Tag Archives: MCA

What Defines Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs) for Application of MCA Exemption Under Technical Corrections Act (TCA)? Courts Disagree

Two recent cases—one from the Eighth Circuit and one from a District court within the Ninth Circuit—continue to demonstrate that when it comes to application of the Motor Carrier Act’s exemption to the FLSA, for employees who drive commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in interstate commerce, courts continue to be confused. Within days of the Eighth Circuit’s holding that it is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) dictates whether a motor vehicle weighs 10,000 pounds or more, and thus reaches the threshold to be considered a CMV, a court in the District of Idaho held that the actual weight when loaded and not the GVWR dictates the weight for purposes of application of the MCA under the Technical Corrections Act (TCA). Both cases are discussed below.

8th Cir.: GVWR, Not Actual Weight, Is the Appropriate Criterion for Determining if the TCA Applies

McCall v. Disabled American Veterans

Initially, the Eighth Circuit discussed the historical background of the TCA, with respect to the MCA and SAFETEA-LU, the amendment that preceded the TCA:

Under the FLSA, “[e]mployees engaged in interstate commerce” are to be paid “one and one-half times” their regular salary rates for all work performed in excess of 40 hours per week. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). However, under the MCAE, the overtime-pay provision of § 207 does not apply to “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.” 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(1). “The Secretary of Transportation may prescribe … maximum hours of service of employees of … motor carrier[s] and … motor private carrier[s].” 49 U.S.C. § 31502(b)(1) and (2). As relevant here, “motor private carrier” is a person “transporting property by motor vehicle when … the property is being transported for sale, lease, rent, or bailment or to further a commercial enterprise .” 49 U.S.C. § 13102(15)(C).

In 2005, the SAFETEA–LU amended the definition of “motor private carrier” to mean “a person, other than a motor carrier, transporting property by commercial motor vehicle (as defined in section 31132).” 49 U.S.C. § 13102(15) (2005) (emphasis added). Section 31132 defines a “commercial motor vehicle” as one which “has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of at least 10,001 pounds, whichever is greater.” 49 U.S.C. § 31132(1). Therefore, following enactment of the SAFETEA–LU, the overtime-pay provision of § 207 began to apply to drivers of vehicles with a GVWR less than 10,001 pounds.

Reasoning that the TCA did not do away with SAFETEA-LU’s measure of 10,000 pounds by using the GVWR, the court explained:

In 2008, the TCA deleted the § 13102(15) reference to a “commercial motor vehicle (as defined in section 31132)” and inserted the more generic language “motor vehicle,” which is its current form. 49 U.S.C. § 13102(15) (2008). Section 306 of the TCA also extended FLSA overtime protections to “covered employees,” defined as individuals who are employed as motor private carriers, “who perform[ ] duties on motor vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less.” (Emphasis added). Pub.L. 110–244, Title III, § 306, 122 Stat. 1572, 1621 (2008). In the Bulletin, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division stated that it “will continue to use the gross vehicle weight rating2 (GVWR) or gross combined vehicle weight rating in the event that the vehicle is pulling a trailer” to determine if a vehicle is one “weighing 10,000 pounds” or less. Therefore, the overtime-pay provision of § 207 applies to vehicles with a GVWR of 10,000 pounds or less. We accord appropriate deference to this interpretation of the FLSA by the Secretary of Labor. See Donovan v. Bereuter’s, Inc., 704 F.2d 1034, 1036 (8th Cir.1983) ( “[T]he Secretary[ of Labor]‘s interpretations are entitled to considerable weight.”).

McCall argues that he was a covered employee with overtime rights under the FLSA because the trucks that he operated actually weighed less than 10,000 pounds despite having GVWRs greater than 10,000 pounds. Upon review, we agree with the district court that GVWR, not actual weight, is the appropriate criterion for determining if the TCA applies to place a driver’s wage regulation under the FSLA rather than the Transportation Secretary. McCall operated trucks with GVWRs in excess of 10,000 pounds. He is not entitled to overtime under the FSLA.

Click McCall v. Disabled American Veterans to read the entire Opinion.

