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Berry v. Best Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

March 29, 2016

MARIO BERRY, on behalf of himself and others similarly-situated, Plaintiff,
v.
BEST TRANSPORTATION, INC., d/b/a BEST TRANSPORTATION OF ST. LOUIS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN A. ROSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 96) and Plaintiffs Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 99). The motions are fully briefed and ready for disposition.

         I. Background

         Defendant Best Transportation, Inc., is a Missouri company that provides transportation services. (Doc. 96-1 at ¶ 1.) Defendants Kim Garner and Deborah Rudawsky are co-owners of Best Transportation. (Id. at ¶ 2.) Best Transportation operates a division known as GO Best Express, which "specializes in transporting individuals to and from locations within the St. Louis Metropolitan Area and into Illinois; including to and from Lambert International Airport, " in St. Louis. (Id. at ¶3.)

         Prior to April 2014, GO Best Express operated a fleet of nine Ford E-350 Econoline Super Duty Extended Wagon vans, which were given vehicle numbers in the 300's (the "300 Vans"). (Id. at ¶ 6.) The E-350 had a gross vehicle weight rating of 9, 100 pounds and was marketed as accommodating up to fifteen passengers, including the driver. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-8). GO Best Express removed the four-seat rear bench to create space for passengers' luggage, reducing the 300 Vans' seating capacity to eleven. (Id. at ¶ 9.)

         In 2009, Best Transportation signed a contract with Lambert International Airport to transport passengers to and from the airport. (Id. at ¶ 11.) Because the contract stipulated that Best Transportation must use vehicles with no more than eight seats, Best Transportation removed the three-seat middle bench from the 300 Vans. (Id. at ¶¶ 12-14.) In December 2011, when Best Transportation and the airport amended their contract to allow the use of vans with more than eight seats, Best Transportation replaced the middle benches in all of the 300 Vans. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-20.)

         In 2014, Best Transportation signed a new contract with the airport that did not include a seat limit and leased eleven new Ford E-350 vans, which were given vehicle numbers in the 900's (the "900 Vans"). (Id. at ¶ 24.) The 900 Vans were also rated at 9, 100 pounds and marketed as accommodating up to fifteen passengers. (Id. at ¶¶ 25, 28.) The 900 Vans were leased from Penske, who removed the rear bench to make space for luggage before delivering them to Best Transportation, thereby reducing the seating capacity to eleven. (Id. at ¶ 29.) Best Transportation made no other modifications to the 900 Vans. (Id. at ¶¶ 30-32.)

         Plaintiff Mario Berry worked as a driver for the GO Best Express division from May 2013 to April 2015, but he occasionally drove for Best Transportation's other divisions. (Id. at ¶¶ 33-34.) When driving for GO Best Express, Berry primarily operated the 300 and 900 Vans, although he also drove other vehicles accommodating thirteen, fourteen, twenty-one, or twenty-four passengers. (Id. at ¶¶ 37-38.) When assisting Best Transportation's other divisions, however, Berry drove Sport Utility Vehicles ("SUV's") with seating capacities of eight or less. (Id. at ¶ 40.)

         On April 6, 2016, Berry, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, filed suit against Defendants, alleging that they had failed to pay overtime wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-19. (Doc. 1.) The parties conducted an initial phase of discovery on the issue of whether Berry and those similarly situated were exempt from overtime protection under the so-called "Motor Carrier Act" ("MCA") exemption to the FLSA. (Doc. 75); 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(1).

         Defendants filed this Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that Berry was exempt from overtime protection under the MCA exemption. (Doc. 96.) Berry responds that the MCA exemption does not apply and that, even if it does, he is entitled to the protection of the SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act of 2008 (the "TCA exception"), because the SUV's were "small vehicles" with only eight seats. Pub. L. No. 110-244, Title III, § 306(a) (2008) [hereinafter "TCA"]. (Doc. 110.)

         Berry filed his own Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, arguing that GO Best Express was not engaged in interstate commerce and therefore could not claim the MCA exemption applied to its drivers. Berry alternatively argues that, even if the MCA exemption were available to Defendants, they would have to show that he never drove a small vehicle. (Doc. 99.) Because Defendants admit that Berry drove small vehicles during at least twenty weeks, he argues that he is entitled to summary judgment regarding those weeks. (Id.) Defendants respond that Berry misstates the standard and that his operation of small vehicles was de minimis, meaning he does not qualify for the protection of the TCA exception. (Doc. 128.)

         II. Legal Standard

         "Summary judgment is proper where the evidence, when viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, indicates that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Davison v. City of Minneapolis, Minn., 490 F.3d 648, 654 (8th Cir. 2007); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Summary judgment is not appropriate if there are factual disputes that may affect the outcome of the case under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of material fact is genuine if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. "The basic inquiry is whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Diesel Machinery, Inc. v. B.R. Lee Industries, Inc., 418 F.3d 820, 832 (8th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The moving party has the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. City of Mt. Pleasant v. Ass'd Elec. Co-op., Inc., 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th Cir. 1988). If the movant does so, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party, who must set forth affirmative evidence and specific facts showing a genuine dispute on that issue. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

         As noted, the Court reviews the facts in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion and gives that party the benefit of any inferences that logically can be drawn from those facts. The Court is required to resolve all conflicts of evidence in favor of the nonmoving party, Osborn v. KF. Hutton & Co., Inc.,853 F.2d 616, 619 (8th Cir. 1988), and may not make credibility determinations, weigh the ...


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