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Williams v. Tri-State Biodiesel, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 23, 2015

BOSS WILLIAMS and TASMEEN McCOY, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
TRI-STATE BIODIESEL, L.L.C. and BRENT BAKER, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

GABRIEL W. GORENSTEIN, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiffs Boss Williams and Tasmeen McCoy, on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated employees, have sued their former employer Tri-State Biodiesel, L.L.C. ("TSB") and its Chief Executive Officer, Brent Baker. Plaintiffs' complaint alleges violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., and the New York Labor Law ("NYLL"). Defendants now move for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 as to (1) plaintiffs' overtime claims under the FLSA, (2) plaintiffs' overtime claims under the NYLL, (3) plaintiffs' claims for "spread of hours" pay under the NYLL, (4) Williams's claims for unpaid wages under both the FLSA and the NYLL, and (5) plaintiffs' claims that defendants willfully violated the FLSA.[1] The parties have consented to have proceedings in this case conducted by a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). As set forth below, defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

Unless otherwise stated, the following facts are either not in dispute or reflect plaintiffs' version of facts as supported by admissible evidence.

Baker is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of TSB. Baker Aff. ¶ 1. TSB collects used cooking oil ("UCO") from restaurants and other producers located in and around the New York area. Id . ¶¶ 3, 7. To collect UCO, TSB operates a fleet of trucks, each with a gross vehicle weight rating of at least 10, 001 pounds. Id . ¶ 4.

Collection routes of UCO are typically assigned to two-person teams, with one Driver and one Hose Operator. Id . ¶ 7. The team is assigned to a truck and a UCO collection route. Id . ¶ 13; Williams Aff. ¶ 43. The Driver drives to each location on an assigned collection route where the Hose Operator then vacuums UCO from the restaurant into the truck using a hose. Baker Aff. ¶ 7. In addition to driving, the Driver is responsible for safety inspections of the vehicles. Id . The Hose Operator is responsible for assisting the Driver with these safety inspections. Id . During the relevant time periods, TSB operated approximately eight collection routes per day. Williams Aff. ¶ 26. Each truck averaged 20-35 collection hauls per collection route. Id . ¶ 25.

TSB collected UCO from restaurants both inside and outside the state of New York. Baker Aff. ¶¶ 11-12; TSB's New Jersey Records (annexed as Ex. A to Baker Aff.) ("TSB N.J. Records"), though the parties dispute whether this occurred during the entire time period at issue and to what degree interstate travel occurred in relation to the total volume of TSB's business. Williams asserts that TSB operated exclusively within New York until October or November 2010. Williams Aff. ¶¶ 28, 38-39; see also TSB N.J. Records. After that time, some assigned collection routes were entirely within New York while others included stops in New Jersey or Connecticut. Baker Aff. ¶ 13.

While defendants assert that all collection routes, including interstate routes, were assigned at random, Id . ¶¶ 13-16, Williams contends that collection routes to Connecticut and New Jersey were assigned primarily to certain drivers, Williams Aff. ¶¶ 44-45. According to Williams, Connecticut routes were assigned primarily to Bobby Green, Lorenzo Treglia, and an individual identified as "Ferny, " Id . ¶ 44, while New Jersey collection routes were primarily assigned to Lorenzo Treglia, Jerome Bonaparte, or Kyle Murray, Id . ¶ 44 & n.1. However, if there was an emergency vacancy, a relief driver, such as Williams, would be chosen to travel the interstate collection route. Id . ¶¶ 44-45.

TSB purified the UCO at its facility in the Bronx. Baker Aff. ¶ 8. This process generated wastewater, which required disposal. Id . ¶ 18. Beginning in October 2011, TSB brought this wastewater to New Haven, Connecticut approximately once a week. Id . ¶ 18; Deposition of Brent Baker, dated Apr. 21, 2014 (annexed as Ex. H to Cilenti Decl.) ("Baker Dep."), at 69-70. The truck would return to TSB with UCO from Connecticut for New York. Baker Aff. ¶ 18; Williams Aff. ¶ 32. CT Biodiesel, a separate entity from TSB, was primarily responsible for delivering the wastewater to and retrieving UCO from Connecticut. Williams Aff. ¶¶ 30-31. On "rare" occasions, a TSB driver would be called to fill in, and the driver was usually someone other than Williams or McCoy. Id . ¶ 30.

