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Carter v. Paschall Truck Lines, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah

April 10, 2019

GALE CARTER, et al. PLAINTIFFS
v.
PASCHALL TRUCK LINES, INC., et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge United States District Court

         This matter is before the Court upon Plaintiffs Gale Carter and Forbes Hays's (“Plaintiffs”) Motion for Conditional Certification of FLSA Collective Action. [R. 101.] Defendant Paschall Truck Lines, Inc. (“PTL”) responded, [R. 144], and Plaintiffs replied, [R. 155]. For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiffs' Motion for Conditional Certification of FLSA Collective Action, [R. 101], is GRANTED Also before the Court is PTL's Motion for Leave to File a Surreply. [R. 156.] Plaintiffs did not respond. The Court grants Plaintiffs' motion to a file a surreply and has considered Plaintiffs' surreply in forming this opinion.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs bring this action for unpaid wages pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), challenging the Defendants' policy and practice of classifying workers as independent contractors. Paschall Truck Lines, Inc. (“PTL”) is a for-hire motor carrier that provides trucking services for shipping across the continental United States. [R. 100 at 6; R. 144 at 6.] It employs both “company drivers, ” or employees, and contracts with independent contractors to deliver loads. [Id.] Plaintiffs were employed as independent contractors by PTL. [R. 101-2 at 86 (Carter Declaration), 92 (Hays Declaration), 97 (Harris Declaration).]

         Plaintiffs allege that they, and the putative class members, were misclassified as independent contractors by PTL and, due to PTL's pay structure and wage deduction practices, Plaintiffs' wages regularly fell below the federal minimum wage rate in violation of the Federal Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). [R. 103 at 27; R. 100 at 18.] Plaintiffs assert that they are similarly situated with the putative class members in terms of job duties and classification status, they all are (or were) subject to the same or similar pay structure, and they all worked similar hours. Plaintiffs originally sought conditional certification of this action as an FLSA collective action with the proposed FLSA class to be defined as: “all Lease Drivers who drove for Defendant PTL at any point in the three years prior to October 12, 2017 (the date of the filing of the initial complaint in this matter) through the present.” [R. 100 at 22.] Then, in their Reply, Plaintiffs further defined the class as “any driver who signed an ICSA[1] with Defendant PTL and who also had an agreement whereby Defendant would remit truck lease payments to a lease vendor.” [R. 155 at 3.] Plaintiffs also request that the Court facilitate notice to the putative class members. Specifically, the Plaintiffs request that, if the Court conditionally certifies the class, the Court “order the parties to, within two weeks of the court's order conditionally certifying this matter, provide the Court either (1) an agreed-upon notice; or (2) a proposed notice from Named Plaintiffs should the Parties not be able to reach an agreement (followed by PTL responding to said notice with its objections).” [R. 100 at 29.]

         In support of their motion, Plaintiffs submitted declarations, [R. 101-2 at 86-100], as well as many exhibits, including the independent contractor and lease agreements signed by Carter and Hays, [R. 101-2 at 2-75], Carter's “settlement sheets” from PTL, [R. 101-2 at 78, 84], and debt collection notices sent to Hays and Carter from PTL, [R. 101-5 at 31, 34]. Carter and Harris state in their declarations that, while employed by PTL, they spent “at least five, and often seven days over-the-road hauling freight . . . exclusively for PTL, ” and spent “approximately two to three weeks at a time over-the-road and under dispatch (i.e. working) for PTL.” [R. 101-2 at 88, 99.] Hays states: “At all times during my employment with PTL, I spent at least five, and often seven days over-the-road hauling freight . . . exclusively for PTL.” [R. 101-2 at 94.] All three Plaintiffs stated in their declarations that throughout their employment with PTL: “I was required to haul freight exclusively for PTL;” “PTL required me to attend an Orientation Program;” one of their job duties was “communicating my location, activities, estimated time of arrival, and projected time of availability to PTL via the Qualcomm computer system on my truck and other means;” each was assigned a “fleet manager” by PTL who “sent me load assignments and coordinated my work with PTL;” they each “received my load assignments via the Qualcomm unit on my truck, along with the pick-up location, pick-up time, drop-off location, drop-off time, my route and the approximate amount I would be paid for the load;” and they were not permitted to negotiate the rate paid by PTL customers for the freight each hauled. [R. 101-2 87-89, 92-94, 97-100.]

