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Messer v. Bristol Compressors International, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division

June 20, 2019

TONY A. MESSER, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
BRISTOL COMPRESSORS INTERNATIONAL, LLC, ET AL., Defendants.

          Mary Lynn Tate, Tate Law PC, Abingdon, Virginia, for Plaintiffs;

          W. Bradford Stallard, Penn, Stuart & Eskridge, Abingdon, Virginia, and Alexander A. Ayar, McDonald Hopkins, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, for Defendant Bristol Compressors International, LLC; Mark H. Churchill, Holland & Knight LLP, Tysons, Virginia, for Defendant Garrison Investment Group, L.P.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          James P. Jones United States District Judge.

         In this action for violations of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, the plaintiffs, former employees of a closed manufacturing plant, have moved for class certification. The defendants have responded in opposition, arguing that the plaintiffs' proposed subclasses do not meet the requirements for certification. For the reasons that follow, I will grant the Motion for Class Certification.

         I.

         At least for the purposes of the present motion, the underlying basic facts are uncontested. Prior to July 31, 2018, defendant Bristol Compressors International, LLC (“Bristol Compressors”) employed between 450 and 500 people at a hermetic compressor manufacturing facility in Bristol, Virginia. On July 31, Bristol Compressors sent letters to all employees, informing them that the company would permanently close on or around August 31, 2018, and that layoffs would begin immediately and continue through August.[1] The first wave of terminations took place between July 31 and August 2, 2018. Between 50 and 110 employees were terminated during this first wave of terminations.

         Thereafter, additional details about the factory closing were provided to the remaining employees in a memorandum posted in the factory and titled “Questions and Answers about Bristol Facility Closing.” The memorandum informed them that their last day of employment would be on or before September 30, 2018. It also stated that Bristol Compressors had terminated some employee benefits, including severance pay.

         Bristol Compressors also sent a memorandum to employees offering them a $1, 000 bonus for working throughout the company's wind-down process. Terminations continued throughout September and November, and the facility closed on or about November 16, 2018. To receive the bonus for working through the wind-down process, employees were required to execute a Stay Bonus Letter Agreement (“SBLA”), which released all claims related to their employment, including an express waiver of all Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (“WARN Act”) claims and the right to join the present lawsuit.

         Tony A. Messer and the other named plaintiffs filed a Complaint on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated individuals for violations of the WARN Act, claiming that the defendants violated the Act's requirement that they provide employees 60 days' written notice prior to a plant closing. Thereafter, the plaintiffs filed a Motion for Class Certification, which the defendants opposed. The motion has been fully briefed and orally argued and is ripe for decision.

         II.

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require a party seeking class certification to demonstrate that:

(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). These are referred to as the numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation requirements. EQT Prod. Co. v. Adair, 764 F.3d 347, 357 (4th Cir. 2014).

         “In addition, the class action must fall within one of the three categories enumerated in Rule 23(b).” Id.[2] Here, the plaintiffs seek certification under Rule 23(b)(3), which authorizes class treatment when all of the prerequisites of 23(a) are satisfied and “the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any 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).

         Lastly, Rule 23 contains an implicit threshold requirement that the members of a proposed class be readily identifiable by reference to objective criteria. EQT Prod. Co., 764 F.3d at 358. “If class members are impossible to identify without extensive and individualized fact-finding or mini-trials, then a class action is inappropriate.” Id. “A party seeking class certification must do more than plead compliance with the aforementioned Rule 23 requirements. . . . Rather, the party must present evidence that the putative class complies with Rule 23.” Id. at 357.

         Here, the plaintiffs have proposed two subclasses. Subclass One, the “Initial Terminations, ” would consist of

all those who worked at the Bristol Plant full time and who were terminated without cause on their part between July 31, 2018 and August 31, 2018, as part of, or as the reasonably foreseeable consequences of the plant closing ordered on July 31, 2018, who did not file a timely request to opt out of the class.

Pls.' Mot. Class Certification 3, ECF No. 24. Subclass Two, the “Extended Terminations, ” would consist of

all those who worked full time at the Bristol Plant and who were terminated without cause on their part after August 31, 208, as part of, or as the reasonably foreseeable consequences of the plant closing ordered by Defendants on July 31, 2018, ...

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