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Jimenez v. Board of County Commissioners of Hidalgo County

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

July 5, 2018

MARTHA JIMENEZ, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF HIDALGO COUNTY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION

          GREGORY B. WORMUTH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Reconsideration of Amended Stipulated Judgment. Doc. 88. For the reasons that follow, the Court will GRANT the Motion.

         I. Background

         The parties to this FLSA collective action attended a settlement conference before the undersigned on March 1, 2018, during which they reached a settlement agreement. Doc. 81. As recited on the record at the close of the conference, the agreement resolved all claims of the named Plaintiffs and the claims of the similarly situated potential plaintiffs entitled to notice pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) in exchange for a payment by Defendant to the class of $19, 855, and a payment by Defendant to counsel for attorney's fees and costs of $31, 500. See Id. (cite to recording). The distribution among the class and to the class representatives was left to Plaintiffs' counsel utilizing the information provided by Defendant based on the 5-minute calculation of underpayment. Id. It was further agreed that half of the payment to the class would be subject to tax withholding as a payment of wages, and the remaining half would not as it would represent liquidated damages. Id. It was also agreed that all unclaimed settlement amounts would revert to Defendant. Subsequently, counsel agreed to the following distribution of the settlement proceeds:

18 Dispatch Operator Class Members:

$7, 098.90 (average recovery of $394.38)[1]

2 Named Plaintiffs:

$13, 200

Attorney's Fees:

$20, 000

Gross Receipts Tax (7.5%):

$1, 500

Costs:

$10, 000

Total:

$51, 798.90

         Doc. 84 at 2.

         The parties sought Court approval of the settlement agreement on April 3, 2018. Doc. 83. They filed an Amended Joint Motion to Approve Settlement the following day, on April 4, 2018, which the Court granted in part on April 20, 2018. Docs. 84, 85. The Motion was denied in part, because the Court amended the parties' Stipulated Judgment to eliminate the bonus payments of $6, 600 each to the only remaining named Plaintiffs in this matter, Martha S. Jimenez and Amanda Vogelsang-Wolf. Doc. 85 at 2. Instead, the Court directed that $20, 298.90 (the $7, 098.90 designated for the Dispatch Operator Class Members plus the $13, 200 designated as bonus payments per the agreement) be distributed proportionately to “the 20 class members, based on their work performed, in the amounts shown in [the chart attached as Exhibit B to the parties' Amended Motion].” Id. The terms of the settlement agreement were otherwise left intact. See generally docs. 84, 85.

         Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion for Reconsideration on May 4, 2018.[2] Doc. 88. While Plaintiffs assert that the Motion is brought pursuant to both Rules 59 and 60, the Court will treat it as a Rule 59(e) motion because it was filed less than 28 days after the Court's entry of the amended Stipulated Judgment (doc. 85) and involves reconsideration of matters properly encompassed in a decision on the merits. See New Mexico v. Valley Meat Co., LLC, 2015 WL 9703255 at *9 (D.N.M. Dec. 14, 2015) (citations omitted).

         II. Analysis

         In the Motion, Plaintiffs request relief from the judgment as entered on two separate bases. First, they argue that incentive payments are proper generally and in the specific circumstances of this case. Second, they argue that the Court's amendments to the parties' Stipulated Judgment render the terms of the agreement impracticable. See doc. 88 at 2. Having conducted a thorough review of the terms at issue, the Court agrees on both points.

         A. The Judgment is Impracticable as Written

         The amended Stipulated Judgment entered by the Court orders distribution of the settlement funds among “20 class members.” See doc. 85 at 2. The Court determined the relevant recipients of the settlement funds by adding named Plaintiff Vogelsang- Wolf to the nineteen dispatchers-including named Plaintiff Jimenez-listed on the chart attached as Exhibit B to the parties' Amended Motion to Approve Settlement, which provides damages calculations for putative members of the Dispatch Operator class. Doc. 84-2; see also doc. 85 at 2. That determination by the Court raises two problems for the parties in executing the judgment. First, Plaintiff Vogelsang-Wolf was formerly the class representative for the Detention Officer class, whose claims were extinguished at the summary judgment stage by this Court and were not revived on appeal to the Tenth Circuit. See docs. 67, 76-1. Second, while the Dispatch Operator class successfully appealed this Court's grant of summary judgment to Defendants on their FLSA claims, see docs. 66, 76-1, only eighteen of the nineteen dispatchers listed on the chart are members of the certified Dispatch Operator class. The outlier, Villnavia Harmon, did not work during the relevant class certification time period of September 15, 2012 to September 15, 2015, and is therefore not entitled to any portion of the settlement funds. See doc. 88 at 8; doc. 84-2. In addition to the named Plaintiffs, only seventeen potential plaintiffs in the Dispatch Operator class will receive notice that they are eligible to participate in this settlement. Doc. 84 at 5. In other words, there are only eighteen members of the Dispatch Operator class, [3] and only nineteen total existing and potential Plaintiffs eligible to receive any settlement funds, making the Court's final judgment referring to “20 class members” impossible to execute as written.

         Of course, such a minor clerical error could readily be corrected pursuant to Rule 60(a), by amending the judgment to order proportional distribution of the settlement funds amongst the eighteen class members included in the Dispatch Operator class plus Plaintiff Vogelsang-Wolf (rather than among “the 20 class members”). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(a). However, the Court also agrees that the bargained-for bonus payments to the named Plaintiffs in this case are appropriate under the circumstances and should not have been eliminated from the terms of the agreement. For the reasons that follow, the Court will thus grant relief from the final judgment insofar as it nullified the parties' agreement that class representatives Jimenez and Vogelsang-Wolf receive bonus payments of $6, 600 each.[4]

         B. Bonus Payments are Appropriate in the ...


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