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Estes v. Buell

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

March 25, 2019

RANDALL AUSTIN ESTES, et al. PLAINTIFFS
v.
CHRISTOPHER BUELL, et al. DEFENDANTS

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KRISTINE G. BAKER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is plaintiffs Randall Austin Estes and Shannon Mashburn's motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. No. 20). Defendants filed a response in opposition, and plaintiffs replied (Dkt. Nos. 23, 25). In their first amended and substituted complaint, plaintiffs allege that defendants improperly denied them overtime compensation in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), and the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act (“AMWA”), Arkansas Code Annotated § 11-4-201 et seq. (Dkt. No. 18, ¶ 1). Plaintiffs seek partial summary judgment on exemptions from the overtime requirements of the FLSA and AMWA; specifically, plaintiffs contend that defendants failed to raise any exemptions to the FLSA or the AMWA as affirmative defenses and that, regardless, defendants do not meet the requirements for the executive, administrative, or professional exemption to apply to Mr. Estes or any other exemption based on a “duties test” to apply to Mr. Estes (Dkt. No. 20). See 29 C.F.R. §§ 541.100(1); 541.200(1); 541.300(1). To the extent discussed below, the Court denies in part and grants in part plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. No. 20).

         I.Background

         The following facts are taken from defendants' statement of undisputed material facts (Dkt. No. 24). Mr. Estes is a former employee of defendants AR Life Transport, LLC, and Christopher Buell (Id., ¶ 1). Mr. Estes worked as a dispatcher for defendants in 2017 (Id., ¶ 2). Defendants assigned Mr. Estes to transport defendants' customers (Id., ¶ 3). During his employment, defendants paid Mr. Estes a monthly salary of $900.00 (Id., ¶ 4). As a dispatcher, Mr. Estes' job duties were to communicate by telephone with defendants' customers and drivers to arrange non-emergency medical transportation (Id., ¶ 5). As part of his employment, defendants allowed Mr. Estes to reside in their property located at 1509 South Fillmore, Little Rock, Arkansas 72204 (Id., ¶ 6). Mr. Estes states that he was not required to pay rent and that defendants were responsible for the upkeep and utility bills at 1509 South Fillmore for the duration of his tenancy there (Dkt. No. 21, ¶ 7). Defendants state that “[p]art of [Mr. Estes'] income included residency at the Fillmore property which included the Defendants being responsible for the upkeep and utility bills” at that location (Dkt. No. 24, ¶ 7). The parties agree that defendants maintained “total and unrestricted” access to 1509 South Fillmore for the duration of Mr. Estes' tenancy, but defendants argue that they “rarely did so and only to ensure the property was being properly cared-for.” (Id., ¶ 8).

         Mr. Estes was required to be on duty from 7:00 p.m. every Sunday until 5:00 p.m. the following Friday (Id., ¶ 9). Mr. Estes argues that his job duties required him to work more than forty hours per week and that he worked as many as 90 hours per week (Dkt. No. 21, ¶ 10). Defendants concede that Mr. Estes' job duties required him to work more than 40 hours per week, but they also argue that he was exempt from the 40-hour rule under 29 C.F.R. §§ 541.100(1), 541.200(1), 541.300(1) (Dkt. No. 24, ¶ 10).

         Also attached to Mr. Estes' motion for partial summary judgment is an “Employee Residential Licensing Agreement” (the “Agreement”) executed by Christopher Buell and Mr. Estes (Dkt. No. 20-1). The Agreement states that it is entered between AR Life Transport LLC as an employer and Mr. Estes as an employee (Id., at 1). Per the Agreement, Mr. Estes is allowed “to occupy the housing located at 1509 South Fillmore, Little Rock, Arkansas 72204 . . . .” (Id.). Furthermore, Mr. Estes was not required to pay utilities for his lodging (Id.). The Agreement also states that Mr. Estes was to receive a monthly salary of $900.00 (Id.). In exchange, Mr. Estes, per the Agreement, was “to work on call, from Sunday at 7 pm through Friday at 5 pm.” (Id.).

