S.D.Ind.: Tow Truck Driver Exempt Under Motor Carrier Act (MCA), Because Might Be Called To Perform Interstate Wrecking Services

Johnson v. Hix Wrecker Service, Inc.

The case was before the Court on several motions for summary judgment. The Court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the Plaintiff was exempt from the FLSA’s overtime provisions pursuant to the Motor Carrier Act (MCA) exemption. This case contrasts the proof (and result) of a similar case discussed here yesterday.

The Court explained, “Defendant Hix Wrecker Service, Inc., (“HWS”) is an Indianapolis business that, as its name suggests, performs wrecker services; the remaining Defendants are individuals who manage and operate HWS. Plaintiff Bobby J. Johnson, Jr., worked for HWS for several months in 2006 as a tow truck driver. Johnson asserts several claims in his complaint. At issue in the instant motion is his claim that HWS violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., (“FLSA”), by failing to pay him overtime wages for occasions in which he worked more than forty hours in a given week. HWS argues that the FLSA overtime provisions were inapplicable to Johnson because the motor carrier exemption applied to him during his employment with HWS. The Court agrees.

The motor carrier exemption is found at 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(1) and provides that “any employee with respect to whom the Secretary of Transportation has power to establish qualifications and maximum hours of service pursuant to the provisions of section 31502 of Title 49″ is exempt from the overtime provisions of the FLSA. Among other things, 49 U.S.C. § 31502 extends the Secretary of Transportation’s power to “employees of, and safety of operation and equipment of, a motor carrier” that transports property across state lines. “The Secretary has the power to set maximum hours for drivers if the company engages in more than de minimis interstate commerce, and that includes a company that holds itself out as an interstate company and solicits that business even though its prospect of obtaining much of that business is poor and some of its drivers never drive in interstate commerce.” Garcia v. Pace Suburban Bus Service, 955 F.Supp. 75, 77 (N.D.Ill.1996) (citing Morris v. McComb, 332 U.S. 422, 68 S.Ct. 131, 92 L.Ed. 44 (1947); Reich v. American Driver Service, Inc., 33 F.3d 1153 (9th Cir.1994); Marshall v. Aksland, 631 F.2d 600 (9th Cir.1980); Brennan v. Schwerman Trucking Co. of Virginia, Inc., 540 F.2d 1200 (4th Cir.1976)).”That does not mean, however, that the Secretary of Transportation has automatic jurisdiction over all drivers of an interstate carrier. Pursuant to a notice of interpretation, 46 Fed.Reg. 37,902, 37,903 (1981)… jurisdiction extends only to drivers who reasonably could be expected to make one of the carrier’s interstate runs, and that means more than a remote possibility.” Garcia, 955 F.Supp. at 77. Thus, as explained in the relevant Department of Labor regulation:

In a situation considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, approximately 4 percent of the total trips made by drivers employed by a common carrier by motor vehicle involved in the hauling of interstate freight. Since it appeared that employer, as a common carrier, was obligated to take such business, and that any driver might be called upon at any time to perform such work, which was indiscriminately distributed among the drivers, the Court considered that such trips were a natural, integral, and apparently inseparable part of the common carrier service performed by the employer and driver employees. Under these circumstances, the Court concluded that such work, which directly affected the safety of operation of the vehicles in interstate commerce, brought the entire classification of drivers employed by the carrier under the power of the Interstate Commerce Commission to establish qualifications and maximum hours of service, so that all were exempt even though the interstate driving on particular employees was sporadic and occasional, and in practice some drivers would not be called upon for long periods to perform any such work. ( Morris v. McComb, 332 U.S. 422, 68 S.Ct. 131, 92 L.Ed. 44)

29 C.F.R. § 782.2. In other words, it does not matter whether the driver in question actually has made an interstate run; as long as the driver is subject to being assigned to such a run at any time, the exemption applies to that driver.

HWS has the burden of demonstrating that the exemption applied to Johnson during the time it employed him. Klein v. Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center, 990 F.2d 279, 283 (7th Cir.1993). To demonstrate the application of the exemption to Johnson, HWS has submitted evidence, in the form of the affidavit of Defendant Gail Neal, the corporate secretary of HWS, which establishes the following:

1. HWS has at all relevant times held a common-carrier certificate of authority from the Department of Transportation that permits it to transport property for hire in interstate commerce.

2. Since 1973, HWS has provided its customers with both intrastate and interstate wrecker services.

3. HWS routinely provides interstate wrecker services for several of its customers.

4. All HWS drivers are subject to being assigned to an out-of-state run, either as a driver or as a helper, as needed.

5. Johnson was subject to being assigned to an out-of-state run at all times during his employment with HWS.

Thus, HWS has submitted evidence sufficient to establish that the motor carrier exemption to the FLSA was applicable to Johnson during his employment with HWS.” Therefore the Court granted Defendant’s motion.

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