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Treadway v. Bluestone Coal Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division

March 5, 2018

FRANK G. TREADWAY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
BLUESTONE COAL CORP., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          IRENE C. BERGER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Court has reviewed the Plaintiffs' Motion to Certify Class, (Document 15), the Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Certify Class (Document 16), the Defendants' Brief in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion to Certify Class (Document 17), the Plaintiffs' Reply to Defendants' Response to Motion to Certify Class (Document 18), and all attached exhibits. For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the Plaintiffs' motion should be granted.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         For the purpose of this motion, the Court adopts the following facts from the Plaintiffs' pleadings and the parties' briefing on class certification. The Plaintiffs initiated this action by filing a Complaint (Document 1) in this Court on December 14, 2016, alleging that the Defendants violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (“WARN”) Act, 29 U.S.C. §2101 et seq., by failing to provide a sixty-day notice to employees of a pending layoff. (Compl., at 1.)

         The Defendant, Bluestone Coal Corporation (Bluestone Coal), jointly with Bluestone Industries, Inc. (Bluestone Industries) and Mechel Bluestone, Inc. (Mechel Bluestone), owned and operated several coal mining and producing facilities in Wyoming County, West Virginia, including a surface coal mining site known as the Burke Mountain Strip Mine. (Id. at ¶ 1, 7-8.) As of December 2011, Plaintiffs Frank G. Treadway, Joey Clark Hatfield, and Charles W. Hensley were full time employees of Mechel Bluestone at the Burke Mountain Strip Mine. (Id. at ¶ 1-3.) On or about December 28, 2011, the Defendants verbally informed all of their employees at the Burke Mountain Strip Mine that they were laid off “for an indefinite period.” (Id. at ¶ 17.) This occurred again on February 11, 2012, and March 2, 2012. (Id. at ¶ 18-23.) Between December 28, 2011, and March 2, 2012, approximately 105 employees, including the three named Plaintiffs, were laid off at the Burke Mountain Strip Mine. (Pls.' Mem. of Law in Supp. at 3.) Neither the Plaintiffs nor their collective bargaining representative, the United Mine Workers of America, received written notice of the layoff. (Compl. at ¶ 25.) Further, the laid-off employees did not receive mandatory graduated days or holiday pay, and their medical and dental coverage was improperly terminated. (Id. at 26-27.) The Plaintiffs claim that Mechel Bluestone possessed de facto and dejure control over the Burke Mountain Strip Mine such that it ultimately made the decision as to when to idle the mine's operations and lay off workers. (Pls.' Mem. of Law in Supp. at 6-7.)

         According to the Plaintiffs, Mechel Bluestone exercised direct supervisory authority over the Burke Mountain Strip Mine, including “direct[ing] the actions of the supervisory employees who managed coal production, coal sales, maintenance, and the mine planning process . . . .” (Id. at 7.) The Plaintiffs further allege that Mechel Bluestone and its affiliates, Bluestone Industries and Bluestone Coal Corporation, “closely managed” the Burke Mountain site “in the form of operational planning, management, capital, budgeting, and Human Resources services.” (Id.) According to the testimony of Mr. Tommy Lusk, superintendent of coal production for Bluestone Coal Corp., Mechel Bluestone and Bluestone Industries “coordinated virtually all coal production orders for the Burke Mountain Strip Mine and all other Bluestone locations.” (Id.) (Pls.' Ex. 6, Depo. of Tommy D. Lusk, at 36:18-20.) Myra Boland, a Bluestone Coal Corp. employee, was the Human Resources representative who signed the Plaintiffs' layoff notices, and contacted Mr. Treadway concerning his unemployment benefits on Bluestone Coal Corp. letterhead. (Pls.' Mem. of Law in Supp., Ex. 2.)

         APPLICABLE LAW

         A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 (“Rule 23”) governs class action certification. Rule 23(a) states that:

“one or more members of a class may sue” as “representative parties” if “(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 party will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.”

         More succinctly, Rule 23(a) requires a potential class plaintiff to show numerosity, common questions of law or fact, typicality, and adequacy of representation. Id. Rule 23(a) “ensures that the named plaintiffs are appropriate representatives of the class whose claims they wish to litigate, ” and limits the class to those with claims “fairly encompassed by the named plaintiff[].” Dukes v. Walmart Stores, 131 S.Ct. 2541, 2550 (2011) (quoting General Telephone Co. of Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 156 (1982)). Rule 23(a) is not a “mere pleading standard.” Rather, the rule requires that “[a] party seeking class certification must affirmatively demonstrate his compliance, ” by being “prepared to prove that there are in fact sufficiently numerous parties, common questions of law or fact, etc.” Id. at 2551.

         However, a plaintiff seeking class certification must also satisfy one of the subsections of Rule 23(b). Brown v. Nucor Corp., 576 F.3d 149, 152 (4th Cir. 2009); Thorn v. Jefferson-Pilot Life Ins. Co., 445 F.3d 311, 318 (4th Cir. 2006). Here, the Plaintiffs seek class certification under Rule 23(b)(3), which requires the Court to determine that “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). The four factors for courts to consider under Rule 23(b)(3) are:

“(A) the class members' interests in individually controlling the prosecution or defense of separate actions; (B) the extent and nature of any litigation concerning the controversy already begun by or against class members; (C) the desirability or undesirability of concentrating the litigation of the claims in the particular forum; and (D) the likely difficulties of managing a class action.” Id.

         A district court has broad discretion to decide whether to certify a class action under Rule 23, but the plaintiff bears the burden of proof in establishing all requirements of Rule 23. Leinhart v. Dryvit Systems, Inc., 255 F.3d 138, 146 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing In re American Med. Sys., Inc., 75 F.3d 1069, 1079 (6th Cir. 1996)); Int'l Woodworkers of Am. V. Chesapeake Bay Plywood Corp., 659 F.2d 1259, 1267 (4th Cir. 1981). At the class certification phase, the district court must “take a close look” at the “facts relevant to the certification question, and, if necessary, make specific findings” relevant to certification. Thorn v. Jefferson-Pilot Life Insurance Co., 445 F.3d 311, 319 (4th Cir. 2006) (citing Gariety v. Grant Thornton, LLP, 368 F.3d 356, 365 (4th Cir. 2004)). These findings are necessary, even if “the issues tend to overlap into the merits of the underlying case.” Id., citing Falcon, 457 U.S. at 160 (“[S]ometimes it may be necessary for the [district] court to probe beyond the pleadings before coming to rest on the certification question.”); Gariety, 368 F.3d at 366.

         B. The WARN Act, 29 U.S.C. §2102 et seq.

         In this case, the alleged “common question of law or fact” raised by the Plaintiffs arises under the WARN Act, 29 U.S.C. §2102 et seq. The WARN Act requires employers to provide sixty (60) days written notice of a mass layoff to affected employees or their collective bargaining representative. 29 U.S.C. §2102(a), (a)(1). Under 29 U.S.C. §2101(a)(3), a “mass layoff” is a reduction in force which “(A) is not the result of a plant closing; and (B) results in an employment loss at the single site of employment during any 30-day period for”… “(I) at least 33 percent of the employees ...


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