         Also, Carter and Harris both stated that they ceased working for PTL after they received multiple settlement statements showing that they made $0 in compensation for full weeks working exclusively for PTL and were in fact indebted to PTL due to operating costs. [R. 101-2 at 88, 99.][2] All three plaintiffs stated that they owed PTL at least $7, 000.00 in expenses after ceasing employment there. [R. 101-2 at 89, 94, 100.][3] Furthermore, all three plaintiffs averred: “It is my understanding that the other Lease Drivers who were employed by PTL were subject to the same policies and practices regarding their job duties and responsibilities, their pay, deductions from their pay[.]” [R. 101-2 at 89, 94, 100.]

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The FLSA provides that an employee may bring a claim “for and in behalf of himself . . . and other employees similarly situated.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). A collective action under the FLSA permits similarly situated employees to opt in to the action, unlike the opt-out approach typically utilized under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. An opt-in action under § 216(b) prohibits any person from becoming a party plaintiff in the collective action unless he or she files a written consent with the Court; therefore, these similarly situated employees must be notified of the lawsuit. Comer v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 454 F.3d 544, 546 (6th Cir. 2006).

         The Sixth Circuit utilizes a two-step approach for the certification of collective actions under the FLSA. Id. The first stage, [4] “conditional certification, ” occurs at the beginning of discovery. At this stage, the Court must determine whether notice of the pending action and the opportunity to opt in should be given to potential class members. See Jones-Turner v. Yellow Enter. Sys., LLC, 2007 WL 3145980, at *1 (W.D. Ky. Oct. 25, 2007); Crawford v. Lexington- Fayette Urban Cnty. Gov't, 2007 WL 293865, at *5 (E.D. Ky. Jan. 26, 2007). The certification at this stage “is conditional and by no means final.” Comer, 454 F.3d at 546.

         A plaintiff seeking to certify a collective action bears the burden of establishing that he and the proposed class he seeks to represent are similarly situated. See Jones-Turner, 2007 WL 3145980, at *1. The FLSA provides no guidance as to the meaning of the term “similarly situated, ” and, as another Court in this circuit has observed, “the Sixth Circuit has declined ‘to create comprehensive criteria for informing the similarly-situated analysis.'” Bernal v. TrueBlue, Inc., 2010 WL 1996922, at *2 (W.D. Mich. May 19, 2010) (quoting O'Brien v. Ed Donnelly Enters., Inc., 575 F.3d 567, 585 (6th Cir. 2009)). Regardless, because conditional certification decisions generally are made prior to discovery, a plaintiff's evidentiary burden is not a heavy one. “Generally speaking, at the first stage of conditional certification, courts require nothing more than substantial allegations that the putative class members were together the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan.” Jones-Turner, 2007 WL 3145980, at *2 (citation omitted). Thus, the named plaintiff need merely provide a modest factual showing to demonstrate that he is similarly situated to the putative class members. Id. (citing Comer, 454 F.3d at 547). “[T]he court's review of this modest showing is made using a fairly lenient standard, which ‘typically results in conditional certification of a representative class.” Crawford, 2007 WL 293865, at *5 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Comer, 454 F.3d at 547).

         DISCUSSION

         A. Conditional Certification

         PTL argues that Plaintiffs have not established that they are similarly situated to other potential plaintiffs. Upon reviewing Plaintiffs' motion and attached declarations and exhibits, the Court is satisfied that Plaintiffs have met their burden and made the modest factual showing required for conditional certification of a collective action. Those materials, read together, sufficiently show some factual nexus that binds Plaintiffs and the putative class members together as victims of a particular alleged policy or action. At the second stage, following discovery, the ...


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