Three Months After Class Certification Was Denied, New Mexico Federal Court Allows Sixteen FedEx Delivery Drivers To Intervene In A Class Action

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., Jennifer A. Riley, and Emilee N. Crowther

Duane Morris Takeaways: In Martinez v. Fedex Ground Package System, Inc., No. 20-CV-1052, 2024 WL 418801 (D.N.M. Feb. 5, 2024), Judge Steven C. Yarbrough of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico granted the intervention motion of 16 putative class members to join the lawsuit,  The Court held that the plaintiff-intervenors met the standard for permissive intervention under Rule 24(b)(2).  The Court’s decision in this case serves as an important reminder that Rule 23 and Rule 24 employ two separate commonality standards, and that class action cases are not automatically over when a court denies class certification.

Case Background

On October 12, 2020, Plaintiffs Fernandez Martinez and Shawnee Barrett (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed suit against Defendant Fedex Ground Package System, Inc. (“Fedex”), alleging that Fedex misclassified them as independent contractors and failed to pay them and putative class members overtime wages in violation of the New Mexico Minimum Wage Act (“NMMWA”).

On November 8, 2022, Plaintiffs moved to certify a class of all current or former New Mexico FedEx drivers who were paid a day rate without overtime compensation.  On October 27, 2023, the Court denied Plaintiffs’ motion on the basis that Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that common questions predominated over individualized issues pursuant to Rule 23(b)(3).  Martinez v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., No. 20-CV-1052, 2023 WL 7114678 (D.N.M. Oct. 27, 2023).

On December 15, 2023, a group of 16 putative class members (the “Intervenors”) filed a motion to intervene as plaintiffs in the Lawsuit under Rule 24.  Martinez, 2024 WL 418801, at 1. In their motion, the Intervenors alleged that they, like Plaintiffs, were “current or former New Mexico FedEx delivery drivers who were paid the same amount of money regardless of how many hours they worked in a day, resulting in no premium payment for overtime hours worked in violation of the [NMMWA].”  Id.

The Court’s Decision

The Court granted the Intervenors’ motion.  Id. at 2.  It held that the Intervenors presented sufficient “questions of law and fact in common with the main action” under Rule 24.  Id.

The Court noted that permissive intervention under Rule 24 is appropriate where (i) a federal statute creates a conditional right, or (ii) where the “intervenor has a claim or defense that shares with the main action a common question of law or fact.”  Id.

In its opposition, FedEx asserted that because the Intervenors were employed by independent service providers (“ISPs”) to deliver packages on behalf of FedEx, and were not employed by FedEx directly, FedEx was not liable under the NMMWA for allegedly unpaid overtime.  Id.  Further, FedEx argued that the commonality requirement of Rule 24 was not met because the Court already found the absence of a common question when it denied class certification.  Id.

While the Court recognized that it denied class certification under Rule 23’s commonality requirement, it was not persuaded by FedEx’s arguments.  The Court underscored that under Rule 24, “rather than asking whether a question is susceptible to resolution ‘in one stroke,’ courts must ask whether intervenors present ‘questions of law and fact in common with’ the main action.”  Id.

The Court concluded that the “existing plaintiffs and every intervenor [would] assert that certain common aspects of [FedEx’s] contracts with ISPs [made FedEx] a joint employer and, consequently, jointly liable for any [NMMWA] violations.”  Id.  Accordingly, the Court ruled that the Intervenors satisfied the Rule 24 commonality standard and were permitted to join the lawsuit as plaintiffs.  Id. at 3.

Implications For Companies

The decision in Martinez v. FedEx serves as an important reminder for defendants that class actions are not necessarily over once class certification is denied – and some members of the putative class may take a run at joining the lawsuit per Rule 24.  Additionally, it underscores the distinct commonality analyses under Rule 23 and Rule 24.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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