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S.D.N.Y.: Where Successor Liability Alleged, “Successor in Interest” Need Not Meet the $500,000 Threshold As Long as the Previous Employer Did

Alvarez v. 40 Mulberry Restaurant, Inc.

This case was before the court on the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff alleged that the defendant at issue was a “successor in interest” to his actual employers, whom he actively worked for and whose failure to pay him pursuant to the FLSA gave rise to his claims. The defendant alleged to be the “successor in interest” such that it had derivative liability (of plaintiff’s actual employers), asserted that the case was due to be dismissed against it, because plaintiff could not show that it grossed $500,000.00 or more in annual sales during the periods relevant to the claim. Explaining that this was an incorrect reading of the law, the court reasoned that the successor employer was covered, so long as the plaintiff’s actual employers were subject to enterprise coverage under the FLSA. However, because neither the plaintiff, nor the defendants addressed the issue of whether the plaintiffs actual employers were covered enterprises, the court remanded the case for further discovery on this issue.

Discussing the issue, the court explained:

Defendants 40 Mulberry and Chin claim that, because it has not been established that AR Restaurant has ever grossed $500,000 or more in annual sales, Alvarez’s FLSA claim must be dismissed. That is incorrect.

The FLSA covers only those workers employed by an “enterprise” that is “engaged in commerce.” 29 U.S.C. § 207. “An entity constitutes an enterprise where ‘the related activities performed (either through unified operation or common control) by any person or persons [are] for a common business purpose.’ ” Rodriguez v. Almighty Cleaning, 784 F.Supp.2d 114, 121 (E.D.N.Y.2011) (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 203(r)). An enterprise is “engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce” if, inter alia, it: (1) “has employees engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce;” or “has employees handling, selling, or otherwise working on goods or materials that have been moved in or produced for commerce by any person;” and (2) its “annual gross volume of sales made or business done is not less than $500,000 (exclusive of excise taxes at the retail level that are separately stated).” 29 U.S.C. § 203(s)(1)(A)(i)-(ii).

Defendants argue that, because the summary judgment record would not permit a fact finder to conclude that AR Restaurant has ever grossed $500,000 or more in annual sales, Alvarez cannot sue 40 Mulberry and Chin under the FLSA. But that does not logically follow. It is correct that, on the record before the Court, AR Restaurant’s financial condition would prevent an employee from suing under the FLSA based on work done at AR Restaurant. But Alvarez is not seeking to impose liability on 40 Mulberry and Chin based on AR Restaurant’s activities. Instead, he is claiming that, during his employment at the former Asia Roma, which ended in July 2010, the former Asia Roma (1) had $500,000 or more in annual sales; and (2) violated the FLSA’s substantive obligations as to overtime and other pay. He further alleges that defendants 40 Mulberry and Chin are responsible for those violations as successors in interest. Assuming arguendo that Asia Roma had $500,000 in annual revenues required by the FLSA in, say, 2009, the fact that AR Restaurant has not had such revenues would not shield defendants, if properly held to be responsible for Asia Roma’s conduct, from liability for FLSA violations during 2009. The financial condition of AR Restaurant is thus not determinative. The relevant question is, instead, whether Asia Roma was a qualifying “enterprise engaged in commerce” when it employed Alvarez, and whether 40 Mulberry and Chin are answerable for Asia Roma’s liabilities.

It does not appear that the parties have focused their discovery efforts on the critical question of whether Asia Roma had the requisite sales during Alvarez’s employment. However, this question is potentially dispositive, and the Court believes it must be addressed promptly.

The Court, accordingly, grants the parties one month to conduct further discovery—by means including, but not limited to, subpoenas to Asia Roma, Chan, Lee, or any other relevant party, person, or entity—on the question of whether Asia Roma constituted an “enterprise engaged in commerce” during the period of Alvarez’s employment. After the close of discovery, the Court will afford the defendants two weeks to move for summary judgment on the issue of whether Asia Roma was an “enterprise engaged in commerce” during the years it employed Alvarez. If summary judgment is granted for the defendants on that ground, such that Alvarez’s FLSA claims cannot go forward, the Court expects to dismiss, without prejudice, his state law claims. If, on the other hand, the FLSA sales threshold is met by competent evidence for all or some of these years, discovery may then go forward on the remaining issues in the case.

The court also denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment to the extent they sought a finding that the subsequent business was not a successor in interest, reasoning that under the relevant tests (the traditional common law test OR the “substantial continuity test”) a finder of fact could certainly find that the subsequent business was a successor in interest to plaintiff’s actual employers.

Click Alvarez v. 40 Mulberry Restaurant, Inc. to read the entire Opinion & Order.

S.D.Fla.: “Gross Volume of Sales” For Purposes of Determining Enterprise Coverage Does Not Include Unrealized Revenue Attributable to Coupons or Discounts

Marckenson v. LAL Peker, LLC

Anyone who has been following for the last few years knows that the issue of “enterprise coverage,” relatively dormant for decades, has been hotly litigated throughout the Southern and Middle Districts of Florida-2 hotbeds of FLSA litigation- in recent years.  In another recent decision weighing in on the issue, Judge Michael Moore in the S.D.Fla. was asked to decide whether the $500,000 annual gross sales requirement must take into account unrealized sales/revenues attributable to coupons or discounts a business gives to its customers.  Specifically, here it was undisputed that the defendant-employer recorded actual sales of less than $500,000.00 per year during the relevant years.  However, when discounts and coupons (unrealized revenue) were factored in, its sales rose above the $500,000.00 threshold.  The defendants moved for summary judgment asserting that they were not a “covered enterprise” under the FLSA.  The court agreed and granted the defendants summary judgment.

Discussing the issue, the court stated:

“The issue before the Court is whether “gross volume of sales made or business done” as used in 29 U.S.C. § 203(s)(1)(A) incorporates unrealized revenue attributable to coupons or discounts provided to customers. Interpretations of the FLSA are determined ultimately by the Court. See Mitchell v. Zachry, 362 U.S. 310, 80 S.Ct. 739, 4 L.Ed.2d 753 (1960); Kirschbaum v. Walling, 316 U.S. 517, 62 S.Ct. 1116, 86 L.Ed. 1638 (1942); see also 29 C.F.R. § 779.8 (2011). In interpreting the FLSA, the Court may rely on official interpretations of the FLSA promulgated by the Department of Labor. Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134, 140, 65 S.Ct. 161, 89 L.Ed. 124 (1944) (“[T]he rulings, interpretations and opinions of the Administrator under [the FLSA], while not controlling upon the courts by reason of their authority, do constitute a body of experience and informed judgment to which courts and litigants may properly resort for guidance.”); Dade Cnty. Fla. v. Alvarez, 124 F.3d 1380, 1385 (11th Cir.1997).  Title 29 C.F.R. § 779.259 provides helpful guidance in interpreting “gross volume of sales made or business done”:

The gross volume of sales made or business done means the gross dollar volume (not limited to income) derived from all sales and business transactions including, for example, gross receipts from service, credit, or other similar charges. Credits for goods returned or exchanged and rebates and discounts, and the like, are not ordinarily included in the annual gross volume of sales or business…. Gross volume is measured by the price paid by the purchaser for the property or service sold to him …

29 C.F.R. § 779.259 (2011) (emphasis added). When a coupon or discount is provided to a customer free of consideration, a true price reduction occurs, and the new price paid by the customer represents the sale amount. This is consistent with the Department of Labor’s view that “gross volume of sales” is measured by the price actually “paid by the purchaser for the property or service sold to him.” Id. Consequently, having found this interpretation reasonable, this Court adopts a view of “gross volume of sales made or business done” that excludes lost revenue attributable to coupons or discounts provided to customers.

