D.Mass.: SAFETEA-LU Does Not Apply Retroactively To Bar Claims Of Employees Who Drive Vehicles Of Less Than 10,001 Lbs.

Benoit v. Tri-Wire Engineering Solutions, Inc.

The parties filed cross-motions for partial summary judgment on the issue of the applicability of the Motor Carrier Act (“MCA”) exemption as a defense to Plaintiffs’ complaint which seeks to recover unpaid overtime from August 10, 2005, to the present. The issue was the retroactive applicability of the SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act of 2008 (“SAFETEA-LU”).  Addressing numerous arguments from both Plaintiffs and Defendants, the Court concluded that SAFETEA-LU does not apply retroactively.

Plaintiff filed the instant complaint on December 11, 2007, and since then at least 125 additional technicians have filed consent-to-sue forms. On or about June 5, 2008, the court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary recognition of this case as a FLSA collective action and established a discovery schedule. Coincidentally, on the very next day, June 6, 2008, the FLSA was amended in a manner potentially applicable here, i.e., it called into question whether a long-standing overtime exemption for employers of light-weight vehicle drivers-the MCA exemption-should retroactively apply to August 10, 2005. Accordingly, on October 15, 2008, the court entered a new scheduling order which allowed the parties to file cross-motions for partial summary judgment addressing that issue. The motions were filed and the court heard oral argument on March 26, 2009. In deciding in Plaintiffs favor the Court discussed the nature of the SAFETEA-LU amendments and their affect on the FLSA and the MCA:

“On August 10, 2005, however, Congress passed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (hereinafter “the SAFETEA-LU”).Pub.L. No. 109-59, 119 Stat. 1747 (2005). Among other things, the SAFETEA-LU narrowed the definition of a “motor carrier” to include only “person[s] providing commercial motor vehicle (as defined in section 31132) transportation for compensation.”49 U.S.C. § 13102(14) (emphasis added). In turn, the “commercial motor vehicle” definition required that the vehicle have “a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of at least 10,001 pounds, whichever is greater.”49 U.S.C. 31132(1) (emphasis added). The practical effect of this amendment-i.e., the narrowing of the MCA exemption to include only operators of motor vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds-was that qualified employees who operated light-weight vehicles were entitled, apparently for the first time, to overtime pay under the FLSA.

On June 6, 2008, however, the SAFETEA-LU was enacted. Pub.L. No. 110-244, 122 Stat. 1572 (2008). Among other things, the SAFETEA-LU, in section 305, re-amended the definition of “motor carrier” by striking the word “commercial” and, hence, restoring the definition to its pre-SAFETEA-LU state. Id. § 305(c), 122 Stat. at 1620. The effective date of this part of the SAFETEA-LU, however, is a bit unclear. Accordingly, the court focuses its analysis on the question of whether section 305 applies retroactively to August 10, 2005.

Defendant argued that section 305 of the SAFETEA-LU is an amendment “to the SAFETEA-LU” and that, according to subsection (b) of section 121, it should apply retroactively beginning August 10, 2005. As Plaintiffs argued, however, a close look at the text of section 305 reveals that it is not an amendment to the SAFETEA-LU. Rather, it is an amendment to a portion the United States Code that was created by the ICC Termination Act of 1995. See generally Vidinliev, 581 F.Supp.2d at 1288-90.

Perhaps more importantly for purposes of statutory construction, the court agrees with the following point made in Vidinliev: “If the definition of motor carrier in section 305 applies retroactively, then the one-year defense in section 306 is nothing more than surplusage.” Id. Or, put another way, “applying section 305 retroactively would violate the rule that a statute should be ‘interpreted so that no words shall be discarded as meaningless, redundant, or mere surplusage.’ ” Id. (quoting United States v. Canals-Jimenez, 943 F.2d 1284, 1286 (11th Cir.1991)). See also Wood v. Spencer, 487 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir.2007) (”It is common ground that all words and provisions of statutes are intended to have meaning and are to be given effect.”) (citation, alteration and internal quotation marks omitted). Other courts have come to this very conclusion, i.e., “to suggest that the court interpret § 121 in a way that renders the safe harbor in § 306 a nullity is at odds with basic rules of statutory construction.” Tews, 592 F.Supp.2d at 1349 n. 8 (citing Mountain States Tel. & Tel. Co. v. Pueblo of Santa Ana, 472 U.S. 237, 249 (1985)).See, e.g., Villegas, 2008 WL 5137321, at *21 n. 9 (”As this Court must presume that [all the] words of statutes are intended to have meaning, the Court will conclude that § 305 does not apply retroactively, and § 306 provides a one-year defense to liability.”); Veliz, 2008 WL 4911238, at * 6 (”For the one-year defense in Section [306(c) ] to have any relevance, Section 305(b) cannot apply retroactively.”).See also Hernandez v. Brink’s, Inc., 2009 WL 113406, at *7 (adopting reasoning of Vidinliev ); Loyd, 2008 WL 5211022, at *8 (following reasoning of both Vidinliev and Veliz );Horn v. Digital Cable & Communications, Inc., No. 1:06 CV 325, slip op. at 8-10 (N .D.Ohio Nov. 18, 2008) (following Vidinliev to hold that “Section 306 of the [TCA] undermines retroactivity finding”). And the Supreme Court recently reiterated, “one of the most basic interpretive canons [is] that ‘a statute should be construed so that effect is given to all of its provisions, so that no part will be inoperative or superfluous, void or insignificant.’ ” Corley v. United States, — U.S. —-, 2009 WL 901513, at *8 (Apr. 6, 2009) (quoting Hibbs v. Winn, 542 U.S. 88, 101 (2004)). In this court’s view as well, Plaintiffs’ section 306 surplusage argument cinches the result in their favor.”

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