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In re Two Men and a Truck Litigation

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

February 24, 2017




         Prior to the entry of the Court's Order (Doc. 36) consolidating case numbers 5:16-CV-05255, 5:16-CV-05256, 5:16-CV-05257f and 5:16-CV-05258, Defendant TMT Arkansas, Inc. ("TMT") had filed Motions for Partial Summary Judgment in each case. Now that the cases have been consolidated, all four Motions have been refiled in the Consolidated Case, 5:16-CV-05255. See Docs. 32, 37, 38, and 39. The Motions are identical, in that they all request partial summary judgment of Counts I and II of each Plaintiffs Amended Complaint. Count I is a claim for overtime compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), and Count II is the same claim, but made under the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act ("AMWA"). TMT's argument on summary judgment is that Counts I and II should be dismissed as to all four Plaintiffs because the federal motor-carrier exemption, codified at 29 U.S.C. §213(b)(1), applies to Plaintiffs'work for TMT and precludes their FLSA and AMWA claims for overtime compensation.[1]

         In the following Order, the Court will rule on the issue of whether the motor-carrier exemption applies, and in so ruling, will dispose of all four Motions for Partial Summary Judgment. The following documents were considered: (1) TMT's Briefs, Affidavits, and Statements of Facts filed in support of each of the four Motions (Docs. 33, 34, and 35 in 5:16-CV-05255, 5:16-CV-05256, 5:16-CV-05257, and 5:16-CV-05258); Plaintiffs' Consolidated Response in Opposition, Consolidated Statement of Facts, and Consolidated Brief in Support (Docs. 43, 44, 45 in 5:16-CV-05255); and TMT's Consolidated Reply (Doc. 49 in 5:16-CV-5255).

         For the reasons explained herein, TMT's Motions for Partial Summary Judgment are GRANTED, and Counts I and II are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Robert Ennis, Haskell Fuller, IV, Lonnie Harris, and Micah Lindsay are former employees of TMT, an Arkansas-based moving company. According to the Amended Complaint that was filed in each of their cases, TMT failed to pay them overtime compensation and made unlawful deductions from their paychecks, which reduced their salaries below the minimum wage and violated both the FLSA and the AMWA. Plaintiffs brought their claims against TMT in state court, and all four cases were removed to this Court on September 16, 2016. On December 1, 2016, the Court issued an Order (Doc. 36) consolidating the four cases sua sponte, and finding that they involved the same Defendants, [2] the same counsel for both sides, and the same or similar background facts and causes of action.

         Plaintiffs do not dispute that TMT is a "motor carrier, " as that term is defined in 49 U.S.C. § 13102(14), and Plaintiffs also agree that TMT is engaged in the business of offering inter- and intrastate moving services to the general public, under the authority of the United States Department of Transportation. See Plaintiffs' Consolidated Statement of Facts, Doc. 44, p. 1. Plaintiffs further agree that when they worked for TMT, they were classified as "movers" or "drivers" or both.[3] (Doc. 44, p. 1). Their main point of contention on summary judgment is that their work as "movers" can only be considered exempt if it had some effect on the safe operation of trucks in interstate commerce. Plaintiffs believe their work had no such effect because TMT never provided them with training on how to load trucks safely.

         TMT, on the other hand, believes the motor-carrier exemption applies to bar all four Plaintiffs' overtime claims, and Plaintiffs' work as drivers and movers should qualify for the exemption. The text of the exemption, found at 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(1), states as follows:

(b) Maximum Hour Requirements The provisions of section 207 of this title [regarding overtime compensation under the FLSA] shall not apply with respect to-
(1) any employee with respect to whom the Secretary of Transportation has power to establish qualifications and maximum hours of service pursuant to the provisions of section 31502 of title49.

Id. Turning to 49 U.S.C. § 31502, it provides that "[t]he Secretary of Transportation may prescribe requirements for-(1) qualifications and maximum hours of service of employees of, and safety of operation and equipment of, a motor carrier." Reading these two statutes together, it appears that the Secretary of Transportation retains the authority to determine the maximum number of hours of service that certain employees of motor carriers may perform. Accordingly, the work performed by these employees is not subject to the overtime requirements of the FLSA. See Williams v. Cent. Transp. Int'l, Inc., 830 F.3d 773, 778 (8th Cir. 2016) ("[l]f an employee spends a substantial part of his time... participating in or directing the actual loading of a motor vehicle common carrier's trailers operating in interstate or foreign commerce, the Secretary of Transportation has the authority to regulate that employee's hours of service and the [Motor Carrier Act] Exemption applies, regardless of the employee's precise role in the loading process.").

         The regulations that define the motor-carrier exemption are found at 29 C.F.R. § 782.2. These regulations explain that the applicability of the exemption "depends both on the class to which the employer belongs and on the class of work involved in the employee's job." 29 C.F.R. § 782.2(a). Exempt employees are classified as "driver[s], driver's helper[s], loader[s], or mechanic[s]" whose work "directly affect[s] the safety of operation of motor vehicles on the public highways in transportation in interstate or foreign commerce within the meaning of the Motor Carrier Act." 29 C.F.R. § 782.2(b)(2). The regulations caution that when "determining whether an employee falls within such an exempt category, neither the name given to his position nor that given to the work that he does is controlling; what is controlling is the character of the activities involved in the performance of his job." Id. (internal citations omitted).

         Plaintiffs have conceded that the exemption applies to the work of driving a moving truck for TMT. See Plaintiffs' Consolidated Brief, Doc. 45, p. 12 ("The Plaintiffs concede that TMT is a Motor Carrier under 49 U.S.C. 13102 and concede that the portion of their employment actually driving a truck may be exempt...."). The Court will therefore rule in favor of TMT as to Plaintiff Ennis, whose pay records indicate that 80-90% of his hours on the job were spent driving a moving truck. See Ennis's Time Sheets, Doc. 43-4, pp. 27-101; see also 29 C.F.R. § 782.2(b)(3) (explaining that exempt work will not qualify for overtime compensation unless the number of hours spent doing that work is "so trivial, casual, and insignificant as to be de minimis").

         As for the remaining Plaintiffs, Harris worked as both a driver and a mover, and Fuller and Lindsay worked only as movers. Plaintiffs agree that the driving portion of Harris's time should be exempt, but they disagree that their moving duties should also be exempt. Such work would be ...

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