In light of this interpretation, it is clear that enterprise coverage does not apply to Defendants. Excluding approximately $103,000 in discounts provided to customers from Plaintiff’s FY 2010 gross sales calculation, Defendants “gross volume of sales made or business done” falls well short of the $500,000 threshold required by 29 U.S.C. § 203(s)(1)(A). This is substantiated by the tax forms submitted on behalf of Defendants for fiscal years 2009 and 2010. Moreover, Plaintiffs alleged personal knowledge that Defendants’ weekly sales revenues “averaged above $8,000.00 per week and on occasions exceeded $11,000.00,” is insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact in light of Plaintiff’s implicit acceptance and overt reliance on Defendants’ monthly sales reports from August 2009 through April 2011. Even discounting Plaintiffs acceptance of Defendants’ monthly sales reports, Plaintiffs’ alleged personal knowledge in no way conflicts with the amount of income reported by Defendants. Without any further specificity as to how much revenue Defendants’ collected, or without any articulation by Plaintiff as to how often and for what duration he closed Defendants’ register, Plaintiff’s assertion does not amount to more than a conclusory allegation. Thus, summary judgment on the issue of enterprise coverage is awarded in favor of Defendants.”

Click Marckenson v. LAL Peker, LLC to read the entire Order.

9th Cir.: Group Home Housing “Severely Emotionally Disturbed” Children Not An “Institution Primarily Engaged in the Care of the Sick, the Aged, Mentally Ill”

Probert v. Family Centered Services of Alaska, Inc.

This case was before the Ninth Circuit on the defendant’s appeal of an order granting plaintiffs- house parents at their various group homes of emotionally disturbed children- summary judgment, holding that each of defendant’s homes were subject to FLSA coverage as an “institution primarily engaged in the care of the sick, the aged, mentally ill or defective who reside on the premises of such institution.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(r)(2)(A).  The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that defendant’s homes were not primarily engaged in such care, although it was undisputed that they provided housing for same.  In so doing, the Ninth Circuit ignored long-held jurisprudence requiring that courts liberally construe the FLSA’s coverage to serve the statute’s remedial goals.

Describing the relevant background facts, the Ninth Circuit explained:

“Plaintiffs Loretta and Robert Probert and Plaintiffs–Intervenors Debra and Eric Cloninger, Donna and John Grimes, Gene and Sandra Grissom, and Kenneth and Leona McDaniels are married couples who worked as “house parents” in FCSA’s Homes. Each Home housed up to five children. All the children were “severely emotionally disturbed” as defined by the Alaska law that qualifies the Homes for Medicaid funding, 7 Alaska Admin. Code § 43.471, and each of the children had at least one diagnosed mental disorder under Axis–I of the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The children attended local public schools and participated in other activities away from the Homes. The children participated in group therapy conducted by clinicians in the Homes, but received most of their medical and psychological treatment outside the Homes. Plaintiffs were not licensed medical or social service professionals.

Plaintiffs sued FCSA for overtime pay under the FLSA.  After denying Plaintiffs’ first motion for partial summary judgment, the district court granted a similar motion for partial summary judgment in their favor, concluding that FCSA through its Homes, was operating “an institution primarily engaged in the care of the … mentally ill or defective who reside on the premises of such institution,’ “ 29 U.S.C. § 203(r)(2)(A), and was therefore an enterprise subject to the FLSA’s overtime provisions, id. § 207(a)(1). The district court observed that the FLSA does not define “institution.” As an analogy, the district court looked to a federal Medicaid regulation, not directly applicable to this situation, that defined “institution” as “an establishment that furnishes (in single or multiple facilities) food, shelter, and some treatment or services to four or more persons unrelated to the proprietor,” 42 C.F.R. § 435.1010, and concluded that the “Homes (either individually or as a group) could be considered an ‘institution.’ “ The court also relied on FCSA’s own website, which described the Homes as “provid[ing] quality residential care to male and female youth ages 6–18 that are experiencing mental health and behavioral issues and are at imminent risk of psychiatric placement outside of their community.”

Holding that the defendant did not fall within the definition of 203(r)(2)(A), the court reasoned:

“Plaintiffs argue that each of the FCSA Homes in which they worked is covered by the statute as “an institution primarily engaged in the care of … the mentally ill … who reside on the premises of such institution.”  The FLSA is a remedial statute that is “to be liberally construed to apply to the furthest reaches consistent with Congressional direction.” Dent v. Cox Communications Las Vegas, Inc., 502 F.3d 1141, 1146 (9th Cir.2007) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also 29 C.F.R. § 779.101 (“An employer who claims an exemption under the Act has the burden of showing that it applies.”). Nonetheless, we conclude that the language of the statute does not cover the FCSA Homes, for two primary reasons.

The first reason is that the Homes were not “primarily engaged” in providing “care,” as that term is used in the statute. The statute refers to “care” in relation to groups with special needs, namely “the sick, the aged, the mentally ill or defective.” 29 U.S .C. § 203(r)(2)(A). As such, we understand “care” in this context to include something more like treatment. What the Homes primarily provided, as their name suggests, was a home or a residence. As noted above, the children attended school, engaged in activities, and received most of their medical and psychological treatment from medical and mental health professionals outside the Homes. Obviously, for children a home should be more than simply a place to live, and the children presumably benefitted from Plaintiffs’ “care” as house parents. But Plaintiffs were not medical or social service professionals and were not primarily focused on providing the type of “care” that those professionals provide.

