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Buford v. Superior Energy Services, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

June 1, 2018

RAYMOND BUFORD, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated PLAINTIFF



         Plaintiff 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”)[1], 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).

         I. Factual Background

         Unless 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).

         Texas 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, Inc. (Id.).

         Mr. 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).

         Mr. 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).

         TSWS 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).

         The 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).

         Mr. 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).

         Texas 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., ¶ 24).

         Mr. 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, ¶ 30).

         Mr. 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).

         Mr. 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).

         Mr. 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).

         Texas 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).

         Mr. 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 tubing (Id.).

         When 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).

         Mr. 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).

         Texas 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).

         Texas 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).

         After 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., ¶ 70).

         Mr. 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., ΒΆ 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 ...

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