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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.