The language of the statute clearly suggests a covered institution must provide more than the general care of a residence. In addition to requiring that the institution’s patrons “reside on the premises of [the] institution,” the institution must provide “care” of the type that is provided to “the sick, the aged, the mentally ill or defective.” If residing on the premises were enough by itself to define the given premises as covered by the statute, then the requirement that the institution be “primarily engaged” in the “care” of the individuals residing there would be superfluous. We are to avoid interpreting a statute in that manner. See TRW Inc. v. Andrews, 534 U.S. 19, 31 (2001) (“It is a cardinal principle of statutory construction that a statute ought, upon the whole, to be so construed that, if it can be prevented, no clause, sentence, or word shall be superfluous, void, or insignificant.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

Second, the Homes do not appear to us to be “institutions” as that term is used in this statute. Around the time the 1966 amendment was drafted, the Oxford English Dictionary offered the following definition of “institution”:

An establishment, organization, or association, instituted for the promotion of some object, esp. one of public or general utility, religious, charitable, educational, etc., e.g. a church, school, college, hospital, asylum, reformatory, mission, or the like; as a literary and philosophical institution, a deaf and dumb institution, the Royal National Life-boat Institution, the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution …, the Railway Benevolent Institution, etc.  5 Oxford English Dictionary 354 (1933, reprinted 1961). The FCSA Homes do not fit well within that definition.

Nor do the Homes fit well with the neighboring parts of the relevant statute. They are not very much like

a hospital, …, a school for mentally or physically handicapped or gifted children, a preschool, elementary or secondary school, or an institution of higher education (regardless of whether or not such hospital, institution, or school is operated for profit or not for profit).  29 U.S.C. § 203(r)(2)(A).”

Similar to reasoning in Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., broadly construing the outsides sales exemption and refusing to adopt the guidance of the DOL outside of regulations promulgated by the Administrator of the DOL, the court further reasoned:

“Plaintiffs argue that we should interpret § 203(r)(2)(A) to include FCSA’s Homes because guidance from the Department of Labor indicates that a reference to “nursing homes” in that provision should be interpreted broadly. See Dep’t of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, Field Operations Handbook (FOH), ch. 12, § 12g02 (“[Institutions primarily engaged in the care of the aged] are not limited to nursing homes, … but include those institutions generally known as nursing homes, rest homes, convalescent homes, homes for the elderly and infirm, and the like.”). Plaintiffs argue that by the same reasoning, “institution primarily engaged in the care of the … mentally ill” should be interpreted broadly to include FCSA’s Homes. We disagree.

The FCSA Homes are very different from nursing homes and the related facilities listed in the handbook. The children who live at the FCSA Homes spend much of their time, perhaps a majority of their waking hours, elsewhere. They leave the Homes to attend school, participate in activities, and receive medical and psychological treatment. Residents of nursing homes are not necessarily confined completely to those facilities, but the expectation is that the vast majority of their time is spent there. Those facilities are also staffed with professionals, not simply house parents, and residents may be expected to receive substantially greater “care” in those facilities.”

Combined with its recent decision in Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., this decision is particularly disturbing.  It appears the Ninth Circuit is quickly moving away from long held tenets of FLSA jurisprudence, the twin constructs that FLSA coverage is to be liberally construed, while exemptions/exceptions to coverage are to be narrowly construed against employers.  In any case, it clear that here, that the Ninth Circuit construed FLSA coverage as narrowly as possible in holding that defendant was not a covered enterprise.

Click Probert v. Family Centered Services of Alaska, Inc. to read the entire Opinion.

Are the FLSA’s Enterprise Coverage Requirements Outdated in Today’s Economy?

In his recent article, “Taking the Employer Out of Employment Law? Accountability for Wage and Hour Violations in an Age of Enterprise Disaggregation,” Professor, Timothy P. Glynn of Seton Hall School of Law makes a compelling argument that the answer is yes.

In the abstract to his article, Professor Glynn explains:

“Violations of wage and hour mandates are widespread at the low end of the labor market. The disaggregation of business enterprises into smaller, independent parts has been an important factor in this growing problem. Limitations on liability for work-law violations invite such arrangements since statutory protections for workers usually impose duties only on “employers.” That status, in turn, hinges on the level of control a firm exercises over the work, and when exacting control is not necessary, firms usually can avoid accountability by shifting work to independent third-party suppliers. This creates severe enforcement obstacles: detection becomes difficult, labor suppliers often are undercapitalized, and coverage uncertainties lead to unprosecuted claims and discounted settlements. Thus, disaggregation does far more than shift legal responsibility from one entity to another: it allows end-user firms to avoid noncompliance risks while benefiting from labor at a price discounted by the unlikelihood of enforcement.”

Thus, Professor Glynn proposes “eliminating the ’employer’ coverage barrier altogether.”  Under his approach, “commercial actors would be held strictly liable for wage and hour violations in the production of any goods and services they purchase, sell, or distribute, whether directly or through intermediaries. The only limitation is that a firm’s liability would not exceed the proportion of the violations attributable to the goods or services it purchases, sells, or distributes.”

Adopting this less restrictive coverage requirement would lead to easier enforcement of wage and hour laws and thus, fewer abuses at the low end of the labor market.  It doesn’t appear that there’s any push to adopt these logical changes which would no doubt further the remedial goals of wage and hour laws, but it’s a refreshing perspective nonetheless.  In this day and age, Professor Glynn’s recognition that a modern fractured economy is far different than the economy of the past, with fewer larger actors, is largely unaddressed by wage and hour laws that are currently on the books.

Click Abstract to read more on Professor Glynn’s work.

Thanks to the Workplace Prof Blog for bringing this to our attention.

11th Cir.: Joint Enterprises’ Cumulative Gross Revenues Properly Considered For Enterprise Coverage Analysis Where All Corporate Defendants Working For Common Purpose and Plaintiffs’ Work Furthered Purpose

Cornell v. CF Center, LLC

This was an appeal from a jury verdict in favor of the Appellees for Appellants’ alleged failure to pay overtime in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1).  The issue on appeal was whether the trial court property added together the gross revenues of the various Defendants, in order to determine that the “joint enterprises” met the $500,000.00 requirement for enterprise coverage.

The Court framed the issue as follows:

“While [Plaintiffs] worked primarily for CF Center, LLC, they contend that the corporate entities were, as a matter of economic reality, jointly engaged in the floor covering business and acted as their joint employers. The corporate Appellants-owned by Jay Meltzer before he sold his interest to Nicholas Elliot-contend that the district court improperly allowed Cornell and Harp to conflate and combine separate corporate entities in order to meet the annual gross sales requirement of the FLSA and establish joint liability. Appellants argue that Cornell and Harp failed to meet their burden at trial to establish that they were improperly denied overtime pay.  Appellants now appeal the district court’s denial of their motion for judgment as a matter of law on these points. Appellants further appeal the district court’s denial of their motion for a new trial based on their claim that the jury’s verdict was against the great weight of the evidence.”

