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Riegelsberger v. AIR EVAC EMS, Inc.

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

February 26, 2019

JACOB RIEGELSBERGER individually and on behalf of all similarly situated persons, Plaintiff,
v.
AIR EVAC EMS, INC. and GLOBAL MEDICAL RESPONSE, INC. formerly known as AIR MEDICAL GROUP HOLDINGS, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          AUDREY G. FLEISSIG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This putative collective action is before the Court on Defendants' motion (ECF No. 19) for summary judgment. Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq., by failing to pay him and similarly situated employees overtime for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a single workweek. Instead, Defendants paid Plaintiff overtime only for hours worked in excess of 84 hours in a two-week period.

         The parties' primary dispute is whether Defendant Air Evac EMS, Inc. (“Air Evac”) is a “carrier by air subject to the provisions of title II of the Railway Labor Act” (the “RLA”), and, thus, exempt from the overtime provisions of the FLSA. See 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(3). Plaintiff also argues that Air Evac should be estopped from asserting an FLSA exemption based on its representations regarding its overtime policies in an employment offer letter to Plaintiff. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion.

         BACKGROUND

         For the purpose of the motion before the Court, the record establishes the following. Defendant Global Medical Response, Inc. (“GMR”) is the parent of Air Medical Group Holding LLC (“AMGH”). GMR and AMGH are both holding companies, and neither has any employees. AMGH, in turn, is the parent company of several air ambulance companies, including but not limited to Air Evac.[1]

         Air Evac provides air medical transport services via helicopter to critically ill or injured patients in medically underserved rural areas. Air Evac collaborates with hospitals, physicians, 911 centers, and emergency medical services (“EMS”) agencies to provide rural patients increased access to emergency trauma care. Air Evac operates more than 130 air medical bases across 15 states, and transports patients both within states and across state lines.

         Air Evac's sole business is providing air services in the form of an air ambulance, and it derives 100% of its revenue from providing such air ambulance services. Air Evac provides air ambulance services without regard to a patient's insured status. Air Evac markets its air ambulance services to hospitals, physicians, 911 centers, and EMS agencies.

         Air Evac charges a fee to the patients it transports by air for the air ambulance services it provides. In some instances, patients have insurance coverage that covers in whole or in part the air ambulance services provided by Air Evac, and in some instances, patients are required to pay directly for such air ambulance services. In addition, Air Evac markets and sells to the public an “air ambulance membership, ” which is a form of prepaid protection against costs not covered by a member's insurance, other benefits, or third party responsibility.

         Air Evac operates under Part 135 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (“FAR”), 14 C.F.R. Part 135, pursuant to a license issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”). Air Evac's Part 135 Certificate has been in effect continuously since February 13, 1986. In addition, Air Evac has a license to operate under 14 C.F.R. Part 298, as an air taxi operator. Pursuant to its Part 135 Certificate, Air Evac is authorized to operate as an air carrier and conduct common carriage operations in accordance with the FAA.

         Plaintiff Jacob Riegelsberger began working for Air Evac as a flight paramedic on or about December 3, 2017. He is still employed by Air Evac as a flight paramedic. Plaintiff was previously employed as a paramedic by one of Air Evac's sister subsidiaries, REACH Air Medical Services (“REACH”). REACH classified Plaintiff as non-exempt, paid him an hourly rate, and paid him overtime for each hour worked in excess of 40 hours in a single workweek. In late 2017, Air Evac offered Plaintiff his current position.

         Plaintiff attached to his statement of additional facts submitted in connection with his opposition to this motion, a letter from Air Evac dated October 19, 2017. The letter explains that REACH was transitioning Plaintiffs base to Air Evac, and thus, REACH employees like Plaintiff were being given the option to transfer to Air Evac. The letter further states:

         While REACH and Air Evac have similar employment practices in many areas, there are a few differences we want to point out:

. Base Salary - Base salaries will remain as they currently are within REACH
. Annual Increase - Employees are eligible for an annual increase based on performance
. PTO - We have attached a PTO comparison table that shows what your new accrual ...

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