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Lester v. Pay Car Mining, Inc.

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

June 6, 2018

DOUGIE LESTER, Plaintiff,
v.
PAY CAR MINING, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          IRENE C. BERGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Court has reviewed the Plaintiff's Motion to Certify Class (Document 40), the Memorandum in Support of Motion to Certify Class (document 41), the Defendants' Brief in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Certify Class (Document 43), the Plaintiff's Reply (Document 46), and all attached exhibits. For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the Plaintiff's motion should be granted.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         For the purpose of this motion, the Court adopts the following facts from the Plaintiff's pleadings and the parties' briefing on class certification. The Plaintiff, Dougie Lester, initiated this action by filing his Complaint (Document 1) in this Court on January 20, 2017, 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, Pay Car Mining, Inc. (Pay Car), jointly with Bluestone Industries, Inc. (Bluestone Industries), Bluestone Coal Corporation (Bluestone Coal), Keystone Service Industries, Inc. (Keystone), and Mechel Bluestone, Inc. (Mechel Bluestone), owned and operated several coal mining and producing facilities in Wyoming and McDowell Counties, West Virginia, including the Pay Car Mine. (Compl., at ¶ 1, 9-10.) The Pay Car Mine, the Keystone No. 2 preparation plant, and the Keystone Loadout, along with other mine portals, connected mining pits, and a refuse impoundment, made up the Burke Mountain Mine Complex. (Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Supp., at 4.) Pay Car Mining employed 100 or more employees at or in connection with the Pay Car Mine and the Burke Mountain Mine Complex. (Compl. at ¶ 9.) As of October 2012, Mr. Lester was a full time employee of Mechel Bluestone and Pay Car Mining at the Pay Car Mine, and had been for over two years. (Id. at ¶ 1.)

         On or about October 20, 2012, the Defendants ordered a mass layoff at the Pay Car Mine. (Id. at ¶ 20.) The Defendants verbally informed all of the employees at the Pay Car Mine that there was no further work and that they were laid off. Between September 1, 2012, and December 1, 2012, approximately 80 miners, including the named Plaintiff, were laid off from the Pay Car Mine and the Burke Mountain Mine Complex. (Pl.'s Mem. in Supp., at 4.) Neither the Plaintiff nor his collective bargaining representative, the United Mine Workers of America, received written notice of the layoff. (Compl. at ¶ 30.) The Plaintiff claims that Mechel Bluestone, in coordination with Bluestone Industries and Bluestone Coal Corp., possessed de facto and dejure control over the Pay Car Mine such that Mechel Bluestone ultimately made the decision as to when to idle the mine's operations and lay off workers. (Pls.' Mem. of Law in Supp. at 4-5, 8-9.)

         According to the Plaintiff, Mechel Bluestone, Bluestone Industries, and Bluestone Coal Corp. exercised direct supervisory authority over the Pay Car Mine and the Burke Mountain Mine Complex, including “direct[ing] the actions of the supervisory employees who managed coal production, coal sales, maintenance, and the mine planning process . . . .” (Id. at 9.) The Plaintiff further alleges that Bluestone Industries and its affiliates “closely managed” Pay Car Mining and the Burke Mountain Mine Complex “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 Mine Complex and all other Bluestone locations.” (Id.) (Pl.'s Ex. 12, Depo. Of Tommy D. Lusk, at 36:18-20.) The Plaintiff specifically asserts that it was Bluestone's manager of mines, William Potter, who ordered that the Pay Car Mine be idled and that miners be told there was no work until further notice. Myra Boland, Human Resources representative for Bluestone Coal Corp, previously communicated with employees at the Burke Mountain Mine Complex using Bluestone Coal Corp. letterhead. (Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Supp., Ex. 10 and 11.)

         On April 24, 2018, the parties attended a mediation conference before United States Magistrate Judge Omar J. Aboulhosn. The parties did not reach a settlement agreement, and on the same day, the Plaintiff filed this motion to certify the class. The Defendants filed their response in opposition on May 8, 2018, and the Plaintiff filed his reply on May 15, 2018. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for review.

         APPLICABLE LAW

         A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23

         Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs class action certification. Pursuant to that rule,

[o]ne or more members of a class may sue . . . as representative parties on behalf of all members only 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 parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

Fed. R. Civ. P 23(a) (emphasis added). In other words, Rule 23(a) requires a potential class plaintiff to show numerosity, commonality in questions of law or fact, typicality, and adequacy of representation. 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, plaintiffs 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 Plaintiff seeks 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). Courts are to consider the following four factors in determining whether a class is appropriate pursuant to Rule 23(b):

(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.

         Here, the alleged common questions of law or fact raised by the Plaintiff 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 …” and ...


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