TSB employees were paid their normal hourly rate (that is, "straight time") for hours worked up to 50 per week. Baker Aff. ¶ 32. TSB employees were paid time-and-a-half only for hours worked in excess of 50 per week. Id . During the relevant time periods, TSB used two main methods to track hours worked by employees. Id . ¶ 27. Initially TSB used a system of self-reporting, under which an employee would fill in a time sheet and swear to its accuracy with his or her signature. Id . TSB then switched to an automated timecard system, which required employees to punch in when they arrived in the morning and punch out when they left. Id . ¶ 28. TSB contends that it also provided procedures for employees to be paid for work that was not reflected on the automated time system by reporting that time to a bookkeeper. Id . ¶ 30. Williams contests the availability of such a system, however. Williams Aff. ¶ 23.

Williams was first employed by TSB in August 2009 as an overnight Pump Operator. Id . ¶ 3. Williams initially worked 36 hours per week. Id . ¶ 4. In September 2009, Williams began to work 60 hours per week. Id . ¶ 6. Later in the fall of 2009, Williams was promoted to the position of UCO Driver. Id . ¶ 8. As a Driver, Williams continued to work in excess of 50 hours per week. Id . ¶ 9.

In October 2010, Williams was promoted to the position of Fleet Supervisor. Id . ¶ 12. As Fleet Supervisor, Williams was primarily responsible for receiving collection routes created by a TSB Fuel Dispatcher and distributing routes to Drivers and Hose Operators in the morning. Id . ¶ 12; Baker Aff. ¶ 33. At this time, Williams was working 60 hours per week as a Driver. Williams Aff. ¶ 14.

Williams asserts that his promotion to Fleet Supervisor required him to work an additional 10-15 hours per week from home, for a total of 70 to 75 hours per week. Id . ¶ 15. He states that in addition to performing his responsibilities as Fleet Supervisor, he was responsible for various other functions when he got home from work at night, such as receiving calls from night Drivers, arranging investigations, informing employees of their assigned routes, and taking calls from sick employees. Id . ¶ 12. Baker contends that Williams was not required to perform any significant work at home and should have reported that time to the TSB bookkeeper if he dId. Baker Aff. ¶¶ 33-34. According to Baker, the extra responsibilities cited by Williams were the job of the Dispatcher who was on duty while Williams was at home. Baker Reply Aff. ¶ 2. Williams, however, states that he had to perform the job of a "Night Supervisor" in addition to his own responsibilities as a Fleet Supervisor, because the "Night Supervisor" was failing to do his job properly. Deposition of Boss Williams, dated April 7, 2014 (annexed as Ex. C to Sabo Aff.) ("Williams Dep."), at 26. Williams continued to work as both a Driver and Fleet Supervisor until his employment with TSB came to an end in June 2012. Williams Aff. ¶ 24.

Addressing the issue of the amount of interstate travel that Williams engaged in, defendants provide evidence that during the relevant time period (September 2009 to June 2012), Williams worked approximately 687 days as a Driver. Baker Reply Aff. ¶ 9; TSB Timesheets (annexed as Ex. B to Baker Reply Aff.). Typically, TSB trucks run one collection route per day. Baker Reply Aff. ¶ 12. Defendants contend that out of these 687 days, Williams drove interstate on 26 occasions, consisting of 25 trips to New Jersey and one trip to Connecticut. Id . ¶¶ 10-11; TSB N.J. Records; Bill of Lading, dated Oct. 20, 2011 (annexed as Ex. A to Baker Aff.).