D.Idaho: Actual Weight, Not GVWR Determinative of Whether Vehicle Qualifies as CMV Under TCA

Garcia v. Western Waste Services, Inc.

In the second case, a court within the District of Idaho examined the identical issue and reached the opposite conclusion. That is the Idaho court held that the same regulation relied upon by the Eighth Circuit was not entitled to deference, because the statute at issue, the TCA, unambiguously eliminated SAFETEA-LU’s prior definition of a CMV (utilizing the GVWR) for vehicles not pulling a trailer. As such, the Garcia court held that the actual weight of the vehicle and not the GVWR dictates whether a vehicle is a CMV within the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Transportation (and whether the MCA applies).

Framing the issue, the court explained:

Garcia asserts that he is a “covered employee” under the TCA small vehicle exception due to his work as a mechanic and/or driver. To qualify for overtime pay as a mechanic, Garcia must show that: (1) he was a mechanic for a DOT-regulated motor carrier, (2) his work affected, in part, the safety of vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less, and (3) that the vehicles were in transportation in interstate commerce. Pub.L. No. 110–244, § 306(c). It is undisputed that Garcia worked as a mechanic for Western Waste, and that Western Waste is a DOT-regulated motor carrier. It is also clear that Garcia’s work affected the safety of all of Western Waste’s vehicles, which all travel in interstate commerce. Molitor Aff., ¶¶ 13–16, Dkt. 33–4. The main questions at issue are whether any of Western Waste’s vehicles weigh 10,000 pounds or less, and whether Garcia’s work on any such vehicles is sufficient to qualify him for the TCA exception.

Reasoning that the actual weight of the vehicle and not the hypothetical GVWR governs whether a vehicle meets the definition of a CMV under the TCA, the court explained:

(1) Vehicle Weight

The issue is how do you weigh a truck? Garcia asserts that Western Waste’s fleet has a number of service vehicles that weigh less than 10,000 pounds. Western Waste has 5 service vehicles that are used to transport portable toilets, run errands, and do service on other trucks and equipment. When the parties weighed three of Western Waste’s service vehicles on June 13, 2012, the actual weight of each vehicle, without a trailer, was less than 10,000 pounds. Thorne Aff., Dkt. 37–2. However, Western Waste argues that actual weight is not the appropriate measure of vehicle weight under the TCA. Instead, the GVWR or GCWR should be used. Western Waste points out that all of its service vehicles are equipped to pull, and regularly pull, a 5,740 pound trailer. Additionally, Western Waste states that there are several other trailers of unknown weight that the service vehicles regularly pull. Accordingly, Western Waste argues that all of its service vehicles have GCWRs that exceed 10,000 pounds.

The TCA does not specify how vehicle weight is to be determined. As mentioned above, SAFETEA–LU specifically provided that the GVWR or GCWR was used to determine vehicle weight. 49 C.F.R. § 390.5. The TCA dropped any reference to GVWR or GCWR, and simply refers to “motor vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less.” Thus, Congress appears to have abandoned the GVWR and GCWR standard for determining availability of the exemption.

After Congress passed the TCA, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued Field Assistance Bulletin No.2010–2 (“the Bulletin”) to explain its interpretation of the TCA. Specifically, the Bulletin announced that the Wage and Hour Division “will continue to use the [GVWR] or [GCWR] in the event that the vehicle is pulling a trailer” to determine vehicle weight. Id. This raises the question of whether the Bulletin’s interpretation of the TCA is entitled to deference.

After a discussion of the types of deference that a court owes to administrative regulations of that administrations own regulations, the court rejected DOL’s interpretation of the TCA, and held that the regulation at issue (defining the weight of a CMV) was unambiguous:

Under these standards, the Court concludes’ that the DOL’s interpretation of the TCA is not entitled to deference. It is not an attempt to interpret its own ambiguous regulation, and therefore is not entitled to deference under Auer. Additionally, it is not entitled to Chevron deference. When Congress enacted the TCA, it had the language of the SAFETEA–LU before it, and chose not to rely upon GVWR or GCWR to measure a vehicle’s weight for purposes of the TCA exception. In the Court’s view, the language in the TCA is not ambiguous. Therefore, the DOL’s interpretation, which is contrary to the plain language of the statute, is not warranted.

