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Jones v. L & G Trucking, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division

March 29, 2017

ANTHONY W. JONES, on behalf of himself and those similarly situated PLAINTIFF


          David L. Bunning United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         This is an action brought by a truck driver against his employer for overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The case turns on whether the Plaintiff falls under FLSA's motor carrier exemption, which in turn depends on whether Plaintiff's job duties could reasonably have involved interstate driving. Plaintiff and Defendants marshal evidence that answers that question in two different ways. As a result, material facts remain in dispute, and summary judgment is not warranted.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         Defendant L&G Trucking, LLC (L&G) is a trucking company that operates out of Rockcastle County, Kentucky. (Doc. # 9 at ¶¶ 5-6). Defendant Eugene T. Caldwell is the owner of L&G. (Doc. # 25-3 at 4). L&G “has several customers throughout the United States including customers in Berea, Kentucky.” (Doc. # 28-2 at ¶ 8). “On an everyday basis, several of L&G's trucks and drivers are operating interstate throughout several states.” (Id. at ¶ 5).

         In February 2013, Plaintiff Anthony Jones was hired by L&G as a driver. (Doc. # 38-1 at ¶ 5). For the first six months of his employment, Jones “primarily was utilized to service the needs of L&G's Berea, KY customer base.” (Doc. # 28-1 at ¶ 7). Jones claims that he is owed overtime pay under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for hours that he worked in excess of forty per week from February 17, 2013 to August 30, 2013.[1]Defendants argue that Jones is exempt from FLSA because he was subject to the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation (DOT) as an interstate driver.

         According to Jones, he was hired by L&G to be “a shuttler at the Hitachi facility located in Berea, Kentucky.” (Doc. # 38-1 at ¶ 8). Jones claims that L&G's head of operations, Chris Nelson, told Jones when he was hired that L&G “had just picked up the Hitachi facility in Berea, Kentucky as a new account and that they needed local drivers/shuttlers specifically to work at that site.” (Id. at ¶ 9). Each driver, including Jones, was “assigned a specific set route, ” and “[n]o driver was subject to performing any other duties or driving any other routes other than their assigned route unless they chose to do so.” (Id. at ¶ 7). “At all times between February 2013 and August 2013, ” Jones's “assignment was a local assignment, principally confined to shuttling trailers around to the various buildings all located at the Hitachi facility in Berea, Kentucky and other local facilities.” (Id. at ¶ 13). “In contrast to Defendants' over-the-road or long-haul drivers, ” the “local drivers like [Jones] and the other shuttlers who worked at the Hitachi plant had no expectation of driving over-the-road routes or interstate routes.” (Id. at ¶ 10). “For this reason, there was no discussion that [Jones] could be called upon to drive an interstate route.” (Id.) Instead, local drivers like Jones could pick up interstate routes only if the routes were available and the driver volunteered. (Id. at ¶ 11). But “there were few opportunities to pick up additional work because all work was specifically assigned to the driver of each specific route.” (Id. at ¶ 7). Jones claims that he did not volunteer for and did not drive an interstate route until August 30, 2013, when he volunteered to drive from Kentucky to St. Louis, Missouri. (Id. at ¶¶ 18, 19). Because Jones did not drive interstate routes, “neither [he] nor any of Defendants' other local drivers were required to keep a DOT-compliant log book, ” and there was no restriction on the number of hours he could work per week. (Id. at ¶¶ 14, 17). Timothy Philbeck, an employee of L&G from December 2012 to June 2013 who drove an interstate route from Berea, Kentucky to Seymour, Indiana, submitted a declaration corroborating Jones's claims. (Doc. # 38-3).

