United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division
RAYMOND BUFORD, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated PLAINTIFF
SUPERIOR ENERGY SERVICES, LLC, COMPLETE ENERGY SERVICES, INC., and TEXAS CES, INC., d/b/a SPN WELL SERVICES a/k/a MERCER WELL SERVICES DEFENDANTS
OPINION AND ORDER
KRISTINE G. BAKER UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
Raymond Buford, individually and on behalf of others
similarly situated, brings this action against his former
employer, defendant Texas CES, Inc., d/b/a SPN Well Services
a/k/a Mercer Well Services (“Texas
CES”), alleging violations of the Fair Labor
Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201
et seq., the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act
(“AMWA”), Ark. Code Ann. § 11-4-201, et
seq., and the Family and Medical Leave Act
(“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.
Before the Court is Texas CES's motion for summary
judgment (Dkt. No. 30). Mr. Buford has responded in
opposition (Dkt. No. 38). Texas CES has replied (Dkt. No.
43). For the following reasons, the Court denies Texas
CES's motion for summary judgment as to Mr. Buford's
FLSA and AMWA claims and grants the motion as to Mr.
Buford's FMLA claim (Dkt. No. 30).
otherwise noted, the following facts are taken from Texas
CES's statement of undisputed material facts and Mr.
Buford's response to Texas CES's statement of
undisputed material facts (Dkt. Nos. 33, 39).
CES provides services to oil and gas operations from the
“birth” of a well, through maintenance and
restoration of a well, to the “plug” and
abandonment of a well (Dkt. No. 33, ¶ 1). Texas CES'
only Arkansas-based operation was its Magnolia Yard located
in Magnolia, Arkansas (Id., ¶ 2). Magnolia Yard
was acquired by Texas CES in 2008 when Texas CES purchased
Therral Story Well Services (“TSWS”)
(Id.). TSWS and Mercer Well Services are both
d/b/a's of Texas CES (Id., ¶ 4). Texas CES
is a subsidiary of Superior Energy Services-North America,
Buford began working for TSWS in the early 1990's as a
derrickhand (Id., ¶¶ 3, 5). TSWS promoted
Mr. Buford to rig operator and eventually to rig supervisor
prior to TSWS being acquired by Texas CES in 2008 (Dkt. No.
33, ¶ 3). After the 2008 acquisition by Texas CES, Mr.
Buford worked mostly out of the Magnolia Yard (Id.,
¶ 11). According to Mr. Buford's daily field
tickets-documentation he filled out detailing, among other
things, the names of the crew members and the hours they
worked, well site locations, and the work performed at the
well-Mr. Buford and his crew operated in parts of Arkansas
and Louisiana from May 2014 until he left Texas CES in
October 2015 (Id., ¶ 12).
Buford worked with a crew of four members. The four crew
members included two floorhands who did manual work on the
well itself, a derrickhand who “goes up the
derrick” above the well and uses a tubing/rod elevator
to latch onto tubing or rods coming out of or going into the
well, and a rig operator who moves the rig to the location
and attaches it to the well (Id., ¶ 17). The
rig operator “runs the rig” (Id.). The
rig is a mobile derrick that backs up over the well
(Id., ¶ 18).
paid rig supervisors on a salary basis and Texas CES
continued this practice when it acquired TSWS (Dkt. No. 33,
¶ 6). Texas CES did not change anything about employee
pay or benefits when it acquired TSWS (Id., ¶
7). During each of the last three years of his employment
with Texas CES, Mr. Buford made over $100, 000.00 and his
base salary exceeded $455.00 per week (Id., ¶
8). The members of Mr. Buford's crew were all hourly
workers (Id., ¶ 9). Floorhands earned $16.00
per hour, derrickhands earned $17.50 per hour, and rig
workers earned $19.00 to $20.00 per hour (Id.).
Texas CES contends that the crew members made less money than
Mr. Buford (Id., ¶ 9). Mr. Buford does not deny
the hourly rate for each of these positions; however, he
submits that hourly employees received overtime premiums
leading to a total annual compensation more in line with the
pay Mr. Buford received (Dkt. No. 39, ¶ 9).
parties dispute Mr. Buford's role as a member of the oil
rig crew. Texas CES contends that Mr. Buford supervised the
crew, was the senior person on site for Texas CES, and that
Mr. Buford's role was to keep his crew pointed in the
right direction (Dkt. No. 33, ¶¶ 13, 16, 19). Texas
CES further contends that it viewed Mr. Buford's role as
a rig supervisor as crucial because he managed the crew and
was the senior person on-site who dealt with the
customer's representative or company man (Id.,
¶ 10). Texas CES contends that the yard manager came to
the well site “once in a while” and that the yard
manager's presence at the well site was infrequent and
short (Id., ¶ 15).
