In class action cases, the class certification motion is extremely important. It means the court thinks that Plaintiff can address the claims of many people, with just one lawsuit. In cases where the amounts of damages are comparatively small, it can mean the difference between being able to get a lawyer, and not being able to get one, in some situations.
It’s not unusual for defendants to oppose such motions by arguing that each individual Class Member had different enough work circumstances to merit at least a presentation of individual facts and argument, the so-called “mini-trials” argument. (In other words, each Class Member would require an individual presentation of facts detailed enough so that the court doesn’t really get much efficiency by handling things as a class.)
That argument received a blow recently in Martinez v. Joe’s Crab Shack, where the Second District Court of appeals ruled that the “mini-trials” argument wasn’t good enough to defeat class certification, even though the lower court sided with the employer.
What’s interesting is that the Martinez court cited a case often used by defendants in cases of this type — Brinker Restaurant Corporation v. Superior Court, 53 Cal. 4th 1004. The appellate court cited it as providing “a renewed direction that class-wide relief remains the preferred method of resolving wage and hour claims, even if facts appear to present difficult issues of proof.” The decision, though granted review by the Supreme Court, illustrates that class actions are still often the best way to handle cases with small damages, even if the individual facts might vary.