         Defendants offer a different description of L&G's route assignments, the requirements of Jones's job, and the likelihood of interstate trips for a driver like Jones. According to Defendant Caldwell, L&G's owner, new drivers at L&G are “not hired for a specific route but, instead, all drivers are expected to operate as commercial truck drivers on any route that may be assigned to them.” (Doc. # 28-2 at ¶ 6). Drivers like Jones “who serve the customer base in Berea, Kentucky are on call to perform any driving task that may be assigned to them including out of state routes.” (Id. at ¶ 8). Such assignments are “not uncommon” for drivers in Berea, who may “be ordered by L&G to take a load of goods to an out of state destination.” (Id. at ¶ 9). To the best of Caldwell's knowledge, “every driver who has serviced the Berea area has been called upon and ordered to take an out of state load at some point during their employment.” (Id. at ¶ 12). Caldwell asserts that taking out-of-state routes is not voluntary, claiming that “[a]ll drivers who serve the Berea area customers are informed that they are subject to being called upon to make an out of state run and that they are expected to comply with said order, ” and that if they do not comply with an order to drive an interstate route “the driver would be terminated.” (Id. at ¶¶ 10, 14). Caldwell offers a different account of the timing (and ultimate destination) of Jones's out-of-state trip, asserting that “[w]ithin approximately three months of Anthony Jones's employment, ” Jones was ordered to take a load to Kansas City, Missouri for delivery, and that if he did not do so, he would have been fired. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-18). Caldwell further explained that all of L&G's trucks “are fully insured and licensed for purposes of all transportation both interstate and intrastate, ” and that L&G complied with DOT regulations in hiring Jones and other drivers because “regardless of where their route may be assigned, ” “each driver is subject to having to make an out of state run during their employment.” (Id. at ¶¶ 19-20, 22). Nelson, L&G's head of operations, submitted an affidavit corroborating Caldwell's statements. In particular, Nelson emphasized that “[a]ll drivers who work in the Berea KY area are subject to being called upon to move out of state loads on a daily basis and it is not uncommon for such drivers to be ordered to do so on a frequent basis.” (Doc. # 28-1 at ¶ 10). He also stated that “upon hire it was explained to Mr. Jones that as the need arose he would be called upon to perform other duties as a truck driver other than serving the Berea based customers including making out of state runs.” (Id. at ¶ 7). Nelson agreed with Caldwell that “[w]ithin approximately 3 months of his initial employment, Mr. Jones was ordered to move a load of goods from Berea, KY to Kansas City, MO, ” and that if Jones had not done so he would have been terminated. (Id. at ¶¶ 8-9). Nelson added that the goods Jones moved at the Berea site were “fully finished products consisting of shocks and struts” which Jones brought to a storage area, where the product remained “for only a short time prior to being delivered to the ultimate customer.” (Id. at ¶¶ 13-15).

         Plaintiff moved for summary judgment on his FLSA overtime claim. (Doc. # 25). Defendants responded (Doc. # 28) and, in an identical filing, cross-moved for summary judgment (Doc. # 29). Plaintiff moved to strike Defendants' cross-motion as untimely because the dispositive motion deadline had lapsed and moved to strike the identical response as procedurally improper because Defendants sought affirmative relief in a responsive brief (Doc. # 30). Plaintiff replied to Defendants' summary judgment response (Doc. # 38) and responded to Defendants' cross-motion (Doc. # 42). Defendants did not reply in support of their cross-motion. Defendants responded to the motion to strike (Doc. # 41) and Plaintiff replied (Doc. # 43). Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, Defendants' cross-motion, and Plaintiff's motion to strike are ripe for the Court's review.

         III. Analysis

         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute about any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). If there is a dispute over facts that might affect the outcome of the case under governing law, summary judgment is precluded. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The moving party has the ultimate burden of persuading the Court that there are no disputed material facts and that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. Once a party files a properly supported motion for summary judgment by either affirmatively negating an essential element of the non-moving party's claim or establishing an affirmative defense, “the adverse party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 250. “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party].” Id. at 252. Because the parties present cross-motions, the Court must “evaluate each motion on its own merits and view all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Beck v. City of Cleveland, 390 F.3d 912, 917 (6th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         B. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment

         The FLSA requires covered employers to provide overtime pay to employees who work more than forty hours per week. 29 U.S.C. § 207. Plaintiff moves for summary judgment, arguing that he has satisfied all the requirements for a FLSA overtime pay claim. (Docs. # 25, 25-1). Defendants do not dispute (1) that Caldwell and L&G Trucking are covered under FLSA as “employers, ” (2) that L&G had an annual gross revenue in excess of $500, 000 during the time period relevant to Jones's claim, or (3) that L&G's employees regularly handle L&G trucks that were manufactured outside the state of Kentucky, satisfying FLSA's interstate commerce prong. (Doc. # 25-1 at 6-11). Nor do Defendants dispute Plaintiff's calculation of overtime compensation of $4, 672 or his entitlement to mandatory liquidated ...

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