         Plaintiffs also attach a document titled “AR Life Job Description” to their motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. No. 20-3). This document describes Life Transport as a “full service non emergency transport company.” (Id., at 1). The document states that “[d]rivers are independent contractors” who, “before a load is ever booked, ” “are given the opportunity to do it or not.” (Id., at 1). The document further states that “[l]ocal runs pay $12 per run, ” and “[i]f the driver picks up two patients at the same time drivers will be paid $12 per patient as though it were two runs.” (Id., at 2). Per the document, if a customer takes longer than 15 minutes, “drivers will be paid for the additional time . . . .” (Id.). Alternatively, the document states that “[l]ong distance runs will be paid $12 an hour based on a trip guide calculation of miles, plus fifteen minutes on both the loading and receiving end.” (Id.). Finally, the document states that “EMT[]s will be paid $25 per hour and will receive a four hour minimum. Therefore if a run takes an hour the EMT will be paid $100. Should the run take 5 hours, the EMT will be paid $25 per hour for each additional hour worked therefore $125.” (Id.).

         II.Discussion

         Plaintiffs ask the Court to grant summary judgment on the question of exemptions from the FLSA and AMWA's overtime requirements (Dkt. No. 20). Plaintiffs argue that: (1) defendants have waived their exemption defenses; (2) the undisputed record evidence shows that Mr. Estes' salary was too low to satisfy the minimum salary requirement for the executive, administrative, or professional exemptions; (3) the lodging and extra work provided by defendants should not count towards the minimum salary requirement; and (4) the undisputed record evidence shows that Mr. Estes' job duties prevent him from being covered by any other FLSA exemption (Dkt. No. 22, at 1-7). Defendants contest these points (Dkt. No. 23). Defendants also assert that Mr. Estes was not an employee but instead was a contractor, in part, and an employee, in part (Id., at 1).

         The Court has not been asked to, and therefore does not, resolve whether plaintiffs were employees of defendants to whom the requirements of the FLSA and AMWA would otherwise apply. Instead, the Court resolves the narrow issues presented by plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that defendants have not waived their exemption defenses. Additionally, the Court finds that, assuming without deciding for purposes of resolving this motion that Mr. Estes was an employee to whom the requirements of the FLSA and AMWA otherwise applied, as a matter of law, Mr. Estes is not exempt under the executive, administrative, or professional employee exemptions to the FLSA and AMWA. Finally, assuming without deciding for purposes of resolving this motion that Mr. Estes was an employee to whom the requirements of the FLSA and AMWA otherwise applied and viewing the record evidence in the light most favorable to defendants, the Court finds that, as a matter of law, Mr. Estes is not exempt under any “duties test” set forth by the FLSA or the AMWA.

         A.Standard Of Review

         Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue of material fact for trial. UnitedHealth Group Inc. v. Executive Risk Specialty Ins. Co., 870 F.3d 856, 861 (8th Cir. 2017) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). Summary judgment is proper if the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the defendant is entitled to entry of judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Johnson Regional Medical Ctr. v. Halterman, 867 F.3d 1013, 1016 (8th Cir. 2017) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party. Miner v. Local 373, 513 F.3d 854, 860 (8th Cir. 2008). “The mere existence of a factual dispute is insufficient alone to bar summary judgment; rather, the dispute must be outcome determinative under the prevailing law.” Holloway v. Pigman, 884 F.2d 365, 366 (8th Cir. 1989).

         However, parties opposing a summary judgment motion may not rest merely upon the allegations in their pleadings. Buford v. Tremayne, 747 F.2d 445, 447 (8th Cir. 1984). The initial burden is on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to establish that there is a genuine issue to be determined at trial. Prudential Ins. Co. v. Hinkel, 121 F.3d 364, 366 (8th Cir. 2008), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1048 (1998). “The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         B.Waiver Of ...


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