Moreover, the DOL Bulletin is not persuasive and runs afoul of the charge that the TCA exception be construed broadly. The DOL offers no explanation as to why it will continue to use GVWR or GCWR, despite the clear language of the statute not adopting that standard. Furthermore, using GVWR or GCWR narrows the number of employees covered by the TCA exception. Such a reading does not allow the Court to construe the TCA exception “to apply to the furthest reaches consistent with Congressional direction.” Klem, 208 F.3d at 1089. Therefore, in absence of any guidance from Congress and “a specific definition in the TCA, the ordinary meaning of ‘weight’ controls.” Glanville v. Dupar, Inc., CIV.A. H–08–2537, 2009 WL 3255292, *8 (S.D.Tex. Sept. 25, 2009).

Even under the ordinary meaning of weight, however, the weights of a truck and trailer which are commonly used together should be combined. Id. (holding that because the plaintiffs “operated vehicles, truck and trailer combined, with an actual weight of greater than 10,000 pounds,” the TCA was inapplicable). When Western Waste’s service vehicles are combined with the trailer, they exceed 10,000 pounds. However, there are unresolved factual questions as to whether all of the service trucks actually pull the trailer. Garcia contends that only one of the service trucks pulled the trailer during his employment. Garcia Decl., ¶ 4, Dkt. 37–1. Garcia’s allegations raise doubt as to whether all of the trucks should have a weight rating combined with the trailer. If vehicles # 25 and # 27 do not pull the trailer, as Garcia asserts, then they will have an actual weight and GVWR under 10,000 pounds. Thus disputed issues of fact remain.

Click Garcia v. Western Waste Services, Inc. to read the entire Memorandum Decision and Order.

Although not discussed here, the courts also fell on opposite sides of the “mixed fleet” question. For anyone facing this issue—whether an employee who drives both CMVs and non-CMVs for his or her employer within the same week—you would be well-advised to read these opinions on that issue as well.

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D.N.J.: Absent Exercise of Discretion in Loading Trucks, Loader Not Subject to Motor Carrier Act (MCA) Exemption

Chellis v. New Century Transp., Inc.

This case was before the court on the defendant’s motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim.  Defendant asserted that, on its face, plaintiff’s complaint demonstrated that plaintiff was exempt under the motor carrier act, because plaintiff pled that he was a truck loader.  However, the court disagreed, citing plaintiff’s additional allegation that he did not exercise any discretion in loading the trucks.

Significantly, the Complaint alleged the following:

“(1) Plaintiff worked as a truck loader for Defendant. (Compl.¶ 16) Plaintiff’s duties consisted of executing load plans developed by his superiors. (Id. at ¶¶ 19–20) Plaintiff did not have responsibility for exercising his own discretion or judgment when loading. (Id. at ¶¶ 22–24) Despite working in excess of forty fours a week, Plaintiff was not paid overtime.”

Holding that Plaintiff’s allegations were sufficient, the court reasoned:

“To fall within the exemption, a loader’s duties must include “the proper loading of his employer’s motor vehicles so that they may be safely operated on the highways of the country.” 29 C.F.R. § 782.5(a). An employee has safety of operation duties when:

he has responsibility when such motor vehicles are being loaded, for exercising judgment and discretion in planning and building a balanced load or in placing, distributing, or securing the pieces of freight in such a manner that the safe operation of the vehicles on the highways in interstate or foreign commerce will not be jeopardized.

Id.

The parties’ disagreement stems principally from statutory construction. Defendant argues that the regulation is disjunctive. Therefore, Plaintiff need only have duties “in placing, distributing, or securing the pieces of freight” to fall within the exemption. Id.

Plaintiff argues that “for exercising judgment and discretion in planning” modifies subsequent clauses. Id. Merely placing freight on a truck does not fall within the exemption absent the responsibility for using discretion and judgment for such placement. Because Plaintiff alleges that he could not exercise discretion, he was not a loader as defined by the regulation.