Buford denies that he managed or was somehow in charge of a
crew (Dkt. No. 39, ¶ 12, 20). He states that he did not
have any managerial duties over the crew (Id.,
¶¶ 12, 19, 20). He submits instead that
“everybody took care of everybody. . . we all worked
together” (Id., ¶ 10). Mr. Buford stated
that he had a “great crew” with very little
turnover and he could “count on them” to do their
jobs (Dkt. No. 33, ¶ 21). The parties agree that Mr.
Buford only worked with one crew at a time-he would not have
one crew at one well site and another crew at another well
site (Id., ¶ 20).
CES submits that Mr. Buford described well site work as a
chain of command (Id., ¶ 22). Mr. Buford
submits that the entire internal structure of Texas CES was a
chain of command (Dkt. No. 39, ¶ 22). Texas CES contends
that Mr. Buford was necessary when someone needed to tell the
crew what to do or how to do it (Dkt. No. 33, ¶ 24). It
contends that, when the crew was not sure of something, Mr.
Buford stepped in and was usually “standing right there
with them before they asked the question”
(Id., ¶ 23). Mr. Buford submits instead that he
never had to answer questions from the crew because they were
experienced and because they all worked together to resolve
issues before a question arose (Dkt. No. 39, ¶ 23). Mr.
Buford asserts that the crew worked together and that
everybody was responsible for everybody else (Id.,
Buford admits that his crew was always younger than he was
and that he could not have gone back to being a derrickhand,
a floorhand, or even a rig operator because he was “too
old and wore out” for those jobs (Dkt. No. 33, ¶
25). Texas CES submits that Mr. Buford, as the senior man at
the well site, had overall responsibility on behalf of Texas
CES (Id., ¶ 29). Mr. Buford denies having
overall responsibility but admits that, if something went
wrong at the well site, he was the one who got into trouble
(Dkt. No. 39, ¶ 29). Mr. Buford stated that a person
could not just walk off the street and be a rig operator,
much less a rig supervisor, because “[y]ou learn a
bunch of stuff” (Dkt. No. 33, ¶ 30). Mr. Buford
denies receiving any specialized training other than on the
job training to perform his job duties (Dkt. No. 39, ¶
Buford had triple bypass surgery in 2010 and was out for
several weeks (Dkt. No. 33, ¶ 26). After returning to
work, Mr. Buford was limited in the amount of physical
activity he could perform (Id., ¶ 27). As Mr.
Buford put it, “You just couldn't overbear
yourself, ” and “I had to figure out my
limitations” (Id., ¶ 27). According to
Mr. Buford, his crew helped pick up the slack for him after
his return (Id., ¶ 28).
Buford stated that, when Texas CES acquired TSWS, the
transition was like going from a “mom-and-pop”
operation to a “big corporate” operation
(Id., ¶ 31). Following the acquisition, there
was an increased emphasis on both safety and documentation,
which became a daily focus (Id., ¶¶ 32,
33). Part of being a rig supervisor for Texas CES included
attending mandatory internal training sessions-H2S classes,
well control school, and safety training (Dkt. No. 33, ¶
34). As rig supervisor, Mr. Buford's daily paperwork
sometimes took longer than two hours to complete
(Id., ¶ 40). In addition to filling out daily
safety documentation, Mr. Buford filled out daily field
tickets that detailed the specific work done at the well
site, the cost of everything done at the well site for the
day-including pipe tallies, rod and tubing counts, and the
calculation of the amount of fluid used-and the specific
hours worked by Mr. Buford's crew (Id., ¶
41). Texas CES submits that it was Mr. Buford's
responsibility to ensure each member of his crew signed off
on the number of hours worked each day (Id., ¶
42). Mr. Buford denies that it was his responsibility to get
signatures; he submits that the crew and the company man also
signed off on field tickets (Dkt. No. 39, ¶ 42).
