11th Cir.: Bus Drivers Exempt From FLSA Under Motor Carrier (MCA) Exemption; Bus Company’s Airport-to-Seaport Shuttle Routes Shared A Practical Continuity Of Movement Due To Interstate Travel Of Cruise Line Customers Shuttled

Walters v. American Coach Lines Of Miami, Inc.

This appeal required the Court to determine whether Appellants, who are all current or former bus drivers for American Coach Lines of Miami (“ACLM”), were subject to a provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., exempting from the FLSA’s overtime requirements any employees who fall under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Transportation under the Motor Carrier Act (“MCA”). The district court found Appellants to be eligible for this “motor carrier” exemption and therefore granted the portion of ACLM’s motion for summary judgment addressing Appellants’ claims for overtime wages. After reviewing the record and the parties’ briefs and hearing oral argument, we AFFIRM the grant of summary judgment.

The Court stated the relevant facts to its inquiry as follows:

“ACLM is a private motor carrier providing for-hire ground transportation for passengers that holds itself out to be an “interstate” motor carrier. It is licensed with the United States Department of Transportation (“DOT”), holds all the authorizations from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) necessary to be an interstate passenger motor carrier, and has been issued a DOT number. Since 2004, federal transportation agencies have audited ACLM at least twice, on at least one occasion in combination with Florida authorities. ACLM also requires its drivers to meet DOT safety standards, which Florida has adopted as well. See
Fla. Stat. § 316.302. ACLM does not pay its drivers overtime wages.

ACLM primarily provides transportation within the state of Florida, though some of its business is between Florida and other states. Much of ACLM’s revenue comes from shuttling cruise ship passengers between the Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports and local hotels and cruise ship ports. Since September 2006, ACLM has had a written contract to be the sole provider of such transportation for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (“Royal Caribbean”) during daytime hours. ACLM asserts that between April 2006 and December 2007 it transported more than 500,000 Royal Caribbean passengers, trips that resulted in over $4.4 million in revenues. Appellants contend that there is no proof that ACLM provided such transport prior to September 2006, though they appear not to dispute the total revenue figure. In addition to this written arrangement with Royal Caribbean, ACLM maintains that it earned over $700,000 from earlier informal agreements to provide similar shuttle transportation for Costa Cruises and Princess Cruises. Appellants likewise dispute the existence of such arrangements.

Under ACLM’s contract with Royal Caribbean, it provides ground transportation for passengers who book vacation packages through travel agents or Royal Caribbean. For those passengers, ground transportation is included as part of the overall package and is not priced or itemized separately. Passengers who do not pre-purchase ground transportation can request shuttle service when they arrive at the airport or cruise ship terminal, which will then be charged to that passenger’s Royal Caribbean account.  Under the agreement, Royal Caribbean provides ACLM with weekly manifests listing the expected time, date, and number of passengers for each shuttle trip. Royal Caribbean employees greet passengers on arrival, contact ACLM when a bus is required, and collect vouchers from passengers before they board the bus. Royal Caribbean does not keep the vouchers nor does it give them to ACLM; rather, it gives ACLM a “load slip” with a head count for each trip. ACLM then uses these load slips to invoice Royal Caribbean for the trips. The agreement stated that ACLM would receive payment only if a passenger actually boarded the bus, with Royal Caribbean deciding whether to pay based on a per-person or per-bus rate. FN2 As a result, ACLM receives all of its payments from Royal Caribbean, rather than the passengers.

In addition to these local shuttle services, ACLM also provided other forms of in-state and out-of-state motor coach transportation, including driving shuttle bus routes at the University of Miami. Between 2004 and 2007, ACLM drivers made at least 148 trips that involved out-of-state travel, some for as long as 90 days. Both parties agree that approximately $1.7 million, or 4.06% of ACLM’s total revenue during that period, came from these out-of-state trips and that about 19% of its drivers made such trips. There appear to have been 75 ACLM drivers who made out-of-state trips during the time frame, which constitutes 19.08% of the 393 drivers employed by ACLM for that period.FN5 Nine of the 63 Appellants (14.29%) made out-of-state trips for ACLM, and Appellants spent less than 286 days on such trips during the period in question. ACLM does not keep records of how many trips its drivers make on a daily or annual basis, and there is no solid evidence regarding how many overall trips ACLM drivers made between 2004 and 2007 nor of what percentage of those trips involved out-of-state travel. One ACLM executive agreed that 10,000 total trips a year would be a reasonable estimate. He stated that, if this estimate were correct, then around 100 of those trips would involve out-of-state travel, which would mean that approximately 1% of ACLM’s total trips were out of state.”

