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Lacurtis v. Express Medical Transporters, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 10, 2017

Michael LaCurtis, Kris Daniels, and Gerald Young, each on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated Plaintiffs - Appellees
v.
Express Medical Transporters, Inc. and Hospital Shuttle Service, Inc. Defendants-Appellants

          Submitted: April 5, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before WOLLMAN and LOKEN, Circuit Judges, and ROSSITER, [1] District Judge.

          ROSSITER, District Judge.

         In this consolidated putative class- and collective-action case, Express Medical Transporters, Inc. and Hospital Shuttle Service, Inc. (collectively, "EMT") appeal from an order of the district court[2] denying EMT's motion for summary judgment and granting partial summary judgment for Michael LaCurtis ("LaCurtis") on the issue of EMT's liability to pay him for unpaid overtime. With jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         EMT is a licensed interstate motor carrier regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ("FMCSA"), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation ("DOT"). See 49 U.S.C. §§ 13102(14), 31501(2). EMT provides non-emergency medical and student transportation in Missouri and Arkansas and is engaged in interstate commerce. To provide those services, EMT operates a fleet of vehicles, including several wheelchair-equipped paralift vans. The paralift vans are full-size Ford E-250 and E-350 vans originally designed and manufactured to carry up to twelve and fifteen passengers, respectively. The vans have a gross vehicle weight rating of 10, 000 pounds or less.

         Before being placed into service at EMT, these new Ford E-250 and E-350 vans are redesigned and converted by a third-party company, New England Wheels, Inc. ("New England Wheels"), into paralift vans by permanently removing some of the seats to allow the installation of up to two wheelchair positions. New England Wheels also alters the doors and roof and installs wheelchair ramps and lifts. After converting a van, New England Wheels places a new placard on the driver's side door pillar to comply with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's ("NHTSA") manufacturer labeling requirements for tire and loading information. See 49 C.F.R. § 571.110 S4.3.

         Record photographs of the new placards in two EMT paralift vans configured "similarly" to the vans at issue in this case indicate maximum seating capacities, as modified, of five and six passengers, respectively. As the district court noted, it is unclear how those maximum seating capacities were calculated. EMT agrees one of the modified paralift vans pictured can transport two passengers in wheelchairs and up to three additional passengers and the other modified paralift van pictured can transport two passengers in wheelchairs and up to five additional passengers.

         LaCurtis has been employed by EMT to drive paralift vans since January 10, 2012. LaCurtis and similarly situated drivers operate EMT's paralift vans in interstate commerce as members of a pool of employee drivers.[3] Although the drivers routinely work more than forty hours a week, EMT does not pay them overtime as generally required by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., and the Missouri Minimum Wage Law, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 290.500 et seq., which is interpreted in accordance with the FLSA. See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 290.505.

         Title 29, section 207(a)(1) generally requires employers to compensate overtime hours "at a rate not less than one and one-half times the [employee's] regular rate" of pay. EMT maintains the drivers are not eligible for overtime because the overtime provision does not apply to "any employee with respect to whom the Secretary of Transportation [("Transportation Secretary")] has power to establish qualifications and maximum hours of service pursuant to the provisions of section 31502 of Title 49." See 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(1). Section § 31502(b) gives authority to the Transportation Secretary to set the "qualifications and maximum hours of service of employees of, and safety of operation and equipment of, a motor carrier." Commonly known as the Motor Carrier Act ("MCA") exemption, this exemption is designed "to avoid potentially overlapping jurisdictions" between the Transportation Secretary, who now administers the MCA, and the Secretary of Labor ("Labor Secretary"), who administers the FLSA. Williams v. Cent. Transp. Int'l, Inc., 830 F.3d 773, 775 (8th Cir. 2016).

         In 2008, Congress passed the SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act of 2008 ("TCA"), which narrowed the scope of the MCA exemption. Under the TCA, the FLSA overtime provisions "apply to a covered employee notwithstanding the [MCA exemption]." Pub. L. No. 110-244, Title III, § 306(a) (2008). As relevant here, "the term 'covered employee' means" an EMT driver or helper "whose work, in whole or in part, " affects "the safety of operation of motor vehicles weighing 10, 000 pounds or less, " unless the vehicle is "designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation." Id. at § 306(c). The district court referred to this as the "small vehicle exception" to the MCA.

         On March 19, 2015, LaCurtis filed a putative collective and class action against EMT seeking to recover overtime pay he believes he and similarly situated drivers were entitled under the FLSA and Missouri law. See 29 U.S.C. § 216(b); Fed.R.Civ.P. 23. LaCurtis amended the Complaint on August 31, 2015. LaCurtis seeks, among other things, class designation for both claims, back wages, liquidated damages, injunctive relief, and attorney fees and costs. EMT answered, asserting several affirmative defenses.

         After discovery limited to liability issues, LaCurtis and EMT filed cross-motions for summary judgment. LaCurtis moved for partial summary judgment only on the issue of liability. According to the district court, LaCurtis acknowledged during oral argument that his "motion applie[d] only to his individual claims" because "no class or collective action ha[d] been certified in this case."

         EMT sought dismissal of the First Amended Complaint in its entirety. The pivotal issue presented by the summary-judgment motions was whether the paralift vans at issue in this case were "designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers" for purposes of § 306 of the TCA.

         LaCurtis urged the district court to defer to U.S. Department of Labor ("DOL") Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2010-2 ("FAB 2010-2"), in which the Deputy Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division ("WHD") of the DOL announced that, for enforcement purposes, the WHD will determine whether a vehicle is "designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers" "based on the vehicle's current design and the vehicle capacity as found on the door jamb plate." The WHD stated that if the seating capacity was reduced "to accommodate a wheelchair, [the WHD] will count the resulting capacity plus add 1 for each wheelchair placement."

         EMT argued the paralift vans LaCurtis drove were "designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers" based on their original design and as modified to accommodate two wheelchairs. EMT urged the district court to follow NHTSA regulation 49 C.F.R. § 571.3(b)(1) and conclude that a wheelchair placement counted as four seating positions.[4] EMT alternatively argued it should not be liable for overtime because it had relied in good faith on the results of a 2010 FLSA compliance examination conducted ...


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