Buford described the safety of his crew as the most important
duty he had as the rig supervisor-“making sure his
hands go home the way came” with “all of their
fingers and toes” was Mr. Buford's main goal each
day (Dkt. No. 33, ¶ 35). Mr. Buford also stated that all
crewmembers were tasked with the safety of the well (Dkt. No.
39, ¶ 35). Texas CES contends that Mr. Buford had an
overarching safety role which included running and
documenting the initial safety meeting on-site every morning
(Dkt. No. 33, ¶ 36). Mr. Buford admits documenting the
meetings but denies running the meetings (Dkt. No. 39, ¶
36). Mr. Buford would shut down well site operations if he
felt his crew needed a break due to the heat or if he felt
they were “breathing too much of that gas” from
the well (Dkt. No. 33, ¶ 37). Any of his crew could shut
things down, but in practice, it was Mr. Buford who normally
shut down the well site if needed (Id., ¶ 38).
CES submits that other important jobs of a rig supervisor
were: to make sure the crew showed up; to be a teacher or
trainer for members of the crew that needed training; to
ensure the right equipment from Texas CES was at the site; to
ensure the overall job was accomplished for Texas CES; to
talk to customers on-site as the “company man”
and to get instructions for the day; and to take care of
whatever needed to be done in the company man's absence
(Id., ¶ 43). Mr. Buford denies this and submits
instead that he never had to ensure the crew showed up and
that everybody on the crew was responsible for training
everybody else (Dkt. No. 39, ¶ 43). As rig supervisor,
Mr. Buford would “take care of the company man's
business while he went off to take care of more
business” which could include dealing with other
vendors or companies coming on the well site, including
“water trucks, pipe trucks coming in with rods, tubing,
going out with rods and tubing, all such as that” (Dkt.
No. 33, ¶ 44). Overall, Mr. Buford had a “bigger
load” in terms of responsibilities as a rig supervisor
at Texas CES compared to TSWS, despite the fact that he still
had the same number of people-an operator, a derrickhand, and
two floorhands-working on the rig for him (Id.,
¶ 45). Mr. Buford contends that oilfield work in general
required more responsibilities and paperwork by the time
Texas CES acquired TSWS (Dkt. No. 39, ¶ 45).
Buford and his crew would travel to the well site in two
trucks (Dkt. No. 33, ¶ 46). Mr. Buford would travel in
one truck by himself and take the truck home at night
(Id.). The rest of the crew would be in another
truck driven by the rig operator. Both trucks would be used
to haul equipment, tools, and supplies to the well site
(Id.). A typical day for Mr. Buford and his crew
included meeting at the yard, getting any needed supplies,
traveling to the well location, having the daily safety
meeting, discussing what was going to be done that day,
opening the well, relieving any pressure, and killing the
well if necessary (Id., ¶ 47). Mr. Buford
admits that these tasks were required to be done to start the
day but that the rest of the day included completion work,
workovers, rod and tube swabbing (Dkt. No. 39, ¶ 47).
Mr. Buford contends that he primarily worked with rod and
Mr. Buford's crew was setting up for a job, his role in
the rigging-up process was to “see that it's done
properly” (Dkt. No. 33, ¶ 48). Mr. Buford's
job also included monitoring the pressures within the well
(Id.). Mr. Buford contends that, in addition to
those tasks, he “repaired broken equipment, helped rig
up the equipment, and set up, repaired, and adjusted blowout
preventers” (Dkt. No. 39, ¶ 49). When Mr.
Buford's crew was killing a well, he was “99
percent of the time, going back and forth from the wellhead
to the pump, watching pressures” (Dkt. No. 33, ¶
49). Although the well site operation would shut down at
lunch, Mr. Buford's crew never left the well site
(Id., ¶ 50). Mr. Buford would sometimes leave
to eat lunch with the company man (Id., ¶ 51).
Mr. Buford occasionally left the well site to retrieve parts
the crew needed; he would call the yard manager for the part
and meet the yard manager halfway (Id., ¶ 52).
Mr. Buford submits that only rarely did he leave the well
site for lunch or if parts needed to be picked up. He denies
that it was his exclusive responsibility to leave the well
site in order to pick up needed parts (Dkt. No. 39, ¶
52). When asked if he would have to do “physical or
manual labor” to correct pressures in the well, Mr.