After finding that the Defendant was a “motor carrier” the Court turned its inquiry to that of whether Plaintiffs were covered by the MCA. “Courts are ‘guided by practical considerations’ in determining whether an employee’s activities would be part of interstate commerce for purposes of the FLSA. Marshall v. Victoria Transp. Co., Inc., 603 F.2d 1122, 1123 (5th Cir.1979) (quotation marks and citation omitted). “When persons or goods move from a point of origin in one state to a point of destination in another, the fact that a part of that journey consists of transportation by an independent agency solely within the boundaries of one state does not make that portion of the trip any less interstate in character.”United States v. Yellow Cab Co., 332 U.S. 218, 228, 67 S.Ct. 1560, 1566, 91 L.Ed. 2010 (1947), overruled on other grounds by Copperweld Corp. v. Independence Tube Corp., 467 U.S. 752, 104 S.Ct. 2731, 81 L.Ed.2d 628 (1984). As a result, purely intrastate transportation can constitute part of interstate commerce if it is part of a “continuous stream of interstate travel.” Chao v. First Class Coach Co., Inc., 214 F.Supp.2d. 1263, 1272 (M.D.Fla.2001). For this to be the case, there must be a “practical continuity of movement” between the intrastate segment and the overall interstate flow. Walling v. Jacksonville Paper Co., 317 U.S. 564, 568, 63 S.Ct. 332, 335, 87 L.Ed. 460 (1943); see also Bilyou v. Dutchess Beer Distribs., Inc., 300 F.3d 217, 223 (2d Cir.2002) (applying this standard in analyzing applicability of motor carrier exemption).

In Marshall, we addressed a city bus service in Brownsville, Texas, which often transported people who had walked across the Mexican border before boarding the bus. See Marshall, 603 F.2d at 1123-24. We characterized the transportation of people making international journeys as “a regular, recurring and substantial part” of the bus drivers’ overall workload. Id. at 1125. Because the drivers’ work thereby was “entwined with a continuous stream of international travel,” we concluded that the drivers were engaged in interstate commerce, even though their routes were solely intrastate. Id. The Supreme Court reached a similar conclusion in United States v. Capital Transit Co., 338 U.S. 286, 70 S.Ct. 115, 94 L.Ed. 93 (1949). That case involved a bus service that drove routes within the District of Columbia that took commuters to locations where they then could board buses bound for Virginia. See id. at 288, 70 S.Ct. at 116. The Court found that the Interstate Commerce Commission (“ICC”) had regulatory authority under the MCA over those intra-district bus routes because they were “part of a continuous stream of interstate transportation” and thus formed “an integral part of an interstate movement.” Id. at 290, 70 S.Ct. at 117.

These cases indicate that ACLM’s airport-to-seaport routes would come under the Secretary’s MCA jurisdiction. Its shuttle trips share a practical continuity of movement with the interstate or international travel of the cruise lines and their passengers, just as the Brownsville bus routes did for their riders’ cross-border journeys. For cruise ship passengers arriving at the airport or seaport, ACLM’s shuttle rides would be part of the continuous stream of interstate travel that is their cruise vacation. The Royal Caribbean patrons in particular would have no reason to have any alternate view since the fee for the shuttle ride would either be bundled as part of their cruise vacation package or would be included on the bill for their Royal Caribbean shipboard account.”

The Court shot down each of Plaintiffs arguments that they were not subject to the MCA. The Court said: (1) application of the MCA did not require travel in interstate trips; (2) the incidental-to-air exemption was inapplicable; and (3) Defendants were not required to have a “through-ticketing” arrangement with the cruise line to argue that the passengers were all moving in the continuity of interstate commerce.

Therefore, the Court found that under the circumstances, the bus drivers were not entitled to the benefits of the FLSA, because they were exempt under the Motor Carrier Act (MCA) exemption to the FLSA.

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