Considering the staggering use of disjunctives and conjunctives in the same sentence, the disagreement is understandable. Although this Circuit has not addressed the issue, the balance of courts around the country tend to agree with Plaintiff.  See, e.g., Lewis v. Eskridge Trucking Co., 2011 WL 4598189, *1 (11th Cir.2011) (emphasizing discretion and responsibility in analyzing the loader exemption); Vaughn v. Watkins Motor Lines, Inc., 291 F.3d 900, 904 (6th Cir.2002) (“the plaintiffs and [defendant] disagree as to whether these two dockworkers exercised the judgment and discretion necessary to be considered loaders.”); Shultz v. Kelley, 431 F.2d 1364, 1368 (10th Cir.1970) (a loader must “exercis[e] judgment and discretion in (1) planning and building a balanced load or (2) placing, (3) distributing, or (4) securing the pieces of freight.”). The Court agrees with this analysis.

Here, Plaintiff clearly alleges that he did not have responsibility for exercising judgment or discretion when loading the trucks. (See Compl. ¶¶ 22–26) Therefore, the exemption does not apply and the Motion will be denied.”

Click Chellis v. New Century Transportation, Inc. to read the entire Order Denying Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.

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5th Cir.: Weight of Pickup and Trailer Combined to Calculate Gross Vehicle Weight (Whether 10,001 LBs) Under MCA Exemption

Albanil v. Coast 2 Coast, Inc.

Following an award of summary judgment to the defendants in this case plaintiffs appealed.  Specifically, the court below determined that plaintiffs were exempt from the FLSA’s overtime provisions, pursuant to the so-called Motor Vehicle Act (MCA) exemption.  As discussed here, the plaintiffs disputed the methodology used to calculate the gross vehicle weight of the vehicles they drove for defendants and subsequently, whether same qualified as “commercial motor vehicles” under the motor carrier act.  Affirming the court below, the Fifth Circuit held that the weight of both the pickup truck hauling the trailer and the trailer itself must be considered together in calculating the gross vehicle weight.  Here, since the weight of the vehicle, when added to the trailer was over 10,000 pounds (and the nature of plaintiffs’ interstate driving was undisputed), the Fifth Circuit affirmed the holding below.

Discussing this issue the Fifth Circuit reasoned:

“The first issue on appeal is whether the Motor Carrier Act (“MCA”) exemption to the FLSA’s overtime requirements applies. Appellants challenge the district court’s conclusion that it does. This issue involves determining whether C2C operated “commercial motor vehicles” during the relevant time period. A “commercial motor vehicle” is defined by statute as a “self-propelled or towed vehicle used on the highways in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property, if the vehicle has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of at least 10,001 pounds, whichever is greater” or meets certain other criteria not relevant here. The parties dispute whether the weight of the pickup truck and the trailer may be combined to reach the 10,001 pound threshold, as stated in a Department of Transportation regulation, or whether the use of the disjunctive “or” in the statutory definition requires them to be considered separately. We hold that the district court correctly combined the weights of the pickup and trailer to conclude that the MCA exemption applies, and that summary judgment was appropriate on Plaintiffs’ overtime claims.”

Also addressed in the opinion, but not discussed here at length, the Fifth Circuit reversed the trial court’s sua sponte order granting defendants summary judgment on plaintiffs’ minimum wage allegation– an issue no party briefed in their papers.  The appellate court reasoned that such a sua sponte order denied plaintiffs the fair opportunity to address the issues.

Click Albanil v. Coast 2 Coast, Inc. to read the entire Opinion.

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S.D.Ind.: Court Erred In Resolving MCA Exemption Issues on Motion for Conditional Certification; On Reconsideration Motion Granted

Thompson v. K.R. Drenth Trucking, Inc.

This case was before the court on plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration of the court’s order denying their motion for conditional certification of a collective action.  The case arose out of allegations that defendants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) by failing to pay a certain group of truck drivers (“plaintiffs”) overtime premiums.  Initially, the court denied Plaintiffs’ Motion.  In doing so, “the Court held that the Motor Carrier Act exemption applied to [the] named Plaintiffs… thus rendering them ineligible for overtime pay and unsuitable collective action representatives.”  In their motion for reconsideration, the plaintiffs asserted that the court had previously erred by inappropriately resolving the merits of the Motor Carrier Act exemption, with respect to the named-plaintiffs at the conditional certification stage.  The court agreed, and upon reconsideration granted conditional certification.