Buford's response was, “It varied on that.”
(Dkt. No. 33, ¶ 53).
Buford could “give no percentages” when asked how
often he would help others when he saw there was a problem
(Id., ¶ 54). When Mr. Buford felt the
crew's job was done, he would be the one to “call
it a day” (Id., ¶ 55). Texas CES contends
that once a day's project was done, the crew had to
return to the yard but Mr. Buford would go straight home
(Id., ¶ 56). Mr. Buford denies this and submits
that he returned to the yard with his crew to unload the
equipment before going home (Dkt. No. 39, ¶ 56). On
occasion, Mr. Buford would call his crew after work to return
to a well site (Dkt. No. 33, ¶ 57).
CES submits that Mr. Buford had a role in personnel
decisions. Texas CES contends that, after observing a new
crew member doing a job, Mr. Buford would put in a
recommendation with the yard manager as to whether the crew
member “was going to make it or not” (Dkt. No.
33, ¶ 58). Mr. Buford denies this and submits that he
had no role in who was hired or fired, promoted or demoted,
or how other crew members were paid (Dkt. No. 39, ¶ 58).
The yard manager would ask Mr. Buford in general how crew
members were doing (Dkt. No. 33, ¶ 59). Texas CES
contends that Mr. Buford's input was important because
the yard manager was rarely at the well site (Id.,
¶ 60). Mr. Buford denies this (Dkt. No. 39, ¶ 60).
CES contends that, if a crew member started acting
dangerously, Mr. Buford would report on the situation and let
the “chain of command” take over (Dkt. No. 33,
¶ 61). Mr. Buford submits that the rest of the crew had
the same responsibility (Dkt. No. 39, ¶ 61). Texas CES
contends that Mr. Buford could pull the crew member off the
job and get another crew member to replace him (Dkt. No. 33,
¶ 62). Mr. Buford admits that was technically possible
but denies having ever done so (Dkt. No. 39, ¶ 62).
Texas CES contends that if Mr. Buford saw someone who posed a
safety issue, he could handle the situation (Dkt. No. 33,
¶ 64). Texas CES points out that, on one occasion, Mr.
Buford suspected that a member of his crew was “taking
pills” and “told [the yard manager] he wasn't
coming back to my crew” (Dkt. No. 33, ¶ 63). Mr.
Buford submits that he was required to inform the yard
manager of any suspicions of unsafe behavior and was told to
“monitor” the situation (Dkt. No. 39, ¶ 63).
Mr. Buford submits that other crewmembers could also make
reports about unsafe behavior (Id., ¶ 64).
the oil and gas business experienced a significant slowdown
in 2014 and 2015 due to a drop in the price of oil, Mr.
Buford usually worked five days a week, although he could not
estimate how many days a week he and his crew worked at a
well site (Dkt. No. 33, ¶ 65). On the days that Mr.
Buford and his crew were not at a well site, they would be at
the shop (Id., ¶ 66). The crew would clean up
the rig and make repairs to the rig; Mr. Buford would
“be out there with them” and would get them
“whatever they needed to repair the rig or such,
supplies” (Id., ¶ 67). Mr. Buford submits
that he was included in the clean-up and repair of the rig as
needed (Dkt. No. 39, ¶ 67). There were no pieces of
equipment that only Mr. Buford could fix; his crew could do
the work (Dkt. No. 33, ¶ 68). On some days during the
2014-2015 time period, Mr. Buford's crew would only work
in the yard for two to three hours before being sent home
(Id., ¶ 69). Mr. Buford would use this time to
call customers “looking for a job” and sometimes
call people with whom he had never worked (Id.,
Buford estimated that the Magnolia Yard had seven rig
supervisors at one point while business was good; by the time
the Magnolia Yard was closed, that number was down to less
than four (Id., ¶ 71). The downturn in the oil
and gas business led to the shutdown of the Magnolia Yard at
the end of October 2015 (Id., ¶ 72). Texas CES
states that Mr. Buford was initially offered an hourly job at
the Minden Yard in Louisiana but that he turned it down
without ever finding out what it was (Id., ¶
73). Texas CES contends that, despite Mr. Buford's
refusal to consider taking another job, Texas CES did not
immediately terminate Mr. Buford's employment. Because
Mr. Buford's wife was seriously ill, Texas ...