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Darden v. Southwest Arkansas Development, Inc.

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

May 17, 2017



          Susan O. Hickey United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 50. Plaintiffs have filed a response. ECF No. 53. Defendant has filed a reply. ECF No. 55. The Court finds this matter ripe for consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This action was originally filed by Plaintiff Ricky Darden in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas on January 28, 2015, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and Arkansas Minimum Wage Act (“AMWA”). ECF No. 1. Plaintiff Darden subsequently filed a Motion for Rule 23 Class Certification on November 13, 2015, seeking class certification in regard to his AMWA claims. ECF No. 11. The case was later transferred to the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas on March 16, 2016. ECF No. 27. This Court subsequently refused to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff Darden's AMWA class claims and dismissed those claims without prejudice on August 3, 2016. ECF No. 30. On that same day, the Court, accordingly, denied Plaintiff Darden's Motion for Rule 23 Class Certification as moot. ECF No. 31.

         In light of these rulings, the Court gave Plaintiff Darden leave to file a Second Amended and Substituted Complaint, adding three additional plaintiffs.[1] ECF No. 40. Plaintiffs filed their Second Amended and Substituted Complaint on December 21, 2016. ECF No. 43. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant failed to provide proper overtime compensation in violation of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 207, et seq., and the AMWA, Ark. Code Ann. §§ 11-4-211, et seq. ECF No. 43, ¶ 2. Plaintiffs also contend that they are entitled to punitive damages under the Arkansas Civil Justice Reform Act (“ACJRA”), Ark. Code Ann. § 16-55-206. Defendant subsequently filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment and argues that summary judgment is proper as, based on the record, there is no genuine issue of material fact. ECF No. 50.

         Plaintiffs are former employees of Defendant who were employed as Non-emergency Medicaid Transportation (“NEMT”) Drivers. ECF No. 51, ¶ 4; ECF No. 54, ¶ 4. In that role, “Plaintiffs were required to pick up clients from their place of residence, drop clients off at their medical appointments, wait or pick up additional clients who were on their driver's manifest and drop them at their appointments, pick up clients from their appointments upon completion of their appointment and transport them back to their place of residence.” ECF No. 51, ¶ 14; ECF No. 54, ¶ 14. Defendant paid each Plaintiff an hourly rate. ECF No. 43, ¶ 21. Defendant provided each Plaintiff with a cell phone that they were required to carry for the purpose of receiving dispatches from Defendant and communicating with dispatchers and clients. ECF No. 51, ¶ 10; ECF No. 54, ¶ 10.

         At the end of each day, Defendant gave each Plaintiff a “Driver's Manifest” (hereinafter “manifest”) detailing the next day's schedule. ECF No. 51, ¶¶ 11, 12, 13; ECF No. 54, ¶¶ 11, 12, 13. “The driver's manifest contained the name of the Defendant's clients to be transported, the client's address, the location of the client's appointment, the time for their appointment, requested pick up times, actual pick up and drop off times, driver's run start, first pick up[, ] driver's run end, stop time, break periods, odometer readings, last drop-off, date, and signature and initial of driver.” ECF No. 51, ¶ 12; ECF No. 54, ¶ 12. Upon receiving the manifest, each Plaintiff was required to contact the clients listed to confirm their appointment and transportation needs for the following day. ECF No. 51, ¶ 13; ECF No. 54, ¶ 13.

         Defendant had a policy that Plaintiffs, as NEMT drivers, “were allotted a one hour lunch when [they] worked more than seven hours a day; [] were allotted a thirty-minute lunch when [they] worked between six and six and one-half hours a day; and, [] were allotted a break of fifteen minutes when [they] worked five hours or less a day.” ECF No. 51, ¶ 17; ECF No. 54, ¶ 17. Plaintiffs were required to submit an hourly time sheet on a bi-weekly basis, and each time sheet reflected the same clock-in and clock-out information that was recorded by Plaintiffs on their individual manifests, and included time taken for lunch, sick leave, administrative time, holiday time, and vacation time. ECF No. 51, ¶¶ 18, 19; ECF No. 54, ¶¶ 18, 19. Lunch or meal periods were mandatory and Plaintiffs were required to include their lunch or meal period and break time taken on their manifest. ECF No. 51, ¶¶ 23, 24; ECF No. 54, ¶ 23, 24.

