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Kennedy v. LTI Trucking Services, Inc.

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

September 13, 2019

JOANN L. KENNEDY, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated Plaintiff,
v.
LTI TRUCKING SERVICES, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          HENRY EDWARD AUTREY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant LTI Trucking Services Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 38]. Plaintiff filed her Response in Opposition on July 23, 2019 [Doc. No. 43]. On August 2, 2019 Defendant filed its Reply to Response [Doc. No. 48]. For reasons set forth below, the Motion to for Summary Judgment is granted.

         Facts and Background

         Plaintiff Joann L. Kennedy is a truck driver and a former employee of Defendant LTI Trucking Services. Defendant is an interstate freight motor carrier that coordinates the movement of freight for its customers.

         From May 2015 to February 2016, Plaintiff was an employee of LTI. Plaintiff re-joined LTI as an employee in October 2016 and, in November 2016, became a Lease Owner Operator with LTI, having signed an Independent Contractor Agreement (“ICA”) and Equipment Lease Agreement (“Lease”). Plaintiff worked as a Lease Owner Operator for a short time before transitioning back to employee status with Defendant.

         Plaintiff alleges that Both as a Lease Owner and as an official employee of LTI, Defendant failed to pay her minimum wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 206 et seq. (Count I) and Missouri's Labor and Industrial Relations laws, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 290.500-290.530 (Count II). Specifically, Plaintiff claims that under United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) regulations, she was “on duty” for 24 hours a day in a seven-day period, and that DOL regulations dictate that 16 of those 24 hours (or, 112 hours in the seven-day period) must be paid. Plaintiff alleges that when her total pay for the seven days in question is divided by 112, her hourly rate comes to $7.14 per hour, which is less than the both the federal and Missouri minimum wages. She also claims that Defendant did not compensate her for time or miles driven to mandatory clean-ups of her truck, or for time she spent at docks waiting while her truck was offloaded.

         Plaintiff also alleges that the ICA was unconscionable under Missouri statutory and common law (Count III) because Defendants misrepresented the nature of the ICA, and because the ICA was “one-sided and unduly harsh.” In support of this claim, Plaintiff states that the ICA was an adhesion contract, that it was unilaterally terminable by Defendant and imposed severe financial consequences upon Plaintiff for termination, that it forced Plaintiff's continued employment with Defendant, and that it shifted business expenses and risks to Plaintiff.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant was unjustly enriched by its unconscionable agreements (Count IV) and seeks declaratory judgment (Count V). Plaintiff also makes class allegations with respect to her claims. Because summary judgment will be entered as to Defendant as to each Count, the class allegations are moot.

         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(a). 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 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. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). Once the moving party has met its burden, “[t]he nonmovant must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, and must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Mere conjecture and speculation is unacceptable.

         To survive a motion for summary judgment, the “nonmoving party must ‘substantiate his allegations with sufficient probative evidence [that] would permit a finding in [his] favor based on more than mere speculation, conjecture, or fantasy.'” Putman v. Unity Health System, 348 F.3d 732, 733-34 (8th Cir. 2003) (quoting Wilson v. Int'l Bus. Machs. Corp., 62 F.3d 237, 241 (8th Cir. 1995)). The nonmoving party may not merely point to unsupported self-serving allegations, but must substantiate allegations with sufficient probative evidence that would permit a finding in his or her favor. Wilson, 62 F.3d 237, 241 (8th Cir. 1995). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmoving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [nonmovant].” Anderson, 477 U.S. 242 at 252; Davidson & Associates v. Jung, 422 F.3d 630, 638 (8th Cir. 2005). It is axiomatic that “[m]ere allegations, unsupported by specific facts or evidence beyond the nonmoving party's own conclusions, are insufficient to withstand a motion for summary judgment.” Thomas v. Corwin, 483 F.3d 516, 526-7(8th Cir. 2007). “Simply referencing the complaint, or alleging that a fact is otherwise, is insufficient to show there is a genuine issue for trial.” Kountze ex rel. Hitchcock Foundation v. Gaines, 2008 WL 2609197 at *3 (8th Cir. 2008).

         Discussion

         Counts I and II - Minimum wage claims

         Counts I and II of Plaintiff's Complaint state claims based on the FLSA and the Missouri Minimum Wage Law (“MMWL”). The MMWL is interpreted in accordance with the FLSA and the regulations promulgated thereunder; the following discussion applies fully to both the FLSA and MMWL claims. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 290.505(4); Tolentino v. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., 437 S.W.3d 754, 757 n.3 (Mo. banc 2014).

         “To establish a violation of the minimum wage requirements of the FLSA, a plaintiff . . . must demonstrate that [s]he was engaged in compensable activity within the meaning of the statute and that the wages received for that activity, if any, were below the statutory minimum wage.” Hensley v. MacMillan Bloedel Containers, Inc., 786 F.2d 353, 355 (8th Cir.1986). The meaning of compensable activity was summarized by the Eighth Circuit as follows:

[A]n employee's time is “work” for the purposes of the FLSA if it is spent “predominantly for the benefit of the employer.” Armour [& Co. v. Wantock], 323 U.S. [126, ] 133[]. The [Supreme] Court noted that in some such cases “facts may show that the employee waited to be engaged” and therefore was not working. Skidmore [v. Swift & Co.], 323 U.S. [134, ] 137-38[]. The Court stressed that the lower courts should take a “practical approach based on the realities of each case....” Armour, 323 U.S. at 133, 65 S.Ct. 165.

Reimer v. Champion Healthcare Corp., 258 F.3d 720, 725 (8th Cir. 2001) (original alterations omitted). Whether some activity is compensable is case dependent, and courts must rely on Department of Labor regulations and case law, when applicable, in making its determination. Id.

         Plaintiff alleges minimum wage violations based on the theory that she was “‘on duty' (per United States Department of Labor Regulations) continually for days and weeks on end, ” and therefore, 16 of the 24 hours per day she was purportedly on-duty must be compensated as work time. Plaintiff claims that she worked in excess of 16 hours a day at the required tasks of:

(1) driv[ing] the truck; (2) wait[ing] for cargo to be loaded and unloaded while in the truck or its immediate vicinity; (3) fuel[ing] up the truck and perform[ing] routine maintenance to same; (4) remain[ing] in the vicinity of the truck to help protect Defendant and its customers' property; and (5) remain[ing] inside the truck when stopped to log time in the sleeper berth and to help protect Defendant and its customers' property.

         Plaintiff's minimum wage claims are based on the week ending December 4, 2015. Plaintiff claims she “was on the road for Defendant seven days that week and spent, according to DOL regulation, a total of 112 hours ‘on duty.'” She alleges she received $800.00 in gross pay for that week, resulting in an average hourly wage of $7.14 - less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and the 2015 Missouri minimum wage of $7.65.

         Defendant argues that Plaintiff is not entitled to a presumption that she worked 24-hour days, that she worked no more than 14 hours per day, and that her off-duty time is not compensable. Plaintiff responds that even if the Court does not find that over-the-road truck drivers are presumptively on duty 24 hours or more, ...


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