The court explained:

“In the February 11, 2011 Entry (Dkt.68), this Court acknowledged that the issue of whether Thompson and Hayden engaged in interstate commerce was “hotly contested.” Plaintiffs emphasized that both Thompson and Hayden were Non–Recyclable Drivers who regularly transported non-recyclable materials within the State of Indiana. Plaintiffs argued that since they never engaged in interstate commerce as part of their “regular” or “normal” duties, Thompson and Hayden are suitable collective action representatives. KRD counters that any of its drivers, including Thompson and Hayden, “could be called upon at any time to carry any load, whether intrastate or interstate,” meaning the MCA exemption applies. (Dkt. 71 at 4). And, indeed, Thompson and Hayden each crossed Indiana state lines on one occasion to transport KRD equipment to South Carolina.

In its prior entry, the Court found KRD’s argument persuasive, determining that the MCA exemption applied to Thompson and Hayden. In other words, even if Thompson and Hayden rarely crossed state lines (or, for that matter, hauled recyclable material destined for out-of-state purchasers), they could have been called upon to do so in their regular course of work. For this reason, the Court denied Plaintiffs’ motion for conditional certification.

Having now reviewed a more thorough body of case law, the Court finds that it erred by, in effect, making a merits determination at this early stage. As Plaintiffs emphasize, they have a “lenient” burden at this stage of the proceedings and, as such, courts do not reach the merits of Plaintiffs’ FLSA claims. Fravel v. County of Lake, 2008 WL 2704744, at *2 (N.D.Ind. July 7, 2008) (citations omitted). However, it is worth noting that even at this early stage, a court must also ensure that the proposed class representatives are adequate.”

Luckily for the plaintiffs here, the court recognized its initial error and corrected it almost immediately.  The court’s decision serves as a reminder that courts simply do not resolve the merits of an FLSA case at the conditional certification stage.

Click Thompson v. K.R. Drenth Trucking, Inc. to read the court’s Entry on Plaintiffs’ Motion to Reconsider.

 

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N.D.Ga.: “Yard Hostler” Not Exempt Under The Motor Carrier Act; Defendant Failed To Show That He “Affected The Safety Or Operation Of Motor Vehicles In Transporting Property In Interstate Or Foreign Commerce On The Public Highways”

Billingslea v. Southern Freight, Inc.

The case was before the Court on Defendant’s motion for summary judgment.  Defendants’ sought summary judgment finding that Plaintiff, a “yard hostler,” was exempt from the overtime provisions of the FLSA.  Although it was not disputed that Defendant was/is a Motor Carrier, subject to the MCA, the Court determined that Defendant had failed to demonstrate that Plaintiff was individually exempt, because there was no showing that as a “yard hostler” he “affected the safety of operation of motor vehicles in transporting property in interstate or foreign commerce on the public highways.”  Therefore, Defendant’s motion was denied.

The Court highlighted the following applicable facts:

“Defendant employed Plaintiff as a “yard hostler” at the Nestle distribution facility from August 2008 until November 2008, when he voluntarily resigned [Doc. 22-2, ¶ 20]. Prior to his employment, Defendant required Plaintiff to undergo a drug test and satisfy various physical requirements, consistent with standards set by the Department of Transportation [Doc. 22-2, ¶ 9]. Plaintiff satisfactorily completed the drug test and met the physical requirements [Doc. 22-2, ¶ 10]. Also, prior to his employment, Plaintiff was trained in relevant safety procedures and protocols for his position and acknowledged in writing that he received training on those procedures [Doc. 22-2, ¶ 11].

