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Smith v. Werner Enterprises, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

July 20, 2015

CORNELIUS SMITH, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
WERNER ENTERPRISES, INC., Defendant.

ORDER

WILLIAM H. STEELE, Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the parties' motions for partial summary judgment. (Docs. 86, 93). The parties have filed briefs and evidentiary materials in support of their respective positions, (Docs. 87-89, 94-95, 99-100, 107-08), and the motions are ripe for resolution. This order addresses only the issue, made a basis of the plaintiffs' motion, of whether the plaintiffs are exempt employees; other issues will be addressed in subsequent orders. After careful consideration, the Court concludes that the plaintiffs' motion as to this issue is due to be granted.

BACKGROUND

This is the second FLSA action brought by plaintiffs employed by the defendant to provide certain trucking services to a non-party ("Boise") that operates a paper mill in Jackson, Alabama. See Pritchett v. Werner Enterprises, Inc., Civil Action No. 12-0182-WS-C. In Pritchett, as here, the defendant claimed the benefit of the Motor Carrier Act ("MCA") exemption. In August 2013, the Court denied the defendant's motion for summary judgment on this issue. Pritchett v. Werner Enterprises, Inc., 2013 WL 4524337 (S.D. Ala. 2013). In December 2013, the Court denied the defendant's second motion for summary judgment on the issue and granted the plaintiffs' competing motion for summary judgment, holding that "[t]he MCA exemption does not apply in this case." Pritchett v. Werner Enterprises, Inc., 2013 WL 6909892 at *8 (S.D. Ala. 2013). The plaintiffs herein seek to replicate that success, while the defendant apparently hopes that third time's a charm.

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment should be granted only if "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The party seeking summary judgment bears "the initial burden to show the district court, by reference to materials on file, that there are no genuine issues of material fact that should be decided at trial." Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). The moving party may meet its burden in either of two ways: (1) by "negating an element of the non-moving party's claim"; or (2) by "point[ing] to materials on file that demonstrate that the party bearing the burden of proof at trial will not be able to meet that burden." Id. "Even after Celotex it is never enough simply to state that the non-moving party cannot meet its burden at trial." Id.; accord Mullins v. Crowell, 228 F.3d 1305, 1313 (11th Cir. 2000); Sammons v. Taylor, 967 F.2d 1533, 1538 (11th Cir. 1992).

"If the party moving for summary judgment fails to discharge the initial burden, then the motion must be denied and the court need not consider what, if any, showing the non-movant has made." Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1116 (11th Cir. 1993); accord Mullins, 228 F.3d at 1313; Clark, 929 F.2d at 608.

"If, however, the movant carries the initial summary judgment burden..., the responsibility then devolves upon the non-movant to show the existence of a genuine issue of material fact." Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1116. "If the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof, ' the moving party is entitled to summary judgment." Clark, 929 F.2d at 608 (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986)) (footnote omitted); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2) ("If a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may... consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion....").

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "[t]he evidence, and all reasonable inferences, must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant...." McCormick v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 333 F.3d 1234, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003).

There is no burden on the Court to identify unreferenced evidence supporting a party's position.[1] Accordingly, the Court limits its review to the exhibits, and to the specific portions of the exhibits, to which the parties have expressly cited. Likewise, "[t]here is no burden upon the district court to distill every potential argument that could be made based upon the materials before it on summary judgment, " Resolution Trust Corp. v. Dunmar Corp., 43 F.3d 587, 599 (11th Cir. 1995), and the Court accordingly limits its review to those arguments the parties have expressly advanced.

The FLSA generally requires payment of time-and-a-half for hours in excess of 40 in a workweek. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). But "[t]he provisions of section 207 of this title shall not apply with respect 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...." Id. § 213(b)(1). This provision is known as "the Motor Carrier Act exemption." Abel v. Southern Shuttle Services, Inc., 631 F.3d 1210, 1211 (11th Cir. 2011).

"We construe FLSA exemptions narrowly against the employer, " and "[t]he employer has the burden to show that an exemption applies." Abel, 631 F.3d at 1212. Indeed, the employer must establish the exemption "by clear and affirmative evidence." Gregory v. First Title of America, Inc., 555 F.3d 1300, 1302 (11th Cir. 2009) (internal quotes omitted).

"There are two requirements for an employee to be subject to the motor carrier exemption." Walters v. American Coach Lines, Inc., 575 F.3d 1221, 1227 (11th Cir. 2009). "First, his employer's business must be subject to the Secretary of Transportation's jurisdiction under the MCA." Id. "Second, the employee's business-related activities must directly affect the safety of operation of motor vehicles in the transportation on the public highways of passengers or property in interstate or foreign commerce within the meaning of the Motor Carrier Act." Id. (internal quotes omitted); accord 29 C.F.R. § 782.2(a). The plaintiffs concede that the first element is satisfied. (Doc. 94 at 6).

The following facts concerning the physical layout of Boise's Jackson operation are uncontroverted. It includes three physically separated facilities, consisting of a base mill, a sheeter facility, and a warehouse. The base mill site includes two paper machines (J-1 and J-3) and a recycle facility. The sheeter facility site includes the sheeter facility along with a trailer yard and loading docks, where trailers are loaded with product for delivery to customers. Communication among the three facilities is by public road, specifically, ...


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