Reasoning that the trial court properly considered the cumulative gross earnings of all Defendants, the Eleventh Circuit explained:

“This court has broadly construed the coverage requirements under the FLSA. The FLSA allows for coverage under a joint enterprise theory. Donovan v. Easton Land & Dev., Inc., 723 F.2d 1549, 1551 (11th Cir.1984). The FLSA states, “ ‘Enterprise’ means the related activities performed (either through unified operation or common control) by any person or persons for a common business purpose, and includes all such activities whether performed in one or more establishments or by one or more corporate or other organizational units including departments of an establishment operated through leasing arrangements, but shall not include the related activities performed by such enterprise by an independent contractor….” 29 U.S.C. § 203(r). In Patel v. Wargo, we explained that “the legislative history of the FLSA and the case law demonstrate that the enterprise analysis was included in the FLSA solely for the purpose of expanding the scope of coverage of the statute. The legislative history clearly states the congressional purpose to expand the coverage of the Act, i.e., to lump related activities together so that the annual dollar volume test for coverage would be satisfied.” 803 F.2d 632, 636 (11th Cir .1986). The enterprise and liability analyses are distinct. “The finding of an enterprise is relevant only to the issue of coverage. Liability is based on the existence of an employer-employee relationship.” Id. at 637.

Appellants claim that their separate tax identifications, banking accounts, and tax returns establish that they are not engaged in a joint enterprise. Questions such as these, however, require courts to “look beyond formalistic corporate separation to the actual pragmatic operation and control, whether unified or, instead, separate as to each unit.” Donovan v. Grim Hotel Co., 747 F.2d 966, 970 (5th Cir.1984). Cornell and Harp have provided a wealth of evidence to show that, practically speaking, the corporate defendants functioned as a single unit for the purpose of selling and installing flooring. Business cards issued by the Appellants identify the business simply as “Coastal Floors” without identifying a particular corporate entity. Furthermore, these cards refer to locations in Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Stuart. CF Center is located in Vero Beach, whereas Granite by Coastal is in Port St. Lucie. Granite by Coastal banners were hung in CF Center’s showroom. Moreover, the corporations share a website which, like their business cards, treats the corporations interchangeably, listing four business locations without indicating which corporation is located in which city. A liability release signed by Harp includes a number of the corporate defendants, contradicting their claim that there is no relationship between them. Harp, upon beginning his employment with CF Centers, was required to sign a safety policy that listed his employer as Coastal Floors I, Inc. Meltzer summed up the business reality best when he testified regarding the companies’ health plan, stating, “Contractors Flooring was an existing company for tax purposes. Coastal Floors-see, Contractors Flooring was probably the initiator of the plan early, early on. Coastal Floors I, II or III were established-I don’t know if my bookkeeper had made a name change to the policy as required or not. I own them all, so I don’t think it mattered.” (R.117 110:13-18.) This evidence was more than sufficient to allow coverage under the FLSA subject to an enterprise analysis.

While the question of liability is different than coverage under the FLSA, many of the same factors support both the district court and the jury’s finding that, effectively, Cornell and Harp were employed by all of the entities. As with the joint enterprise analysis, whether a party qualifies as a joint employer for liability purposes depends on whether “as a matter of economic reality, the individual is dependent on the entity.” Antenor v. D & S Farms, 88 F.3d 925, 929 (11th Cir.1996). Under the FLSA “[a] determination of whether the employment by the employers is to be considered joint employment or separate and distinct employment for purposes of the act depends upon all the facts in the particular case.” 29 CFR 791.2. This case-by-case inquiry turns on no formula, but the court will consider factors such as control, supervision, right to hire and fire, ownership of work facilities, investment, and pay-roll decisions. Antenor, 88 F.3d at 932-37.

It is clear from the evidence discussed above that the multiple corporate defendants were acting in one purpose, a purpose that the employment of Cornell and Harp furthered. Appellants often conflated what corporation conducted what activity. This confusion included matters of employment, as evidenced by the Coastal Floors I safety plan and Contractors Flooring health plan applying to CF Centers’s employees. Appellants’ argument that these companies are completely separate ignores the economic reality analysis required by the FLSA. Thus, the district court’s refusal to grant Appellants’ motion for judgment as a matter of law was proper.

Nor did the district court abuse its discretion in denying Appellants’ motion for a new trial. Appellants’ claim that the jury verdict was against the great weight of the evidence appears to be based almost entirely on their contention that the jury gave too much weight to the testimony of Cornell and Harp and should have found them not credible. But as this court has said before, “we do not assume the jury’s role of weighing conflicting evidence or inferences, or of assessing the credibility of witnesses.” Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 421 F.3d 1169, 1177 (11th Cir.2005). Cornell and Harp testified in detail regarding their claims that they were not permitted to take lunch breaks and were not compensated for this extra hour of work. While Appellants were able to solicit testimony from Cornell and Harp that possibly contradicts some of their claims, it was for the jury to assess their credibility. While Appellants may believe that the jury came to the wrong conclusion, they have failed to show that the great weight of the evidence so undermines the jury’s decision as to warrant a new trial, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying one.

Accordingly, for the aforementioned reasons, we affirm the district court’s order denying Appellants’ motion for a judgment as a matter of law and the order denying Appellants’ motion for a new trial.”

Click Cornell v. CF Center, LLC to read the entire opinion.

11th Cir.: FLSA Means What It Says; When An Enterprise Grosses $500,000 Per Annum And Two Or More Employees Handle Goods That Previously Traveled In Interstate Commerce, There Is Enterprise Coverage

Polycarpe v. E&S Landscaping Service, Inc.

This consolidated appeal was before the Court after each one of the six (6) cases was dismissed for lack of enterprise coverage.  In five (5) of the six (6) cases there was proof that the Defendants had gross revenues of $500,000.00 per year or more.  Thus, the only question is whether otherwise “local” businesses came under the coverage of the FLSA, due to the fact that each had two (2) or more employees who handled goods or products that had previously traveled in interstate commerce (the “handling clause”).  Answering in the affirmative, the Eleventh Circuit ended a battle of statutory misinterpretation that had gained steam in the past few years, and read the statute as written.  In so doing, the Court rejected the “coming to rest” doctrine in the context of enterprise coverage and made clear the doctrine only applies in the individual coverage context.

In each instance, the Court held that the district courts below  incorrectly relied on the “coming to rest” doctrine and misinterpreted the ultimate consumer exception in concluding that Plaintiffs could not show enterprise coverage under the FLSA.  In some instances, the Court also noted that the district court failed to consider whether the evidence that Plaintiffs presented raised a genuine and important question of fact under the handling clause; instead of analyzing that portion of the FLSA, the district court mistakenly relied on the interpretive framework of an individual-coverage case.

To read the entire opinion, click here.

2nd Cir.: Private Non-Profit Foster Home Not “Enterprise” Subject To FLSA Coverage, Notwithstanding Contractual And Regulatory Relationship With A Public Agency

Jacobs v. New York Foundling Hosp.

Appellants appealed from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Azrack, M.J.) granting, inter alia, appellee’s (employer’s) motion for summary judgment and dismissing appellants’ claim that they were unlawfully denied overtime pay in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). Appellants contended appellee is an “enterprise” obligated to pay overtime because certain contractual and regulatory relations render its activities “in connection with the activities of a public agency” pursuant to § 203(r)(2)(C) and thus “performed for a business purpose.” The Second Circuit disagreed and affirmed the judgment below.

