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July 31, 2019 Practice Points

The Devil is in the Details: Watch Out for Local Rules in Federal Court

Lack of familiarity with specific rules can be costly and disruptive.

By Ebony S. Morris

A recent decision from the Central District Court of California shows the importance of complying with local court rules while litigating in federal court. In Mays v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2019 WL 1395912 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 20, 2019), the plaintiff, Lerna Mays, a former nonexempt employee of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. in California, filed suit against Walmart on behalf of a putative class of former and current Wal-Mart employees for alleged violations of the California Labor Code.

The plaintiff first moved to certify two classes of Wal-Mart employees: 1) The Wage Statement Class, which consisted of California workers who received a wage statement after December 16, 2016; and 2) the Former Employee Class, which consisted of California workers who received one or more wage payments during after December 18, 2014, who were terminated or after December 18, 2014, or who received additional wages or vacation pay following the issuance of their statement of final wages. The court denied the plaintiff’s motion to certify either class and subsequently denied the plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration of the order denying class certification.

The plaintiff later moved to certify a Final Wage Statement Subclass. In opposition to the motion, Wal-Mart argued that the plaintiff violated two local rules: Local Rule 7-3, which required the parties to meet and confer before filing the motion, and Local Rule 23-3, which required the plaintiff to move for class certification within 90 days of service of the summons or complaint.

First, in relation to Local Rule 7-3, Wal-Mart argued that the plaintiff’s failure to meet and confer was “‘particularly egregious’ because the plaintiff solicited Wal-Mart’s stipulation for a briefing schedule of her Wage Statement Class while concealing the fact that she would be moving to certify a new and previously unmentioned subclass. In response, the plaintiff creatively argued that the proposed subclass was a subset of the overarching wage-statement class for which Wal-Mart took no procedural issue. Although creative, the court found the plaintiff’s arguments unpersuasive and denied the plaintiff’s motion based on her failure to conduct a substantive meet-and-confer with Wal-Mart regarding her intentions to move for class certification of a new subclass.

Next, Wal-Mart pointed out that the plaintiff also failed to timely file her motion for class certification within 90 days of service of the summons and complaint pursuant to Local Rule 23-3. In yet another creative argument, the plaintiff argued that a Ninth Circuit decision in ABS Entm’t Inc. v. CBS Corp., 908 F.3d 405, 427 (9th Cir. 2018), invalidated Local Rule 23-3. Again, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument and distinguished the facts of ABS Entertainment from the Mays case.

Specifically, the court held that the ABS Entertainment decision simply expressed concern about a bright-line rule requiring litigants to move for class certification within 90 days of serving the complaint, even though some cases required pre-certification discovery to survive rigorous class-certification requirements, not when a plaintiff circumvents the rules and moves to certify a brand-new subclass more than 13 months after filing the initial complaint.

The Mays decision teaches a valuable (and obvious) lesson to attorneys practicing before federal courts. Most courts, if not all, are sticklers for following the rules, and it is vital for an attorney litigating cases in federal court to not only master the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure but also the court’s local rules. Lack of familiarity with specific rules will not only waste valuable resources and time but will also disrupt the outcome of a case.

Ebony Morris is an attorney in the New Orleans, Louisiana, office of Garrison, Yount, Forte & Mulcahy, L.L.C.

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