Ninth Circuit rejects decertification of security guard class action

Posted on: October 21st, 2013 by Steve Larson
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Blog Wage and HourThe Ninth Circuit on Friday rejected the attempt of U.S. Securities Associates, Inc. to decertify a class of security guards claiming they were not paid for meal breaks they allegedly were forced to take on-duty.  The appellate panel found that U.S. Securities Associates Inc. was insufficiently persuasive in its attempts to knock the class led by Muhammed Abdullah out of its certification status under two separate sections for Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23, according to Friday’s decision.

U.S. Securities Associates argued that the district court had overstepped its bounds in certifying the class on the grounds that the guards didn’t share enough commonality and that the nature of their work forced them to adopt a policy of eating meals while still on duty, according to an argument filed in May. But the appellate panel was not persuaded.

“We have concluded that the ‘nature of the work’ defense can, and will, be applied on a classwide basis in this case,” the panel wrote on September 27, 2013. “But Rule 23(b)(3) requires [only] a showing that questions common to the class predominate.”

U.S. Security Associates argued that the security guards’ jobs are in situations that vary widely, preventing true commonality or typicality for a class, according to its May appeal. The court would have to determine, first, whether the guards took unpaid off-duty meals and, second, if they did not, whether the nature of the work required them to stay on duty as they ate, the security company claimed.

The security company would have had to demonstrate that the nature of the guards’ work required them to eat their meals on the job, but it failed to do so because it couldn’t sufficiently demonstrate why the guards had to work alone, the three-judge panel wrote in Friday’s decision.

Further, the very question of whether the guards were required to be the sole person on-duty was enough to demonstrate commonality among the members of the class, the panel wrote.

The appellate panel said it was not persuaded by U.S. Security Associates Inc.’s argument that the nature of the security guards’ work prevented them from being able to take meal breaks because they often were the only guard on a post during their shift.

“The need for on-duty meal periods results from its own staffing decisions,” the panel wrote in Friday’s decision. “We offer no opinion on whether [U.S. Security Associates’] ‘single-guard’ staffing model will qualify for the ‘nature of the work’ exception.”

U.S. Circuit Judges Richard A. Paez and Paul J. Watford and U.S. District Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi sat on the panel that arrived at Friday’s decision.

The case is Muhammed Abdullah et al. v. U.S. Security Associates Inc., case number 11-55653, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.