On appeal, the Employees contended that Foundling, a private, non-profit, independent contractor, is an “enterprise” under 29 U.S.C. § 203(r)(1) because its contractual and regulatory relations with the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (“ACS”) render its activities “in connection with the activities of a public agency” pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 203(r)(2)(C) and thus “performed for a business purpose.” Accordingly, the Employees claimed, Foundling owes them overtime pay under the Act. Because it concluded that the FLSA’s definition of “enterprise” does not extend to a private, non-profit, independent contractor associated by regulation and contract with a public agency, the Second Circuit held Foundling was not obligated to pay overtime under the Act.

The Court cited the following facts as relevant to its analysis: “New York Foundling Hospital is a private, charitable provider of social services to children and families in the New York City area. Founded in 1869 by a Catholic religious order as a home for abandoned children, today its services include foster care, adoption, and physical and mental health initiatives.

All of the children served through Foundling’s Foster Home and Boarding Home Programs are referred by ACS, which is responsible for administering New York City’s child welfare services and is authorized to contract with private providers like Foundling under New York Social Services Law § 423(2). The Foster Home Program deals with approximately 150 abused or neglected children without special needs who have been removed from their biological families and placed with foster parents. The Boarding Home Program serves the same category of children who could not have or have not yet been placed with foster parents. Foundling’s funding is derived exclusively from charitable grants and other federal, state, and local government sources. Almost half of its total revenue originates as payments from ACS.

The relationship between ACS and Foundling is set forth in a number of agreements premised upon Foundling’s status as an independent contractor and, in turn, the entities’ operational independence. The contracts provide that Foundling’s “executive staff shall manage its affairs and programs and shall have the responsibility for the day-to-day provision of Services to and for each child placed with it.”Foundling “alone is responsible for … [the] work, direction, compensation and personal conduct” of its employees, as well as for their recruiting, screening, and training. Foundling can unilaterally terminate the agreements, in whole or in part, with thirty days notice.

ACS exercises no control over Foundling’s Board of Directors, structure, finances and governance, except to the extent that it retains some degree of oversight over Foundling’s programs and client relations. The Foster Care Agreement, for instance, requires Foundling to “recruit a sufficient number and variety of prospective foster parents” to meet the level ACS calculates is appropriate for a targeted area. Foundling must generally accept all ACS-referred children, establish grievance procedures for its service recipients with decisions appealable to ACS, and allow ACS to monitor and review all of its “program activities, procedures[ ][and] records … as ACS deems necessary … including, at reasonable times, unannounced and unscheduled visits” to Foundling’s offices and to its clients.”

Determining that Defendant was/is not an “enterprise” subject to FLSA coverage, the Court reviewed the applicable law:

“FLSA defines an “enterprise,” inter alia, as “the related activities performed … by any person or persons for a common business purpose … [excluding] the related activities performed for such an enterprise by an independent contractor.”§ 203(r)(1).  Generally, non-profit organizations that do not “engage in ordinary commercial activities,” Tony & Susan Alamo Found., 471 U.S. at 297 (quoting 29 C.F.R. § 779.214 (1984)), or “serve the general public in competition with ordinary commercial enterprises,” id. at 299, operate without a “business purpose” and therefore are not enterprises. See§ 203(r)(1).See also U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, Opinion Letter FLSA2005-8NA, 2005 WL 5419044 (Sept. 2, 2005) (private nonprofit children’s care facility not a FLSA enterprise); U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, Opinion Letter FLSA2004-30NA, 2004 WL 5303058 (Dec. 13, 2004) (private nonprofit foster home not a FLSA enterprise). The FLSA, however, ensures that certain types of entities that might otherwise be held to operate with a business purpose under the Act are nevertheless brought within its ambit. For example, under § 203(r)(2)(A) and (B), Congress expressly included within the definition of enterprise “the activities performed … in connection with” hospitals, institutions providing residential care to the sick, aged, or mentally ill, certain types of schools, and certain types of railway or other transportation providers. Congress deemed all of these entities operated “for a business purpose” whether they were public or private, or operated for profit or not for profit. See29 U.S.C. § 203(r)(2).”

The Court disagreed with Plaintiffs’ argument that regarding 203(r)’s ambiguity and adopted Defendant’s reading of the statute stating, ‘[T]he phrase ‘in connection with the activities of a public agency’ means activities performed by a public agency, not activities performed by a private nonprofit organization providing services to a public agency.’ Dep’t of Labor Br. 3.

Analysis of the Act offers significant support to the Department’s position, and we therefore find it persuasive. First, as previously noted, absent special circumstances inapplicable to Foundling, non-profit organizations do not operate for a business purpose and are not enterprises. See Tony & Susan Alamo Found., 471 U.S. at 297, 299. In § 203(r)(2)(A), (B), and (C), however, Congress singled out specific non-profits (i.e., medical, certain educational and transportation facilities, and public agencies) that are to be deemed enterprises nonetheless. The Employees concede that entities like Foundling-charitable independent contractors that support neglected children-are not included in this list, and they offer nothing other than their problematic plain language approach to § 203(r)(2)(C) to suggest that Congress intended such organizations to be engrafted onto the existing exceptions when they contract with a public agency. See Greene v. United States, 79 F.3d 1348, 1355 (2d Cir.1996) (“The ancient maxim expressio unius est exclusio alterius (mention of one impliedly excludes others) cautions us against engrafting an additional exception to what is an already complex [statute].”).

Second, § 203(r)(2)(A) and (B) end in parentheticals stating that the entities enumerated therein-hospitals, certain schools, certain common carriers, etc.-are covered “regardless of whether or not such [entities are] operated for profit or not for profit.”Section 203(r)(2)(C) lacks this parenthetical. If the “in connection with” phrase in § 203(r)(2)(C) were intended to cover private, third-party entities that contract with the government, the parenthetical would have been critical to include in the section because public agencies themselves-unlike schools and hospitals-are by definition solely public and non-profit. Its absence adds weight to the Department’s conclusion that § 203(r)(2)(C) encompasses only the public “activities performed by a public agency,” not the private acts of independent contractor organizations associated with an agency through contract and regulation, like Foundling.

Third, by limiting § 203(r)(2)(C) to “activities performed by a public agency,” the Department’s reading avoids the absurd result that follows from the Employees’ contrary interpretation. See United States v. Dauray, 215 F.3d 257, 264 (2d Cir.2000) (“A statute should be interpreted in a way that avoids absurd results.”). Ultimately, the Act applies to Foundling only if it qualifies both as an “enterprise” under § 203® and as an “enterprise engaged in commerce” under § 203(s).Section 203(s) defines an “enterprise engaged in commerce” as an “enterprise that … is an activity of a public agency.”§ 203(s)(1)(C) (emphasis added). Because “of” is a word used to indicate belonging or a possessive relationship, the Department points out that “Foundling’s activities are not the activities of ACS, even assuming it operates in connection with ACS.”See Powell v. Tucson Air Museum Found., 771 F.2d 1309, 1312 (9th Cir.1985) (“Because the Museum is a private corporation which is an independent contractor of Pima County, it is not an ‘activity of a public agency’ … and thus is not subject to the requirements of the FLSA.”).

