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S.D.Fla.: Assistants At Medical Office Properly Allege Individual Coverage Under The FLSA, Based On Evidence Of Regular Communications With Out-Of-State Insurers, Patients And Vendors
Lopez v. Pereyra
Plaintiffs brought this action to recover unpaid overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Defendant was an obstetrics and gynecological doctor’s office located in Hollywood, Florida. Plaintiff Carmen Lopez was a medical assistant in the Office from October 31, 2006 through January 23, 2009. Plaintiff Dawn Serra was an administrative assistant in the Office from May 2, 2006 through May 1, 2009. Plaintiffs alleged that the Office met the requirements of an enterprise under the FLSA and that each Plaintiff also qualified for individual coverage because they engaged in commerce. Defendant moved for summary judgment arguing that the Office was not an enterprise as defined by the FLSA and Plaintiffs were not individually engaged in interstate commerce so as to trigger individual coverage. The Court agreed that Defendant was not an enterprise engaged in commerce, based on its tax returns showing revenue of less than $500,000.00 per year. However, the Court denied Defendant’s Motion as to individual coverage, holding that Plaintiffs’ allegations of regular communications with out-of-state insurers, out-of-state patients and out-of-state vendors, if true, satisfied the “engaged in commerce” test for individual coverage.
Discussing the applicability of individual coverage, the Court stated:
“For individual coverage to apply under FLSA, an employee must present evidence that he or she was (i) engaged in commerce or (ii) engaged in the production of goods for commerce. See Thome v. All Restoration Services, Inc., 448 F.3d 1264, 1265-1266 (11th Cir.2006).FN4 The Eleventh Circuit found that to “engage in commerce,” a plaintiff must “directly participat[e] in the actual movement of persons or things in interstate commerce.” Thome, 448 F.3d at 1266. When determining individual coverage, the character of the employee’s activities is determinative, not the nature of the employer’s business. Overstreet v. N. Shore Corp., 318 U.S. 494, 498 (1943).
FN4. The Department of Labor takes the position that the “[s]hipment of goods from another State direct to a customer located in the same State as the distributor who ordered the shipment, constitutes interstate commerce by virtue of which [ ] the distributor’s employees who procured the shipment … are covered by the FLSA as being engaged in interstate commerce.” Field Operations Handbook (FOH), Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Dep’t of Labor, § 11 i15 (1994). Although not entitled to Chevron deference, the Department of Labor’s Field Operations Handbook has been held to be persuasive and entitled to some weight in judicial interpretations of the FLSA. See Martin v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Comm’n, 499 U.S. 144, 157, 111 S.Ct. 1171, 113 L.Ed.2d 117 (1991); Morgan v. Family Dollar Stores, Inc., 551 F.3d 1233, 1275 (11th Cir.2008).
A key factor in determining if a plaintiff engaged in commerce for purposes of individual coverage under the FLSA is whether such activities were a “regular and recurrent” part of the plaintiff’s employment duties. 29 C.F.R. 776.10(b). The “employee’s interstate activity must be regular and recurrent and not simply isolated or sporadic for jurisdiction to exist.” Dent v. Giaimo, 606 F.Supp.2d 1357, 1360 (S.D.Fla.2009) (citing Scott v. K.W. Max Investments, Inc., 256 Fed. App’x 244, 247 (11th Cir.2007)); see also Curry v. High Springs Family Practice and Diagnosis Center, Inc., 2009 WL 3163221 (N.D.Fla. Sept.30, 2009) (granting summary judgment on FLSA claim by doctor’s assistant who performed primarily administrative functions and had only sporadic contact with out-of-state insurers).
The Court finds that there is a factual dispute regarding whether individual coverage applies to each Plaintiff. Defendants rely heavily on the Dent case where the court found no individual coverage for a medical assistant working in a local doctor’s office. Judge Ryskamp’s decision in Dent presents a similar, though distinguishable, factual scenario. Dent can be distinguished on two grounds, which ultimately require a different result.
First, Judge Ryskamp found 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.” Dent, 606 F.Supp.2d at 1361. In Dent, “there [was] no evidence to suggest that defendant solicited business from patients while they were out of state or that any contract with out of state patients was regular or recurrent.” Id. Conversely, the Declaration of Carmen Lopez states that “[o]n a weekly basis I … made telephone calls to patients located in Santo Domingo and other states.”
Second, in Dent, “although the 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.” 606 F.Supp.2d at 1361 (emphasis in original). Therefore, the court reasoned that “[i]t could be that [other individuals in the office] conducted the majority of those activities and that plaintiff only occasionally contacted out of state insurance companies.” Id. Here, the Declaration of Dawn Serra states that she “used to telephone [ ] insurance companies outside of Florida to verify patient insurance coverage at least three (3) times each work day.” DE 38-2 ¶ 5. Further, Ms. Serra declares that her job duties “each work day” also included (i) “mailing twelve (12) to twenty five (25) billing and other insurance forms to insurance companies outside of Florida;” id. ¶ 6, and (ii) “opening mail containing checks and other documents from insurance companies outside of Florida.” Id. ¶ 7.
In addition, Defendants rely on Thorne to argue that “[w]ith respect to the supplies and equipment used by the [Office], Plaintiffs do not allege that the [Office] engaged in the sale of goods that came from other states.” DE 42 at 5. “Plaintiffs’ ‘activities were not rendered interstate commerce simply because [the Office], an ultimate consumer, purchased goods which had previously moved in interstate commerce.’ “ Id. (quoting Thome, 448 F.3d at 1267). This argument holds true with respect to medical supplies used by the Office such as syringes, latex gloves and surgical sutures. The same cannot be said with respect to products and medications for which the Office’s patients were the ultimate consumer. In this regard, Ms. Lopez states that she “regularly used the telephone to call businesses to order from outside of Florida birth control medications for patients, birth control devices for patients and bladder control devices for patients.” Id. ¶ 5. Ms. Lopez also attests that she used “the telephone weekly to call patient insurance companies outside of Florida to obtain authorization for medications that the insurance companies did not cover.” Id. ¶ 6.
Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs’ Declarations are vague and rely on words such as “regularly.” Defendants claim that such statements are conclusory and fail to “state the frequency with any particularity.” DE 42 at 4. Defendants claim is not entirely accurate as each Declaration does contain certain specific statements regarding the frequency of employment activities. Moreover, Defendant has not provided the Court with any telephone records, invoices or patient information that would enable this Court to conclude that Plaintiffs did not engage in commerce on a “regular and recurrent” basis. Cf. Curry v. High Springs Family Practice and Diagnosis Center, Inc., 2009 WL 3163221 (N.D.Fla. Sept.30, 2009).
In Curry, the plaintiff relied on an affidavit describing the number of times she communicated with out-of-state insurers. Id. at *1. “In response, Defendants provided detailed billing records for all phone and facsimile lines at the walk-in-clinic from the relevant time period.” Id. Based on this evidence, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants finding that plaintiff’s contact with out-of-state insurers was sporadic at best. Id. at *4. In this case, the parties have relied solely on conflicting declarations and, therefore, the Court can only decide this issue by making credibility determinations. “Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions ….” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Therefore, whether each Plaintiff qualifies for individual coverage is factually in dispute and must be decided by the trier of fact. Accordingly, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied on the issue of individual coverage.”