Morrow v. Monfric, Inc.

Morrow v. Monfric, Inc., 2015 MT 194 (July 7, 2015) (McKinnon, J.; Cotter, J., concurring; Wheat, J., dissenting) (6-1, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court abused its discretion in denying class certification on the grounds that the proposed class was not sufficiently numerous.

Short Answer: No.

Affirmed

Facts: Plaintiffs are laborers who worked on multi-family housing projects I Kalispell. The project owner, Glacier States Associates, hired Monfric, Inc. as the general contractor. Monfric hired subcontractors to perform all labor on the projects. Plaintiffs are employees of those subcontractors. Because the projects were financed with industrial development bonds issued by the city of Kalispell, Montana law requires the contractor to pay prevailing wages. Plaintiff claims the contracts between Monfric and the subcontractors did not include a provision requiring prevailing wages, and further, that they were not paid prevailing wages.

Plaintiffs filed this wage and hour action and moved for class certification of all laborers, skilled tradesmen, and craftsmen who worked for Monfric or its subcontractors and were not paid prevailing wages during the construction and rehabilitation of Glacier Manor and Treasure State Plaza. Plaintiffs identified 28 persons they claim were underpaid, seven of whom were named plaintiffs and class representatives. Monfric objected to four class members, claiming they were not laborers. The class members not joined thus numbered between 17 and 21.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court held a hearing on class certification in May 2014. The court asked plaintiffs why the remaining 17-21 persons could not simply be joined as parties. The court issued an order denying class certification after concluding the class was not so numerous that joinder was impracticable and observing that certification would not result in a more efficient use of judicial resources. Plaintiffs appeal, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: There is no bright-line number of class members that establishes numerosity. The U.S. Supreme Court has observed that “as few as 15” would likely be too small. Generally, fewer than 21 is considered inadequate, while more than 40 is likely sufficient. Plaintiffs bear the burden of proving both the approximate number of class members and the impracticability of joinder. The Court cannot conclude that the district court abused its discretion in determining the number was too small. Additional factors Plaintiffs raise include geographic dispersion of proposed class members, limited financial resources of class members, relatively small individual claims, and judicial economy. Plaintiffs did not demonstrate that joinder was impracticable, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying class certification.

Justice Cotter’s Concurrence (joined by McGrath, C.J., and Shea, J.): Justice Cotter believes the Court’s pronouncements regarding the proof required are unnecessary dicta. However, she concurs in the conclusion that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying class certification.

Justice Wheat’s Dissent: Justice Wheat dissents because “in close call cases like this one, the equitable balance ought to tip in favor of the injured party.” ¶ 24.