Court partially rules in favor of Best Transportation in suit over overtime wages

By Tomas Kassahun | Jan 4, 2019

ST. LOUIS – The U.S. District Court Eastern District of Missouri, Eastern Division has partially ruled in favor of a Missouri transportation company facing a lawsuit filed by former employees over overtime wages.

In the ruling on Dec. 27, the court partially granted Best Transportation Inc.’s motion for reconsideration and partially granted the two of the plaintiffs’ claims. It denied the plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment.

According to the opinion written by Judge John A. Ross, the court previously issued a memorandum and order denying defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to the claims of plaintiff Mario Berry, but the order did not mention the factually distinct claims of plaintiffs Everett Scott or Robert Baker.

Ross said the defendants filed a motion for reconsideration, asking the court to rule on Scott’s and Baker’s claims and to reconsider its ruling on Berry’s claims based on recent Supreme Court precedent in Encino Motorcars LLC v. Navarro

According to the court opinion, the case opened April 6, 2016, when Berry filed the lawsuit on behalf of himself and others over allegations of unpaid overtime wages. 

“Defendants filed this motion for summary judgment, arguing that Berry, Scott and Baker were exempt from overtime protection under the Motor Carrier Act (MCA) exemption,” the opinion stated.

The court said the plaintiffs argued that the MCA exemption does not apply because they were not engaged in interstate commerce. 

The plaintiffs also argued that Berry is entitled to the protection of the SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act of 2008 because the SUVs he drove were “small vehicles” with only eight seats, the court said.

“Because defendants admit that Berry drove small vehicles during at least 20 weeks, he argues that he is entitled to summary judgment regarding those weeks,” the opinion stated.

"Defendants responded that the plaintiffs misstate the standards for the exemption and that Berry’s operation of SUVs was de minimis, meaning he does not qualify for the protection of the TCA exception," Ross wrote.

Under the MCA exemption, cited by the court, there are three conditions that exempt an employee from overtime. The first condition is that the employer is under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Transportation. Second, the employer is a driver, driver’s help, loader or mechanic.

Third, the employee “'engages in activities of a character directly affecting the safety of operation of motor vehicles in the transportation on the public highways of passengers or property in interstate or foreign commerce,'” Ross wrote.

“...There can be no dispute that plaintiffs were subject to being assigned an interstate trip and there was a reasonable expectation that they would be,” the opinion stated.

According to the court, the fair reading of the “TCA exception is that it applies to any driver whose work involves, in whole or in part, the operation of light vehicles unless those vehicles are ether designed or used to transport more than eight passengers.

“Berry’s work involved, in part, the operation of SUVs that weighed less than 10,000 pounds and which were neither designed nor used to transport more than eight passengers,” the opinion stated. “Accordingly, the TCA exception applies so long as his operation of the SUV’s was more than de minimus.”  

The court concluded that “genuine issues of material fact exist that preclude it from finding, as a matter of law, whether Berry is entitled to overtime protection under the FLSA.”

Additionally, the court said Scott and Baker are exempt employees not entitled to overtime protection.

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