Cremeens v. City of Montgomery
The Appellants, fire investigators for the City of Montgomery’s fire department, appealed the dismissal via summary judgment of their collective action seeking overtime pay from the city. Their appeal raised the question of the continuing validity of the Department of Labor’s dual assignment regulation, which addresses overtime for firefighters who perform law enforcement duties. The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the regulation remains valid and therefore, reversed the judgment of the district court.
In addition to describing the Plaintiff’s firefighting duties and fire suppression training, the Court explained that, “Fire investigators investigate fires involving loss of life, arson and other crimes, and multiple fire alarms. They gather physical evidence, interview witnesses, interrogate suspects, and testify in court. They have the power to make arrests without first calling the Montgomery police department. Candidates for the job of fire investigator must graduate from state and national fire investigation academies; graduate from the Montgomery police academy; and be certified by the state as a peace officer. Candidates also must pass continuing education and firearms qualifications.” Thus, the record demonstrated that Plaintiffs perform both police duties and firefighting duties.
Reasoning that the “Dual Assignment” Rule continued in full effect, notwithstanding the revised definition of those engaged in firefighting duties (and thus exempt), the Court explained:
“Similarly, because the plain language of the dual assignment regulation does not purport to alter § 203(y)’s definition of an employee engaged in fire protection activities, it skirts the province of § 203(y) and does not conflict with it. The simpler reading of the dual assignment regulation is that it dictates how to apply the overtime rules to those employees who have already satisfied the definitions both for fire protection and law enforcement. The dual assignment regulation does no defining. It is fair to say that while § 203(y) defines, the dual assignment regulation applies.
This analysis explains why our well-reasoned precedents in Huff and Gonzalez do not control here. For one, neither of those cases addressed the dual assignment regulation. Rather, those cases held that the regulatory definition of fire protection activities and the 80/20 rule by their texts purported to alter § 203(y)’s definition of an employee engaged in fire protection activities. The 80/20 rule stated, after all, that “[a] person who spends more than 20 percent of his/her working time in nonexempt activities is not considered to be an employee engaged in fire protection or law enforcement activities for purposes of this part.” 29 C.F.R. § 553.212(a) (emphasis added). Therefore the regulations had to yield to the statute, and were deemed obsolete. And lastly, the analysis in Huff and Gonzalez centered on whether the plaintiffs there satisfied § 203(y)’s requirement for a “responsibility” to fight fires. Here, the plaintiffs have already conceded § 203(y) applies to them.
The city nevertheless urges us to apply a broader interpretation of Huff and Gonzalez to this case-to conclude that § 203(y) mandates, without exception, firefighter overtime for anyone who fits the statute’s definition of firefighter. The city argues that the dual assignment regulation must fall because it creates an exception to § 203(y). It essentially claims that what the 80/20 regulation did through its text, the dual assignment regulation does in its effect. Therefore, concludes the city’s argument, the dual assignment regulation poses a “direct conflict” to the operation of § 203(y). The district court adopted this line of reasoning, concluding that 29 C.F.R. § 553.213(b) “further refined” § 203(y)’s definition of an employee in fire protection activities in the same way the 80/20 rule did. Mem. Op. and Order 12. The district court concluded that the dual assignment regulation posed an “inherent conflict” with § 203(y). Id. 13.
We find no conflict between § 203(y) and the dual assignment regulation, and we reject the broader reading of Huff and Gonzalez that the city urges. The plain words of the regulation create no problematic interaction with the statute, in the way the regulations at issue in Huff and Gonzalez did. Therefore those cases do not control the outcome here.
We also note that in order to effectuate the FLSA, Congress, in passing § 203(y), clearly relied on the existence and operation of numerous pre-existing DOL regulations. One such regulation, by way of example, is regulation 29 C.F.R. § 553.230, which specifies the numerical overtime ceilings for firefighters and law enforcement employees. It is not unreasonable to conclude that Congress, in passing § 203(y), was also aware of the dual assignment regulation, implicitly relied on it, and thereby ratified its continuing application.
One last issue bears addressing. The district court identified a second ground for finding the dual assignment regulation obsolete: the dual assignment regulation invokes the obsolete regulations for fire protection activities and the 80/20 rule. However, we do not find such citation, by itself, disabling. Rather, it is easy to read the dual assignment regulation as importing and applying § 203(y)’s updated statutory definition of an employee in fire protection activities as seamlessly as it once applied the now-obsolete regulatory definition. And, the mention of the 80/20 rule in 29 C.F.R. § 553.213(a) has no bearing on the operation of the dual assignment provision in 29 C.F.R. § 553.213(b).”
Thus, the Court held that the “dual assignment” regulation, which provides that, when public employee qualifies both as fire protection and law enforcement personnel, he receives overtime according to rules for activity that takes up majority of his working time, was not definitional and did not conflict with updated statutory definition of “[e]mployee in fire protection activities,” so as not to be rendered obsolete by amendment of statute.
The full opinion is available at Cremeens v. City of Montgomery.