As a yard hostler at the Nestle distribution facility, Plaintiff drove a “hostler tractor,” which he connected to freight trailers in order to transport the trailers from a staging area to loading docks at the facility [Doc. 22-2, ¶ 12].  Once Plaintiff moved a given trailer to the distribution facility loading dock, the freight in that trailer would be unloaded into the facility; afterwards, Plaintiff would use a hostler tractor to return emptied trailers to the staging area [Doc. 22-2, ¶ 13]. Nothing in the record indicates that Plaintiff ever drove a hostler tractor or any trucks on a public roadway or interstate highway, or that Defendant ever assigned Plaintiff the duty of driving any vehicles on a public roadway or interstate highway. Instead, the record indicates that Plaintiff performed all of his duties as a yard hostler on private property at the distribution facility.

In addition to his core duties, Plaintiff performed various additional tasks designed to promote safety at the distribution facility. At the start of each of his shifts, Plaintiff inspected his assigned hostler tractor for any noticeable maintenance or damage issues [Doc. 22-2, ¶ 14]. If any such issues existed, he reported them to an on-site administrator and made a written report detailing the issues [Doc. 22-2, ¶ 14].

Plaintiff also inspected trucks, trailers, and freight that arrived at the distribution facility. When Plaintiff received refrigerated trucks that he was assigned to transfer, he ensured that the fuel and temperature levels of the truck remained satisfactory during the transfer [Doc. 22-2, ¶ 15]. When Plaintiff received a sealed freight trailer, he often used a bolt cutter to break the trailer’s seal and opened one of the trailer’s back doors before backing the trailer onto the loading dock [Doc. 22-2, ¶ 16]. After opening the back door of a given trailer, Plaintiff would assess whether the freight inside the trailer had shifted during transport or posed any danger to unloaders [Doc. 22-2, ¶ 16]. Plaintiff also inspected trailers that he transported for any noticeable damage, such as broken taillights or flat tires [Doc. 22-2, ¶ 19]. Plaintiff reported such damage to the administrative office and would then move the trailer to the maintenance area of the distribution facility yard [Doc. 22-2, ¶ 19].

When other yard hostlers backed trailers up to the distribution facility’s loading dock, Plaintiff helped “spot” those trailers [Doc. 22-2, ¶ 17]. When Plaintiff backed trailers up to the loading dock, he often chocked the trailer tires to ensure that the trailer did not slide or roll unintentionally after being parked at the loading dock [Doc. 22-2, ¶ 18].

Defendant compensated Plaintiff on an hourly basis and internally classified him as exempt from the overtime compensation requirements of the FLSA, based on its interpretation of an exemption provision in the MCA [Doc. 22-2, ¶ 23].

Defendant and SFI clearly fall into the class of employers whose motor-vehicle transportation the Secretary of Transportation could, and did, regulate. In viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, however, the Court concludes that Defendant has not borne its burden of showing that Plaintiff, through the actual work that he performed as a yard hostler, “plainly and unmistakably” fell within the terms of the motor carrier exemption to the overtime compensation requirement found in the FLSA. Hodgson, 472 F.2d at 47.”

After discussing the application of the MCA to drivers, driver’s helpers, loaders and/or mechanics, the Court held that Defendant had failed to show Plaintiff, a “yard hostler,” was individually covered by the MCA, because Defendant’s had failed to show that his work affected the safety of operations of motor vehicles in transporting property in interstate or foreign commerce on the public highways.  In doing so, the Court drew a clear line between simply safety involved internally at Defendant’s facility, and the safety involved in operating the vehicles outside, on public roadways, in interstate commerce.

“Defendant emphasizes the numerous safety-related activities that Plaintiff undisputedly undertook as a yard hostler and stresses the effect that those activities arguably had on the safe operation of trucks and trailers used to transport property through interstate commerce. But the second prong of the motor carrier exemption test contains two wholly independent parts. To bear its burden of showing that Plaintiff fell within the motor carrier exemption, Defendant was required to show that Plaintiff performed the work of either a driver, driver’s helper, loader, or mechanic, and that such work directly affected the safety of operation of motor vehicles in transporting property in interstate or foreign commerce on the public highways. Though the record reflects that some of Plaintiff’s activities as a yard hostler promoted the safe operation of trucks and trailers transporting property through interstate commerce, nothing in the record indicates that those activities were those of a driver, driver’s helper, loader, or mechanic as defined by the FLSA regulations. Without more, the Court finds summary judgment in Defendant’s favor on the basis of the motor carrier exemption inappropriate.”

