a class are readily identifiable by objective criteria because they will all be former
employees of QHI who were terminated but not paid all the wages owed to them.
Commonality does not require “that every question of law or fact be common to
every member of the class.” Paxton v. Union Nat’l Bank, 688 F.2d 552, 561 (8th Cir.
1982). In fact, as the Supreme Court noted in Dukes, “even a single common question
will do.” 564 U.S. at 359 (cleaned up). To establish commonality, the putative class
members must have “suffered the same injury,” and “[t]heir claims must depend upon a
common contention.” Id. at 349–50. In other words, the contention must “be of such a
nature that it is capable of class-wide resolution—which means that determination of its
truth or falsity will resolve an issue that is central to the validity of each of the claims in
one stroke.” Id. at 350.
From the pleadings and the Motion for class certification, it is clear that all class
members will have suffered the common injury of having been terminated from QHI
without receiving all the wages owed to them. The Court can also identify several
questions of law and fact that will be common to all class members, such as whether QHI
deducted wages for health insurance, whether QHI provided health insurance during the
period for which it made such deductions, and whether QHI stopped paying wages on a
particular date without having compensated employees for all hours worked. Given the
common contentions in this case shared by the Plaintiff and each potential class member,
the Court finds that the commonality requirement is satisfied.
The typicality requirement is satisfied where the proposed class members’ claims
“are based on the same legal or remedial theory.” Paxton, 688 F.2d at 561–62. Thus,
courts find that the claims can be maintained as a class action and satisfy the typicality
requirement “despite factual variations among class members if the claims of the putative
representative and class members advance the same legal theories and challenge the
same pattern or practice, or alleged common course of fraudulent conduct.” 1 McLaughlin
on Class Actions § 4:24 (14th ed. 2017) (citing Just Film, Inc. v. Buono, 847 F.3d 1108,
1117 (9th Cir. 2017)).
The members of the proposed class here will rely on the same legal theory as Ms.
Schatz’s claim. While employees may have been laid off on different dates and be owed
different amounts in damages, they were subject to the same alleged conduct—that is,
termination without the payment of wages owed in violation of Arkansas Code § 4-11405. Accordingly, the Court finds that the typicality requirement has been satisfied.
4. Adequacy of Representation
In many ways, the inquiry as to the adequacy of the class representation under
Rule 23(a)(4) is similar to the inquiry on typicality. The Court must ask “whether the
representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.” Fed.
R. Civ. P. 23(a)(4). The Court finds that Ms. Schatz will fairly and adequately represent
the interests of the class. She has been pursuing this litigation for more than a year,
through challenges obtaining service. There is no reason to believe that her commitment
will change following certification. The Court is also satisfied that proposed class counsel
have sufficient experience to represent the class in this matter. Accordingly, the Court
finds that Plaintiff and her counsel will adequately represent the interests of the class.
“The Rule 23(b) predominance inquiry tests whether proposed classes are
sufficiently cohesive to warrant adjudication by representation.” Amchem Prods., Inc. v.
Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 623 (1997). The Eighth Circuit has explained that:
When determining whether common questions predominate, a court must
conduct a limited preliminary inquiry, looking behind the pleadings, but that
inquiry should be limited to determining whether, if the plaintiffs’ general
allegations are true, common evidence could suffice to make out a prima
facie case for the class. While limited in scope, this analysis should also be
In re Zurn Pex Plumbing Prod. Liab. Litig., 644 F.3d at 618 (cleaned up). In assessing
whether common issues predominate, a court must ask “whether the common,
aggregation-enabling, issues in the case are more prevalent or important that the non6
common, aggregation-defeating, individual issues.” Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo,
577 U.S. 442, 453 (2016) (quoting 2 William B. Rubenstein, Newberg on Class Actions
§ 4:49 (5th ed. 2012)). If “one or more of the central issues in the action” are common to
the class and can be said to predominate, the class may be certified under Rule 23(b)(3)
“even though other important matters will have to be tried separately, such as damages
or some affirmative defenses peculiar to some individual class members.” Id. (quoting
Wright & Miller, 7AA Federal Practice & Procedure § 1778 (3d ed. 2005)).
“[p]redominance is determined not by counting the number of common issues, but by
weighing their significance.” Lewis v. First Am. Title Ins. Co., 265 F.R.D. 536, 559 (D.
Idaho 2010) (citing Mullen v. Treasure Chest Casino, LLC, 186 F.3d 620, 627 (5th Cir.
Here, the Court is confident that the common questions discussed above with
regard to commonality and typicality also predominate over any individual inquiries
regarding the exact date of termination, amount of deductions, or wages owed.
Accordingly, the Court finds that the predominance requirement is satisfied.
The second and final factor to consider in the Rule 23(b) analysis is whether the
class action is a superior means of resolving this dispute as compared to other litigation
methods. According to the Supreme Court, the “principal purpose” of a class action is to
advance “the efficiency and economy of litigation.” Am. Pipe & Const. Co. v. Utah, 414
U.S. 538, 553 (1974). In this regard, Rule 23 class actions may be viewed as having
been created as a management tool to make litigation easier, not more complicated.
This litigation has more than two hundred potential class members. As discussed
above, the class members will present similar facts and argue similar questions of law. It
would be inefficient to require individual actions by each of the two hundred class
members. Therefore, the Court finds the superiority requirement is satisfied.
Having concluded that the litigation should proceed on a class-wide basis pursuant
to Rule 23, the Court turns to the proposed form of the notice to class members. Notice
should be “the best notice that is practicable under the circumstances” and should “clearly
and concisely state in plain, easily understood language” all the information set forth in
Rule 23(c)(2)(B). Ms. Schatz submitted a proposed notice, to which the Court has made
some modifications. Ms. Schatz is authorized to send to potential class members the
notice attached to this Memorandum Opinion and Order as Exhibit 1.
In light of the findings of the Court set forth above, IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff’s
Amended Motion for Class Certification (Doc. 40) is GRANTED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED as follows:
(1) The certified class is defined as “individuals employed by Quapaw House, Inc.
and Casey Bright since January 1, 2020.”
(2) Plaintiff Amanda Schatz is designated as Class Representative.
(3) Miller, Butler, Schneider, Pawlik, & Rozzell, PLLC is appointed Class Counsel.
(4) Notice in the form that appears at Exhibit 1 to this Order is approved and should
be disseminated via U.S. Mail and electronic mail to each class member’s last
known address and email address within 30 days of the entry of this order.
IT IS SO ORDERED on this 15th day of July, 2021.
/s/ Timothy L. Brooks_______________
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?