Thus, § 203(r)(2)(C) and § 203(s)(1)(C) operate in tandem, and if the former is interpreted to encompass a third-party, private, independent contractor somehow associated with an agency, the Act still would not apply to that third-party because the “in connection with” phrase is missing from the latter. The Employees’ notion that § 203(r)(2)(C) includes Foundling while § 203(s)(1)(C) excludes Foundling is a result we are compelled to avoid. The Department’s interpretation of § 203(r)(2)(C), in contrast, allows the two sections to be read seamlessly: the “activities performed by a public agency” comports with both the activities “in connection with” a public agency and the activities “of” a public agency.

To the extent that § 203(r)(2)(C)‘s meaning remains unresolved after we have considered the section in its surrounding statutory context, we may turn to legislative history for clarification. Lee v. Bankers Trust Co., 166 F.3d 540, 544 (2d Cir.1999). To this end, the Department points out that:

[w]hile nothing in the legislative history specifically addresses the phrase “in connection with the activities of a public agency” in Section 203(r)(2)(C), the legislative history is replete with statements that the amendments were meant to extend FLSA coverage to federal, state, and local government employees. There is, by contrast, no indication that Congress intended to extend enterprise coverage to employees of nonprofit entities that provide services to a public agency. Dep’t of Labor Br. 7.

Because the Employees concede that legislative history offers no support for their position, and the district court’s own thorough analysis “reveal[ed] no mention of an intent to extend enterprise coverage to non-profits that act in conjunction with … agencies,” Jacobs v. N.Y. Foundling Hosp., 483 F.Supp. 251, 261 (E.D.N.Y.2007), legislative history further buttresses the Department’s view that “in connection with the activities of a public agency” means activities performed by a public agency and not those performed by private independent contractors providing services to that agency.

Finally, we note that through regulation, opinion letter, and other statements, the Department has consistently interpreted § 203(r)(2)(C) to apply the FLSA’s overtime provisions only to public agencies, not to private independent contractors dealing with such agencies.FN9This interpretation has stood for almost 35 years, and deeming the various independent contractors retained by public agencies enterprises might have unanticipated and uncertain consequences. We agree with the Department that, under these circumstances, carving a hole in the Act’s unequivocal exemption of independent contractors is a policy judgment best left to the legislative branch. See, e.g., United States v. All Funds Dist. to, ex rel., Weiss, 345 F.3d 49, 57 (2d Cir.2003) (stating that where a section of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ” ‘reflects a considered congressional policy choice … [i]f exceptions to this policy are to be made, it is for Congress to undertake that task’ “) (quoting Guidry v. Sheet Metal Workers Nat’l Pension Fund, 493 U.S. 365, 376 (1990)).”

Curiously, the Court noted, “[i]n this case, the parties do not dispute that Foundling is not a hospital, school, or any other type of institution listed under § 203(r)(2)(A), nor an actual municipal public agency under § 203(r)(2)(C). At issue, rather, is the meaning of the phrase “in connection with” as applied to “the activities of a public agency” in § 203(r)(2)(C).” It is not clear, but Foundling may have qualified as an enterprise under 203(r)(2)(A), an argument apparently waived by the Plaintiffs.

S.D.Fla.: Enterprise Coverage Properly Asserted Where Employer Grossed $500K And 2 Or More Employees Handled Goods Which Had Traveled In Interstate Commerce; “Ultimate Consumer” Not Applicable To This Prong Of Enterprise Coverage

Diaz v. Jaguar Restaurant Group, LLC

This case was before the Court on Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, based on an asserted lack of enterprise coverage under the FLSA. The Court denied Defendants’ Motion, based on the fact that Plaintiff demonstrated that 2 or more employees handled goods which had traveled in interstate commerce. While, this appears to be an unquestionable correct reading of the statute, it is significant, because several courts within the Southern District of Florida, have inexplicably failed to read the statute on its face to allow for coverage under similar circumstances.

After considering the historical perspective (and changes) to the FLSA, the Court stated, “in a case where materials are at issue under the second prong of the definition of an enterprise, the “ultimate consumer” limitation has no application. See also Exime, 591 F.Supp.2d at 1371 (Court should “give effect, if possible, to every word and clause” contained in a statute, citing Lowery v. Ala. Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184, 1204-05 (11th Cir.2007)).

Finally, if we step back to ask what the Congress meant in the original 1938 statute with its “goods” limitation found in section 203(i), as opposed to what a very different Congress meant in 1974 by adding “materials” to the enterprise coverage provision in question, the answer is evident from the quite disparate contexts in which these provisions were adopted. The original definition of goods was adopted in a FLSA statute that was purposefully limited to only those individual employees who were themselves participating in interstate commerce. The context of the 1974 amendments was precisely the opposite. A far more liberal Congress was certainly seeking to expand enterprise coverage even further than it did in 1961 and 1966, for employees who were not directly engaged in interstate commerce.”

Addressing recent 11th Circuit case law related to coverage (and distinguishing same), the Court stated, “Fast forward then to 2006 and beyond. We recognize that the cases relied upon by Defendant (including several recent Southern District cases interpreting language found in two Eleventh Circuit cases) ostensibly support a far different construction of enterprise coverage that takes us back to where we were prior to 1974. See, e.g., Thorne v. All Restoration Servs., Inc., 448 F.3d 1264, 1267 (11th Cir.2006) (citing Dunlop in part for the proposition that “[w]hen goods reach the customer for whom they were intended, the interstate journey ends and employees engaged in any further intra state movement of the goods are not covered under the Act.”) (emphasis in original) (citations omitted); Lamonica, 578 F.Supp.2d at 1367 (“[A] customer who purchases an item from Home Depot is not engaged in commerce even if Home Depot previously purchased it from out-of-state wholesalers.”); Navarro, 533 F.Supp.2d at 1226 (“[T]he out-of-state shippers send the parts to the local dealer, where they are kept until they are purchased in the local market. Therefore, the interstate journey stops when the parts reached [sic] the local dealer.”).

To the extent these district court were applying the second prong of enterprise coverage under section 203(s)(1)(A)(i), which is at issue here, they may be over-relying on distinguishable, but more recent, Eleventh Circuit cases, and overlooking the analysis of the question in Dunlop following the 1974 amendments to the FLSA.