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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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S.D.Fla.: Airport Shuttle Operating Within A Single State Without An Arrangement With The Air Carrier(s) Is Not Engaged In Interstate Commerce; MCA Exemption Inapplicable

Gilbert v. Southern Shuttle Services Inc.

This case was before the Court upon Defendant Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, or in the Alternative, Motion for New Trial (DE 90). The Motion is fully briefed and ripe for review, following a verdict for Plaintiffs, drivers for Defendant, a company that primarily provides transportation services to people who are going to and from local airports. Denying Defendant’s Motion, the Court explained the “interstate” travel requirements of a Defendant seeking to claim the Motor Carrier Act (MCA) Exemption in Order to avoid FLSA liability.

Discussing the issue before the Court, the Court stated, “Defendant challenges only the portion of the instruction regarding the interstate commerce requirement. (Mot. at 4-5). The Motor Carrier Exemption, 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(1), mandates that overtime pay is not required for any employee with respect to whom the Secretary of Transportation (“Secretary”) has power to establish “qualifications and maximum hours of service pursuant to section 21502″ of the Motor Carrier Act. Thus, the question of whether a plaintiff is exempt from the overtime provisions of the FLSA under 29 U.S.C. 213(b)(1) turns on whether the Secretary had such power with respect to the plaintiff. Baez v. Wells Fargo Armored Service Corp., 938 F.2d 180, 181 (11th Cir.1991).

A requirement of the motor carrier exemption is that the carrier transports persons by motor carrier between a place in a state and a place in another state or “in the practical continuity of movement in the flow of interstate commerce.”See Powell v. Carey Intern., Inc., 483 F.Supp.2d 1168, 1179 (S.D.Fla.2007); see also29 C.F.R. § 782.2 (“The activities of drivers … in connection with transportation which is not in interstate or foreign commerce within the meaning of the Motor Carrier Act provide no basis for exemption under section 13(b)(1) of the Fair Labor Standards Act.”); see also McIntyre v. FLX of Miami, Inc., 2008 WL 4541017, *5 (S.D.Fla.2008) ( “Transportation within a single state may remain ‘interstate’ in character when it forms a part of a ‘practical continuity of movement’ across state lines from the point of origin to the point of destination.”) (citations omitted).

Even if the passengers came from or were destined to points in another state, the carrier is not engaged in interstate commerce if the carrier operates within a single state unless there is a “common arrangement” or through-ticketing between the motor carrier and the air carrier for continuous passage or interchange. See James T. Kimball-Petition for Declaratory Order, 131 M.C.C. 908, 1980 WL 14197 (1980) ((“Kimball” );Motor Transp. of Passengers Incidental to Air, 95 M.C.C. 526 (1964); see also Powell, 483 F.Supp.2d at 1179-82 (holding that plaintiffs limousine service drivers did not fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation for purposes of the Motor Carrier Exemption where there was insufficient evidence of through-ticketing arrangement between defendants and Virgin Atlantic); Rossi v. Associated Limousine Services, Inc., 438 F.Supp.2d 1354, 1362 (S.D.Fla.2006) ( “Notwithstanding, a through-ticketing arrangement must be between the motor carrier and air carrier for continuous passage in order to render the motor carrier’s operation interstate transportation. See In re Kimball, supra.Associated has no such arrangement with any air carrier.”). A common travel arrangement with a ground transportation company or a travel agency is insufficient to meet the interstate commerce requirement. See id.; Kimball, 131 M.C.C. at 918; Morrison v. Quality Transports Services, Inc., 474 F.Supp.2d 1303, 1310 (S.D.Fla.2007). The Court concludes that the instruction given was legally correct. Accordingly, the Court finds that it did not err in instructing the jury on the Motor Carrier Exemption.

Finally, the Court rejects Defendant’s claims that the evidence at trial established that it fell within the Taxicab and Motor Carrier Exemptions to the FLSA. The jury instructions were correct, both legally and in light of the evidence presented at trial, and the jury’s verdict was not against the weight of the evidence.” Accordingly, Defendant’s Motion was denied.

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