         The present controversy regards two aspects of Plaintiffs' employment as NEMT drivers. The first issue concerns the compensability of Plaintiffs' lunch or break period. Plaintiffs argue that even though they were required to take an un-compensated lunch or break period and reflect that time on their time sheets, in reality they were not relieved of their work duties during these periods. Therefore, Plaintiffs argue, they are entitled to compensation. Defendant takes the position that these periods were non-compensable because Plaintiffs were free to utilize their breaks in any way they chose. ECF No. 50, ¶ 26. Furthermore, Defendant states that if Plaintiffs “did not have the opportunity to take their lunch then they were to report the failed opportunity to their Transportation Supervisor so that management could ensure they received payment for their time.” ECF No. 50, ¶ 25.

         As for the second issue, Plaintiffs contend that “Defendant's express policies or directions required Plaintiffs to make contact with customers while at home, off-the-clock” and that Plaintiffs should be appropriately compensated for the time spent contacting clients. ECF No. 53, p. 12. Defendant argues that “no driver was ever instructed to contact clients off-the-clock and the greater weight of the evidence in this case dictates a finding that no such approved policy or practice existed[.]” ECF No. 52, pp. 11-12. Further, Defendant asserts that any off-the-clock phone calls would be non-compensable as insignificant or de minimis, based on Defendant's analysis of certain phone records. ECF No. 52, p. 12.

         Furthermore, Defendant argues that “the March 2015 FLSA investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor [“DOL”] demonstrates that no genuine issue of material fact exists in this case and that Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” ECF No. 52, p. 14. Defendant notes that the DOL reviewed Defendant's practices regarding regular and overtime pay and determined that Defendant had not violated the FLSA payment provisions. That being said, Defendant concedes that the DOL findings are not binding on the Court, but urges the Court to consider the DOL's investigation and conclusions.


         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide that when a party moves for summary judgment “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Supreme Court has issued the following guidelines for trial courts to determine whether this standard has been satisfied:

The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for trial-whether, in other words, there are genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); see also Agristor Leasing v. Farrow, 826 F.2d 732 (8th Cir. 1987); Niagara of Wis. Paper Corp. v. Paper Indus. Union-Mgmt. Pension Fund, 800 F.2d 742, 746 (8th Cir. 1986). A fact is material only when its resolution affects the outcome of the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party. Id., at 252.

         The Court must view the evidence and the inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Enterprise Bank v. Magna Bank, 92 F.3d 743, 747 (8th Cir. 1996). The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. The nonmoving party must then demonstrate the existence of specific facts in the record that create a genuine issue for trial. Krenik v. Cnty. of LeSueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995). A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon mere allegations or denials, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256.


         As discussed above, the present matter concerns whether Plaintiffs are entitled to compensation for lunch and break periods and purported off-the-clock client phone calls under either the FLSA or AMWA. In general, “[t]he FLSA and the AMWA impose similar minimum wage and overtime requirements on employers and, in cases involving claims brought under both acts, the courts have concluded that their parallel provisions should be interpreted in the same manner.” Cummings v. Bost, Inc., 2016 WL 6514103, at *5 (W.D. Ark. Nov. 1, 2016) (quoting Carter v. Primary Home Care of Hot Springs, Inc., 2015 WL 11120563, at *2 (W.D. Ark. May 14, 2015)). Therefore, the Court will only refer to the FLSA in the proceeding discussion but all conclusions apply with equal force to Plaintiffs' AMWA claims. Further, the Court will briefly address the effect of the DOL's investigation and findings regarding Defendant's compensation practices.

         A. FLSA and AMWA Claims

         The FLSA dictates the minimum wage that an employer must pay employees who work up to forty hours per week. 29 U.S.C. § 206(a). Further, the FLSA requires employers to pay overtime pay when an employee works more than forty hours in a workweek. Specifically, the FLSA states that:

no employer shall employ any of his employees . . . for a workweek longer than forty hours unless such employee receives compensation for his employment in excess of the hours above specified at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which he is employed.

29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). Although the FLSA “does not define when an individual should be considered to be working for purposes of the Act, ” the Supreme Court “has defined work as ‘physical or mental exertion (whether burdensome or not) controlled or required by the employer and pursued necessarily and primarily for the benefit of the employer and his business.'” Hensonv. Pulaski Cnty Sheriff Dep't, 6 F.3d 531, ...

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