So where did the confusion originate? It seems to have begun with the Eleventh Circuit panel decision’s summary discussion of Dunlop in Thorne v. All Restoration Services, which was a case decided entirely under the individual coverage provisions of the FLSA. A worker, Thorne, who was employed by a small mold restoration company sued for overtime compensation under the FLSA. Thorne claimed that the company was covered by the enterprise coverage as well as the individual coverage provisions of the statute. At trial, however, only Thorne testified in his case in chief. The trial court, Judge Cohn from our district, entered Rule 50 judgment as a matter of law on both the enterprise coverage and individual coverage components of the case. SeeCase No. 04-60095, D.E. 46 (S.D. Fla. Feb 1, 2005).

On appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, Thorne did not challenge Judge Cohn’s finding that enterprise coverage had not been established as a matter of law. Apparently there was no testimony in the record at that point in the trial that even the $500,000 sales threshold had been met. See Brief for Appellant, 2005 WL 4814060, at *3-7 (11th Cir. May 31, 2005). The Court’s opinion expressly acknowledged that enterprise coverage was no longer at issue on appeal. 448 F.3d at 1265 n. 1.

The Court then examined whether Judge Cohn’s determination as to individual coverage should be upheld. The individual coverage issue, as the Court pointed out, turned on whether Thorne was “directly participating in the actual movement of persons or things in interstate commerce by (i) working for an instrumentality of interstate commerce, e.g., transportation or communication industry employees, or (ii) by regularly using the instrumentalities of interstate commerce in his work, e.g., regular and recurrent use of interstate telephone, telegraph, mails, or travel.” Id. at 1266.That is undoubtedly the test for individual coverage under 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1) and the regulations thereunder, 29 C.F.R. §§ 776.23(d)(2), 776.24 (2005).

The statutory definition for enterprise coverage, by contrast, does not only apply to employees with “direct participation” in the “actual movement” of things in interstate commerce. That is a far narrower test found in the first prong of the statute, which is precisely why the 1961, 1966 and 1974 amendments created and expanded enterprise coverage under the statute. See29 U.S.C. § 203(s)(1)(A)(i) (“has employees engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce, or that has employees handling, selling, or otherwise working on goods or materials that have been moved in or produced for commerce by any person”) (emphasis added).

It is telling, for instance, that many of the primary decisions cited by the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Thorne were from the 1940’s. 448 F.3d at 1266-68 (citing McLeod v. Threlkeld, 319 U.S. 491, 496-97 (1943) (finding that plaintiff’s activities were purely local, and he was not individually engaged in commerce when he merely cooked and cleaned for railroad workers); Kirschbaum v. Walling, 316 U.S. 517, 518-526 (1942)).

The outcome in Thorne is thus entirely expected and non-controversial. The same cannot be said, as it turns out, of the Court’s citation and reliance on the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Dunlop as follows:

Courts distinguish between merchants who bring commerce across state lines for sale and the ultimate consumer, who merely purchases goods that previously moved in interstate commerce for intrastate use. Therefore, a customer who purchases an item from Home Depot is not engaged in commerce even if Home Depot previously purchased it from out-of-state wholesalers.

In Dunlop v. Industrial America Corporation, 516 F.2d 498, 499 (5th Cir.1975), the court was faced with the question of whether a business which consumes gasoline and oil in the process of providing services to its customers is the “ultimate consumer” of those goods, and therefore not subject to FLSA coverage. The defendant corporation operated a wholly intrastate garbage removal service, and its only tie to interstate commerce was that its employees used gasoline and oil products which had moved in interstate commerce in operating and maintaining the company’s trucks. The court held that the defendant was not covered because it was an “ultimate consumer” of the goods. Id. at 499-502.
448 F.3d at 1267-68.

From this discussion, one is left with two important impressions. One is that Dunlop stands for that proposition today. And, two, is that this proposition applies equally to individual coverage cases like Thorne, as well as enterprise coverage cases like Dunlop.Both impressions are flatly incorrect. First, Dunlop does not stand for the proposition that, even after the 1974 amendments, enterprise coverage under the second prong of subsection s(1)(A)(i) fails when an entity is the ultimate consumer of “materials” as well as goods that have moved in interstate commerce in the past. The Thorne decision never explained that the holding in Dunlop was out-dated by the Court’s own admission after 1974. That omission was not critical, of course, to the outcome in Thorne.Frankly, the entire citation and reference to Dunlop was indeed dicta because the holding in Thorne was expressly not applicable to enterprise coverage.

Second, Dunlop also does not apply to individual coverage analysis.Dunlop was focused on the second prong of the enterprise definition. Unlike the first prong of that definition, individual coverage analysis is entirely distinct from the “goods or materials” prong of the statute. Dunlop thus has no relevance to a case limited to individual coverage. Similarly, Dunlop has no application to an enterprise coverage case that is based on the first prong of the statute. And, for the same reason, Thorne has no relevance to a case governed by the broader second prong of subsection s(1)(A)(i). Yet, Thorne’s reliance on Dunlop seems to suggest quite the opposite.

That is also evident from a later Eleventh Circuit case, Scott v. K.W. Max Invs., Inc., 256 Fed.Appx. 244 (11th Cir.2007). That case, at first blush, appears to have relied on Thorne’s individual coverage analysis and the “ultimate consumer” limitation to decide an enterprise coverage claim. And it has been cited as such by some district court opinions, infra.Yet that opinion did not once mention Dunlop or distinguish its analysis of the expansion of enterprise coverage via the “materials” prong added in 1974. It did not need to do so, in fact, because it was deciding the enterprise coverage issue primarily on the “first prong” of the statute. The court’s holding as to enterprise coverage claim was focused on whether there was any evidence in the record of any “actual movement” of goods in commerce. None was presented except for a single isolated purchase of lumber in interstate commerce that did not qualify as a regular and recurrent practice. With respect to the second prong of enterprise coverage, “goods or materials” that had been moved in commerce in the past, the Court’s discussion was quite limited. “Scott offers no specific argument or any evidence that any of the goods purchased from Home Depot had been moved in or produced for interstate commerce.” Id. at 248.Therefore, we do not read Scott as holding in any way that the ultimate consumer limitation applies to “materials” under the second prong of the statute.

Unlike Judge Seitz’s opinion in Exime, however, several Southern District cases rely on the conclusion that Scott permits the use of individual coverage case definitions to decide enterprise coverage cases as a general matter. This is simply too broad a proposition. With respect to the “goods or materials” prong of the statute, as discussed earlier, the 1974 amendments significantly broadened that definition of enterprise coverage, extinguishing the “ultimate consumer” issue altogether from that prong of the statute. This significant change to the text of the statute did not apply to individual coverage cases governed by 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1), nor did it apply to the first prong of the definition of an enterprise under 29 U.S.C. § 203(s)(1)(A)(i).