McCoy was initially employed by TSB as a Hose Operator in August 2011. Deposition of Tasmeen McCoy, dated April 7, 2014 (annexed as Ex. D to Sabo Aff.) ("McCoy Dep."), at 7. McCoy worked as a Hose Operator until his employment with TSB came to an end in May 2012. Id. at 8. McCoy was paid at a rate of $12 per hour. Id. at 7. McCoy does not dispute that TSB's records of the hours he worked are correct. Id. at 11-12; Baker Dep. at 34. However, defendants have put no information in the record as to the number of hours McCoy worked or whether he ever went on an interstate trip.

On June 4, 2009, the United States Department of Labor ("DOL") completed an audit of TSB's overtime practices from May 21, 2007, to May 18, 2009. See WHISARD Compliance Action Report, (annexed as Ex. G to Sabo Aff.) ("DOL Report"), at 1-2. The DOL concluded that TSB was in compliance with "all major applicable acts." Id. at 2. The DOL discussed the section 13(b)(1) motor carrier exemption with Baker "at great length." Id. at 2-4. Specifically, the DOL concluded that TSB was not in violation of Section 7 of the FLSA because the "[d]rivers are exempt from the overtime provisions of the Act under" the motor carrier exemption. Id. at 4.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiffs filed this action to recover unpaid wages, unpaid overtime compensation, and unpaid spread-of-hours premiums allegedly owed to them by their former employer. See Complaint, filed July 19, 2013 (Docket # 1), ¶¶ 1-2. On June 27, 2014, defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment arguing that plaintiffs were exempt from the maximum hours provisions of the FLSA and NYLL based on the motor carrier exemption, that plaintiffs were not entitled to spread-of-hours premiums, that Williams failed to produce sufficient evidence that he was entitled to any unpaid wages, and that defendants did not willfully violate the FLSA.

II. LAW GOVERNING MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that summary judgment is appropriate when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." A genuine issue of material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed" and the court must draw "all justifiable inferences" in favor of the nonmoving party. Id. at 255 (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970)). Nevertheless, once the moving party has shown that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that it is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law, "the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, '" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (emphasis in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)), and "may not rely on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation, " Scotto v. Almenas, 143 F.3d 105, 114 (2d Cir. 1998) (citations omitted). In other words, the nonmovant must offer "concrete evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a verdict in his favor, " Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256, and "[a] party opposing summary judgment does not show the existence of a genuine issue of fact to be tried merely by making assertions that are conclusory, " Major League Baseball Props., Inc. v. Salvino, Inc., 542 F.3d 290, 310 (2d Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). "Where it is clear that no rational finder of fact could find in favor of the nonmoving party because the evidence to support its case is so slight, summary judgment should be granted." FDIC v. Great Am. Ins. Co., 607 F.3d 288, 292 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

III. DISCUSSION

A. FLSA Overtime Claims

The FLSA seeks to eliminate "labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers." 29 U.S.C. § 202(a). It "guarantee[s] compensation for all work or employment engaged in by employees covered by the Act." Reich v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth., 45 F.3d 646, 648-49 (2d Cir. 1995) (quoting Tenn. Coal, Iron & R. Co. v. Muscoda Local No. 123, 321 U.S. 590, 602 (1944)). The FLSA requires employers to pay overtime for employment in excess of 40 hours per week "at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which [the employee] is employed." 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1).

The FLSA, however, exempts certain employees from its overtime requirements. The Second Circuit has held that "because the FLSA is a remedial act, its exemptions... are to be narrowly construed, " and "an employer bears the burden of proving that its employees fall within an exempted category of the Act." Martin v. Malcolm Pirnie, Inc., 949 F.2d 611, 614 (2d Cir. 1991) (citations omitted); accord Bilyou v. Dutchess Beer Distribs. Inc., 300 F.3d 217, 222 (2d Cir. 2002) ("[E]xemptions to the FLSA are narrowly construed against the employers seeking to assert them and their application limited to those establishments plainly ...


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