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Garza v. Gama

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

July 12, 2016

LEONEL GARZA, and all persons similarly situated, Petitioners,
v.
THE HONORABLE J. RICHARD GAMA, Judge of the SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF ARIZONA, in and for the County of MARICOPA, Respondent Judge, SWIFT TRANSPORTATION CO., INC., Real Party in Interest.

         Petition for Special Action from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. CV2004-001777 The Honorable J. Richard Gama, Judge, Retired

          Hagens, Berman, Sobol, Shapiro, LLP, Phoenix By Robert B. Carey, Leonard W. Aragon, Michella A. Kras Counsel for Petitioners

          Polsinelli, PC, Phoenix By Rebecca Lumley Counsel for Real Party in Interest

          Polsinelli, PC, Kansas City, MO By James C. Sullivan, Travis Salmon Counsel for Real Party in Interest

          Presiding Judge Diane M. Johnsen delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Judge Patricia A. Orozco and Judge Kenton D. Jones joined.

          OPINION

          JOHNSEN, Judge

         ¶1Petitioners challenge the superior court's order decertifying an 80, 000-member class of drivers suing Swift Transportation Co., Inc. For the reasons stated below, we accept jurisdiction of the petition for special action and grant relief. On this record, Swift has failed to show that its various affirmative defenses render the class unmanageable; we also hold that Arizona law applies to the drivers' claim for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Petitioner Leonel Garza was a Swift truck driver who sued the company in 2005, alleging it systematically underpaid all of its drivers. The superior court denied Garza's subsequent motion for class certification. This court reversed and remanded, but on review, our supreme court vacated our decision, holding we lacked jurisdiction over the interlocutory denial of a motion to certify a class. Garza v. Swift Transp. Co., Inc., 222 Ariz. 281 (2009). On remand, the superior court certified a class of Swift drivers pursuant to Arizona Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3). As trial approached, however, the superior court granted Swift's motion to decertify the class in July 2015.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Jurisdiction.

         ¶3 Petitioner Garza and the drivers who were members of the now-decertified class lack an adequate remedy on appeal. See Garza, 222 Ariz. at 287, ¶ 27 (special action was suitable means to seek review of order denying class certification). Cf. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-1873(A) (2016) (creating appellate jurisdiction over orders certifying or refusing to certify class actions in cases filed after September 13, 2013). In addition, Garza's petition raises questions of statewide importance. See Perry v. Ronan, 225 Ariz. 49, 52, ¶ 6 (App. 2010). For these reasons, we accept jurisdiction of the petition for special action.

         B. De-Certification of the Class.

         1. Reconsideration of certification.

         ¶4 Whether to certify a class is a matter within the discretion of the superior court. Godbey v. Roosevelt Sch. Dist. No. 66 of Maricopa County, 131 Ariz. 13, 16 (App. 1981). In granting Swift's motion to decertify, the superior court concluded that the drivers' good-faith claim "is unmanageable as a class action." It held that, even assuming the claim presents common questions, Swift's affirmative defenses "raise individual issues" that would predominate over the common questions. Moreover, the court held, petitioners had not shown that Swift's choice-of-law arguments did not present "insuperable obstacles" to class-action treatment.

         ¶5 Petitioners argue that, having certified the class, the superior court lacked discretion to revisit the issue as trial neared. They argue that absent changed circumstances, a change in the law, the need to correct a clear error of law, or evidence that was ...


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