Tuesday, September 5, 2017
Ninth Circuit Upholds Class Certification In Action Against Government Contractor
Common Issues of Fact, Law Found in Lawsuit Claiming That SOS LLC Fraudulently Promised Security Guards Who Were in Iraq From 2006-12 That They Would Have 72 Hour Workweeks
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday affirmed an order certifying a class in an action against SOC LLC, a government contractor that supplied the Defense Department with security guards in Iraq, in which the plaintiffs contend they were lied to by recruiters as to work conditions.
The class representative, Karl E. Risinger, contends that recruiters promised a six-day, 72-hour workweek His complaint sets forth:
“Defendants had deliberately understaffed and underbid the job to such a degree that a readily ascertainable class of thousands of armed guards were forced to work months at a time without a day off, for in excess of 14 hours per day, and in extremely hazardous conditions, without any additional pay (indeed, not even the pay promised). And this reality was not revealed to the potential class members until after they had agreed to overseas employment and until after they had been physically transported to the war zone in Iraq.”
The guards served from 2006-12. American troops withdrew from Iraq in December, 2011.
Certification of the class was approved in a memorandum opinion signed by Ninth Circuit Judges Susan P. Graber and Mary H. Murguia, joined by District Court Judge Edward J. Davila of the Northern District of California, sitting by designation.
Certification is proper, the opinion recited, where the class members’ causes of action involve common facts and law. It said:
“The district court permissibly found that SOC recruiters made nearly identical representations concerning guards’ anticipated work schedule….Additionally, SOC employees and several recruits described a similar understanding. Because the district court’s finding renders the misrepresentation element of Risinger’s fraud claims amenable to class-wide proof, the district court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that common issues would predominate.”
“Similarly, the district court did not abuse its discretion by deciding that a common question of contract interpretation predominates for Risinger’s breach of contract claim. SOCs standardized employment agreement provided that guards ‘shall perform duties and responsibilities that are customary for [the] employee’s position.’ On summary judgment, the district court determined ‘customary’ to be ambiguous and found genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether the Employment Agreement provided for a 72-hour workweek as ‘customary.’ Because the evidence needed to resolve the ambiguity is common to the class, individual issues will not predominate.”
Risinger brought his action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. The judges indicated an expectation if the Nevada Supreme Court were to decide the matter, it, like California, “would adopt, in a fraud action, a presumption of reliance on a material misrepresentation.”
“The district court, therefore, did not abuse its discretion by determining that common issues would predominate with respect to other aspects of the fraud claim: materiality and reliance.”
The case is Risinger v. SOC LLC, No. 16-15120.
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