S.D.Fla.: Telephone Calls, Faxes, Mailings And Other Regular Communications With Out Of State Vendors And Customers Does Not Constitute “Engaging In Interstate Commerce”

Dent v. Giaimo

Plaintiff filed this lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Starting on July 8, 2006, plaintiff worked as a medical assistant for defendant. Her duties included checking patients in and out of their appointments, verifying insurance coverage, answering the phone, filing, faxing and other clerical duties. She alleges that she often worked over forty hours per week. She also alleges that defendant’s annual gross sales volume exceeds $500,000.00. At issue in this case is whether defendant engaged in interstate commerce.

In another bewildering decision, the District Courts of Florida continue to narrow the scope of the FLSA’s coverage, contra to the Department of Labor’s enforcement policies and virtually all other Circuit and District Courts.

Discussing Enterprise Coverage first, the Court stated:

“As an initial matter, plaintiff cites cases that hold that the second prong of the enterprise coverage test is determinative. She argues that since defendant conceded that his business grossed at least $500,000 per year that this Court should simply deny the motion in its entirety and rely exclusively on the second prong of the test. This Court disagrees. Simply because some judges have recognized that business with annual gross sales volume exceeding $500,000 often also engage in interstate commerce, does not mean that all such business are engaged in interstate commerce. The statute requires that a business meet both prongs of the test before jurisdiction rests in the federal courts.

This Court now turns to the first prong of the test and holds that plaintiff failed to show that defendant had two or more employees regularly and recurrently engaged in commerce, or had two or more employees regularly and recurrently handling, selling, or otherwise working on goods or materials that were moved in or produced for commerce by any person. Plaintiff averred that she was engaged in interstate commerce through long distance phone calls and facsimiles as well as processing patient’s credit card payments. She says that while employed, defendant and an office manager, Ms. Erb, were also employed. Plaintiff, however, did not state that defendant or Ms. Erb engaged in the same type of alleged interstate activity. Plaintiff then states that the company periodically hired other full time employees who engaged in the same activity as plaintiff. Plaintiff, however, failed to provide the frequency with which defendant employed others to engage in the same type of office work that plaintiff alleges she preformed. Moreover, plaintiff failed to allege what percentage of that employee’s time was spent performing the alleged interstate activity.”

Next the Court turned to the issue of whether the Plaintiff was subject to the Individual Coverage of the FLSA:

“In support of a possible claim for individual coverage, plaintiff averred that about 70% of defendant’s patients are not Florida residents, that she regularly used the telephone, internet and facsimile machine to contact out of state insurance companies, and that she processed patients’ credit card payments.

In regards to the fact that some of defendant’s patients were not full time Florida residents, this Court finds the ultimate-consumer doctrine instructive. That doctrine states that goods are no longer in the stream of commerce once obtained by the ultimate consumer thereof. 29 U.S.C. § 203(I); Thorne, at 1267. This Court holds that although some patients may have been residents of other states, defendant was not engaged in interstate commerce if his contact with those patients was primarily local. Defendant averred that he only works within Florida. Defendant is licensed in Florida and other states but his license is “inactive” everywhere except Florida. There is no evidence to suggest that defendant solicited business from patients while they were out of state or that any contact with out of state patients was regular or recurrent.

This Court also holds that plaintiff’s use of the telephone or facsimile machines to make long distance phone calls or use of the internet and credit cards is insufficient to establish jurisdiction. To be considered “engaged in interstate commerce” a business must use a credit card specifically to transact business in interstate commerce. Here, defendant has submitted sufficient evidence to show that his practice is a local enterprise “and the items used in the business proliferated this goal of local service.” Polycarpe v. E & S Landscaping Servs, Inc., 572 F.Supp.2d 1318, 1321-22 (S.D.Fla.2008). This also appears to be the case in regards to internet usage. Pierre C. Bien-Aime v. Nanak’s Landscaping, Inc., 2008 WL 3892160 (S.D.Fla. August 12, 2008). “The fact that the Defendant Company provided services of an exclusively local nature is dispositive. Polycarpe at 1322.

In regards to telephone and facsimile usage, although plaintiff averred that her job duties included contacting out of state insurance companies she did not allege how much of her time was spent conducting these activities. It could be that defendant or Ms. Erb conducted the majority of those activities and that plaintiff only occasionally contacted out of state insurance companies.”

The Court held that Plaintiff failed to show that she regularly and recurrently engaged in interstate commerce.

Defense and Plaintiff attorney’s alike, who regularly handle FLSA cases are scratching their heads with this decision, which, on its face, found issues of fact which should have led to a denial of Defendant’s Summary Judgment Motion.  Nonetheless, the Court, pointing out all the factual issues, seemingly applied both an incorrect Summary Judgment standard, and an incorrect reading of the FLSA’s coverage provisions (both Enterprise and Individual) and dismissed what appears to be a perfectly valid case, at least at the Summary Judgment stage.

Of additional concern, a review of the docket reveals that the Court ignored well-settled law and refused to allow the Plaintiff (non-movant) time to conduct limited discovery on the issue of coverage, prior to ruling on Defendant’s Motion, which was filed at the inception of the lawsuit and prior to any discovery.

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