Dubee v. P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Inc. et al

Filing 37

ORDER DENYING MOTION TO TRANSFER CASE AND VACATING HEARING by Judge Alsup denying 26 Motion to Transfer Case (whalc1, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 8/23/2010)

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Dubee v. P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Inc. et al Doc. 37 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 IAN DUBEE, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff, v. P.F. CHANG'S CHINA BISTRO, INC., P.F. CHANG'S III, LLC, and DOES I through 100, inclusive, Defendants. / INTRODUCTION In this putative wage-and-hour class action involving a popular American-Chinese restaurant chain, defendant P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Inc. moves to transfer this action to the United States District Court for the Central District of California pursuant to the "first-to-file rule" due to an earlier-filed action pending there, Vasquez v. P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Inc., No. CV 09-01408 DSF. Plaintiff protests that the first-to-file rule does not apply since the actions are not sufficiently similar. For the reasons stated herein, defendant's motion is DENIED. STATEMENT In March 2010, plaintiff Ian Dubee filed a putative class action against defendant P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Inc. for failing to provide meal and rest periods, pay wages, and accurate itemized wage statements, as well as for engaging in unfair business practices (Compl. 29-60). FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT United States District Court 11 For the Northern District of California No. C 10-01937 WHA 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 ORDER DENYING MOTION TO TRANSFER AND VACATING HEARING Dockets.Justia.com 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Plaintiff, a food server, alleged that defendant exercised these company practices state-wide in violation of California labor and employment laws and business practice codes. He filed this suit on behalf of every current and former non-exempt California employee of defendant from March 2006 to the present. The action was removed to federal court in May 2010 under diversity jurisdiction. The earlier-filed case, Vasquez, was originally brought in October 2008 against defendant P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Inc. in Los Angeles Superior Court. Like the instant action, Vasquez was initially a putative class action that alleged that defendant failed to properly deduct equipment and costs from employee paychecks, provide meal and rest periods, provide accurate itemized wage statements, and pay all wages due to discharged or quitting employees, as well as engaged in unfair business practices (Kim Decl. Exh. C 1146). The action was removed to the United States District Court for the Central District of California in February 2009. Thereafter, discovery ensued and the plaintiff was given until November 2009 to file a motion for class certification. The plaintiff in Vazquez, however, never filed a motion for class certification. Thus, as it stands, Vazquez is proceeding solely as an individual action (see Vasquez Dkt. Nos. 30, 32, 33; Plaintiff Exh. A at 2). ANALYSIS The first-to-file rule is an underdeveloped but generally recognized legal doctrine regarding duplicative lawsuits. Its sole purpose is to promote judicial efficiency. "While no precise rule has evolved, the general principle is to avoid duplicative litigation." Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 817 (1976). The Ninth Circuit has held that "[t]he principles of comity allow a district court to decline jurisdiction over an action where a complaint involving the same parties and issues has already been filed in another district." Barapind v. Reno, 225 F.3d 1100, 1109 (9th Cir. 2000). As such, under the first-to-file rule, a district court may -- at its discretion -- transfer, stay, or dismiss an action when a similar action has been filed in another district court. Alltrade, Inc. v. Uniweld Products, Inc., 946 F.2d 622, 62526 (9th Cir. 1991). United States District Court 11 For the Northern District of California 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 2 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 When deciding whether to apply the first-to-file rule, the court looks to three threshold factors: (1) the chronology of the two actions; (2) the similarity of the parties; and (3) the similarity of issues. Ibid. The two actions need not be identical; it is enough that they are "substantially similar." Nakash v. Marciano, 882 F.2d 1411, 1416 (9th Cir. 1989). In the instant action, the first factor of chronology is met. The Vasquez action was filed over a year before the instant action. The second factor, however, is not met. While P.F. Chang's China Bistro is the defendant in both actions, the plaintiffs are neither the same nor "substantially similar." As stated, while the Vasquez action was originally filed as a putative class action, it is now proceeding solely as an individual action. In the instant case, plaintiff Dubee is proceeding as a representative plaintiff on behalf of himself and all other California P.F. Chang's employees that are similarly situated. While this class -- if certified -- could encompass the plaintiff in Vasquez, the claims asserted by the plaintiff in Vasquez do not (and will not) encompass plaintiff and the putative class in the instant action. For this reason, the two actions are not substantially similar with respect to the parties involved. Finally, the issues that must be addressed in the two cases are not substantially similar. While it is true that both actions allege similar wage-and-hour violations by defendant, the Vasquez action no longer encompasses claims of a state-wide business practice and policy that affects an entire class of similarly situated employees. While it was initially a possibility, the entire issue of class certification was neither briefed nor litigated in the Vasquez action. This defeats any argument that the instant action is substantially similar to the earlier-filed action. Perhaps anticipating that the class-certification issue would be a roadblock to its motion, defendant argues that the first-to-file rule should apply even if class certification has been denied in the first-filed dispute. To support this argument, defendant cites Wright v. RBC Capital Markets Corp., 2010 WL 2599010, *6 (E.D. Cal. 2010) (stating that "it [is] not relevant to the inquiry that the [first-to-file] Minnesota court ultimately denied certification of the California class"). The decision in Wright, however, is distinguishable. In Wright, the earlier-filed action was actively litigated as a class action -- a motion for class certification was fully briefed and denied. Here, the plaintiff in Vasquez did not even attempt to pursue class certification. 3 United States District Court 11 For the Northern District of California 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Additionally, other district courts have upheld the tenet that substantial similarity between parties (in the context of the first-to-file rule) should be based upon the current parties rather than those initially set forth in the complaint. Looking at the current plaintiffs in both the instant action and Vasquez, there is no overlap. In any event, the first-to-file rule is one grounded in judicial discretion. It is not a "rigid or inflexible rule to be mechanically applied, but rather is to be applied with a view to the dictates of sound judicial administration." Pacesetter Sys., Inc. v. Medtronic, Inc., 678 F.2d 93, 95 (9th Cir. 1992). The Supreme Court has noted that "[w]ise judicial administration, giving regard to conservation of judicial resources and comprehensive disposition of litigation, does not counsel rigid mechanical solutions" to the problems of duplicative litigation, and the relevant factors are equitable in nature. Kerotest Mfg. Co. v. C-O-Two Fire Equip. Co., 342 U.S. 180, 183 (1952). In this action, the interests of equity would not be better served by transferring it to our sister courts in the Central District. Consideration for the dictates of sound judicial administration allow for the undersigned judge to maintain jurisdiction over this dispute. CONCLUSION For the reasons set forth above, defendant's motion to transfer this action under the firstto-file rule is DENIED. The hearing on this motion is VACATED. United States District Court 11 For the Northern District of California 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: August 23, 2010. WILLIAM ALSUP UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 4

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