Like Judge Seitz, we do not choose to follow those cases that read more into the holding in Scott and the dicta in Thorne, and overlook the significance of the holding and analysis found in Dunlop. See, e.g., Lamonica, 578 F.Supp.2d at 1366; Ben-Aime, 572 F.Supp.2d at 1317; Polycarpe, 572 F.Supp.2d at 1321. We certainly do not question the outcome of these decisions to the extent they were based, as several seem to be, on the first prong of the enterprise coverage provision. The ultimate consumer doctrine certainly continues to apply, as it does for individual coverage, to enterprise coverage cases that are so limited. If, on the other hand, the “goods or materials” prong of the statute applies, then there is no longer any need to address the ultimate consumer or “come to rest” doctrine. The dispositive question simply asks whether two or more employees are handling materials, that have traveled in interstate commerce at some point in the past, for an enterprise with at least $500,000 in sales. And while it is true, as Defendants contend, that fulfillment of the statutory business volume requirement is not itself sufficient to create enterprise coverage, “[m] ost, if not every, Circuit Court that has spoken on this issue [including the 11th Circuit, as well as some lower federal courts] ha[ve] … construed the 1974 amendment as expanding enterprise coverage to virtually all employers, so long as that employer satisfies the $500,000 gross sales requirement.”Exime, 372 F.Supp.2d at 1370. “Thus the enterprise commerce test, quite simply, embraces all businesses whose employees regularly handle materials previously moved across inter-state lines.”Id. at 1372.

Having determined, under the current version of the FLSA, Defendants’ employees handled materials that are still “in commerce,” the Court then found that Plaintiff had produced sufficient evidence that they did so on a “regular and recurrent” basis. Therefore, the Court denied Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment.

Although not mentioned by the Court, many of the cases holding contra are up on a consolidated appeal at the 11th Circuit. Therefore, this case, which appears to correctly annunciate the scope of enterprise coverage under the circumstances, will stand if the 11th Circuit similarly reverses the prior contra holdings of several the Florida district courts distinguished by this Court.

S.D.Fla.: Telephone Calls, Faxes, Mailings And Other Regular Communications With Out Of State Vendors And Customers Does Not Constitute “Engaging In Interstate Commerce”

Dent v. Giaimo

Plaintiff filed this lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Starting on July 8, 2006, plaintiff worked as a medical assistant for defendant. Her duties included checking patients in and out of their appointments, verifying insurance coverage, answering the phone, filing, faxing and other clerical duties. She alleges that she often worked over forty hours per week. She also alleges that defendant’s annual gross sales volume exceeds $500,000.00. At issue in this case is whether defendant engaged in interstate commerce.

In another bewildering decision, the District Courts of Florida continue to narrow the scope of the FLSA’s coverage, contra to the Department of Labor’s enforcement policies and virtually all other Circuit and District Courts.

Discussing Enterprise Coverage first, the Court stated:

“As an initial matter, plaintiff cites cases that hold that the second prong of the enterprise coverage test is determinative. She argues that since defendant conceded that his business grossed at least $500,000 per year that this Court should simply deny the motion in its entirety and rely exclusively on the second prong of the test. This Court disagrees. Simply because some judges have recognized that business with annual gross sales volume exceeding $500,000 often also engage in interstate commerce, does not mean that all such business are engaged in interstate commerce. The statute requires that a business meet both prongs of the test before jurisdiction rests in the federal courts.

This Court now turns to the first prong of the test and holds that plaintiff failed to show that defendant had two or more employees regularly and recurrently engaged in commerce, or had two or more employees regularly and recurrently handling, selling, or otherwise working on goods or materials that were moved in or produced for commerce by any person. Plaintiff averred that she was engaged in interstate commerce through long distance phone calls and facsimiles as well as processing patient’s credit card payments. She says that while employed, defendant and an office manager, Ms. Erb, were also employed. Plaintiff, however, did not state that defendant or Ms. Erb engaged in the same type of alleged interstate activity. Plaintiff then states that the company periodically hired other full time employees who engaged in the same activity as plaintiff. Plaintiff, however, failed to provide the frequency with which defendant employed others to engage in the same type of office work that plaintiff alleges she preformed. Moreover, plaintiff failed to allege what percentage of that employee’s time was spent performing the alleged interstate activity.”

Next the Court turned to the issue of whether the Plaintiff was subject to the Individual Coverage of the FLSA:

“In support of a possible claim for individual coverage, plaintiff averred that about 70% of defendant’s patients are not Florida residents, that she regularly used the telephone, internet and facsimile machine to contact out of state insurance companies, and that she processed patients’ credit card payments.

In regards to the fact that some of defendant’s patients were not full time Florida residents, this Court finds the ultimate-consumer doctrine instructive. That doctrine states that goods are no longer in the stream of commerce once obtained by the ultimate consumer thereof. 29 U.S.C. § 203(I); Thorne, at 1267. This Court holds that although some patients may have been residents of other states, defendant was not engaged in interstate commerce if his contact with those patients was primarily local. Defendant averred that he only works within Florida. Defendant is licensed in Florida and other states but his license is “inactive” everywhere except Florida. There is no evidence to suggest that defendant solicited business from patients while they were out of state or that any contact with out of state patients was regular or recurrent.

This Court also holds that plaintiff’s use of the telephone or facsimile machines to make long distance phone calls or use of the internet and credit cards is insufficient to establish jurisdiction. To be considered “engaged in interstate commerce” a business must use a credit card specifically to transact business in interstate commerce. Here, defendant has submitted sufficient evidence to show that his practice is a local enterprise “and the items used in the business proliferated this goal of local service.” Polycarpe v. E & S Landscaping Servs, Inc., 572 F.Supp.2d 1318, 1321-22 (S.D.Fla.2008). This also appears to be the case in regards to internet usage. Pierre C. Bien-Aime v. Nanak’s Landscaping, Inc., 2008 WL 3892160 (S.D.Fla. August 12, 2008). “The fact that the Defendant Company provided services of an exclusively local nature is dispositive. Polycarpe at 1322.

In regards to telephone and facsimile usage, although plaintiff averred that her job duties included contacting out of state insurance companies she did not allege how much of her time was spent conducting these activities. It could be that defendant or Ms. Erb conducted the majority of those activities and that plaintiff only occasionally contacted out of state insurance companies.”

The Court held that Plaintiff failed to show that she regularly and recurrently engaged in interstate commerce.

Defense and Plaintiff attorney’s alike, who regularly handle FLSA cases are scratching their heads with this decision, which, on its face, found issues of fact which should have led to a denial of Defendant’s Summary Judgment Motion.  Nonetheless, the Court, pointing out all the factual issues, seemingly applied both an incorrect Summary Judgment standard, and an incorrect reading of the FLSA’s coverage provisions (both Enterprise and Individual) and dismissed what appears to be a perfectly valid case, at least at the Summary Judgment stage.

Of additional concern, a review of the docket reveals that the Court ignored well-settled law and refused to allow the Plaintiff (non-movant) time to conduct limited discovery on the issue of coverage, prior to ruling on Defendant’s Motion, which was filed at the inception of the lawsuit and prior to any discovery.