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Alvarado v. Skelton

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

July 6, 2017



          BARBARA D. HOLMES United States Magistrate Judge

         Currently pending is Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgement on liability, which alleges that Plaintiffs are entitled to judgment of liability as a matter of law with respect to Count I of the complaint, involving violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), and Count VI, [1] involving common law breach of contract. See Docket Entry ("DE") 20. Defendants have filed a response to this motion (DE 28), to which Plaintiffs have filed a subsequent reply. DE 30. This matter is before the undersigned for all further proceedings pursuant to the consent of the parties (DE 14) and referral of the District Judge in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) (DE 15).

         For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs' motion (DE 20) is GRANTED IN PART as to liability for the FLSA claims for unpaid overtime and the breach of contract claims for unpaid overtime, and DENIED IN PART as to any other breach of contract claims, including without limitation, for failure to provide adequate housing.

         I. FACTS[2]

         Defendant Burke Skelton is the owner of Outdoors Unlimited, Inc. (collectively referred to as "Defendants"), a business with a principal office in Murfreesboro, Rutherford County, Tennessee. Plaintiffs are citizens of Guatemala who traveled to the United States in May of 2016 to work for Defendants pursuant to the H-2B visa program. In accordance with the terms of the "Job Order" provided by Defendants, which the parties agree governed the terms of employment, Plaintiffs would work Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and were to be paid $12.02 per hour and $18.03 per hour of overtime work. Plaintiffs resided in two trailers located in a remote area approximately 15 minutes from Defendants' place of business, one of which was owned by Defendants.[3] The Job Order provided that transportation for Plaintiffs, who were without licenses or vehicle, would be "provided to and from area jobsites from a central Rutherford County area pick up location." DE 1-1 at 2.

         The parties dispute the method by which the amount of time that Plaintiffs spent working was calculated. Plaintiffs claim that Defendants maintained a "punch clock" machine that was used to stamp timecards to keep track of Plaintiffs' time, that Defendants would stamp Plaintiffs' timecards at the principal place of business before Plaintiffs boarded employer-owned trucks that transported them to the designated job site, and would "punch out" the card after Plaintiffs were brought back to the principal place of business. Defendants claim that although the "punch clock" system was briefly utilized, they ultimately relied on the reports of the crew leaders regarding the amount of time that each employee worked.

         Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., by failing to compensate Plaintiffs for all hours worked, including overtime work. Plaintiffs claim that they "regularly" worked between 60 and 70 hours per week, which included work on Saturdays, but that Defendants normally compensated them for just 30 to 50 hours of work per week. Defendants deny this claim and respond that Plaintiffs were properly compensated for all time worked, which normally fell between 40 and 55 hours of work per week, including work performed on Saturdays. This discrepancy in time is partially based on Defendants' contention that the additional hours claimed by Plaintiffs erroneously include commute times to and from work, as well as time Plaintiffs spent waiting for other crews to finish work before all employees were transported from a jobsite back to Defendants' place of business. Defendants note that Plaintiffs regularly traveled between one and two hours to a job site, but argue that travel time should not be included in the calculation of the amount of time worked by Plaintiffs.

         Plaintiffs also allege that Defendants were contractually obligated to provide suitable housing for Plaintiffs. According to Plaintiffs, the trailers in which they were placed by Defendants were not properly equipped with heat or air-conditioning and were otherwise unsuitable for the number of employees living there. Defendants dispute that they were required to provide housing to Plaintiffs, that any housing provided was as a courtesy to Plaintiffs and other workers, of which they availed themselves voluntarily, and that the housing provided was adequate.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court must grant a motion for summary judgment if the moving party "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." In order to overcome a motion for summary judgment, the non-movant party, Defendants in this case, must show sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact. Klepper v. First Am. Bank, 916 F.2d 337, 342 (6th Cir. 1990) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)). In evaluating the evidence of record, the court must draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Moldowan v. City of Warren, 578 F.3d 351, 374 (6th Cir. 2009) (citingMatsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986)).

         At this stage of litigation, it is not the court's role to "weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient [to defeat a motion for summary judgment]; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party]." Id. (quoting Anderson, 411 U.S. at 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505). A genuine issue of material fact exists when there are "disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505).

         B. Analysis

         Plaintiffs claim that they are entitled to partial summary judgment based on Defendants' admissions, through their answer to the complaint and various discovery responses, that there are no disputes of material fact as to Defendants' liability for FLSA violations and breach of contract. DE 21 at 3. Plaintiffs correctly note that in an action to recover unpaid overtime compensation under the FLSA, they must prove the following by a preponderance of the evidence: (1) that an employer-employee relationship existed; (2) that the activities at issue were within the coverage of the FLSA; and (3) that the employer defendant failed to pay overtime wages as required by law. Kowalski v. KowalskiHeat Treating, Co.,920 F.Supp. 799, 806 (N.D. Ohio 1996) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq). The parties agree that in order to establish liability in a breach of contract claim, Plaintiffs must demonstrate: (1) the existence of an enforceable contract; (2) nonperformance amounting to a breach of the contract; and ...

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