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Munoz-Gonzalez v. D.L.C. Limousine Service, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 12, 2017

ALEJANDRO MUNOZ-GONZALEZ, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
D.L.C. LIMOUSINE SERVICE, INC., CHRIS THORNTON, MELISSA THORNTON, and JOHN D'AGOSTINO, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          J. PAUL OETKEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff brings this action on behalf of himself and all similarly situated drivers who worked for Defendants D.L.C. Limousine Service, Inc. (“DLC Limousine”), Chris Thornton, Melissa Thornton, and John D'Agostino (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants failed to properly compensate him, and other drivers, for their work in accordance with provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., New York Labor Law (“NYLL”), Art. 19 § 650 et seq., and the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations (“NYCRR”) tit. 12, § 142-1.2. Currently pending before this Court are cross-motions for summary judgment that focus on whether DLC Limousine is exempt from the requirements of the FLSA pursuant to the “taxicab exemption.” (Dkt. No. 52; Dkt. No. 58.) For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part, and Plaintiff's motion is denied.

         I. Background

         The following facts-which are undisputed unless otherwise noted-are taken from the record before the Court.

         Plaintiff and the putative class members are former DLC Limousine employees who allege that they worked in excess of forty hours per week but were not paid overtime wages as required under FLSA and NYLL. (See Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 1-3.)

         The crux of the disagreement before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment is whether DLC Limousine falls within the “taxicab” exemption under the FLSA, which provides that the overtime provisions of the FLSA “shall not apply with respect to- . . . any driver employed by an employer engaged in the business of operating taxicabs.” 29 U.S.C. 213(b)(17). In 2005, the Honorable Colleen McMahon, considering another case against DLC Limousine, held that DLC Limousine qualified as a business operating taxicabs (and was therefore exempt from the overtime provisions of FLSA). See Cariani v. D.L.C. Limousine Service, Inc., 363 F.Supp.2d 637 (S.D.N.Y. 2005). Plaintiff now seeks to revisit that holding in light of changes made to the company since that time.[1]

         It is undisputed that DLC Limousine's fleet primarily consists of small, non-metered passenger vehicles. (Dkt. No. 73 ¶¶ 10-11.) DLC Limousine's drivers are licensed with the Westchester County Taxi and Limousine Commission. (Id. ¶ 18.) The company's cars make trips that are predominantly local and rarely exceed seventy miles.[2] (Id. ¶ 17.)

         DLC Limousine provides transportation services with its fleet of vehicles under the names of DLC Ground Transportation Services (“DLC Ground”) and LSW Chauffeured Transportation (“LSW”). (Id. ¶ 13.) DLC Ground and LSW differ in that LSW charges higher fares and uses more expensive cars than DLC Ground. (Dkt. No. 69 ¶ 17.)

         DLC Limousine operates primarily in Westchester County, and the majority of its customers originate from the Westchester County Airport, where DLC Limousine operates a counter and taxi stand. (Dkt. No. 73 ¶¶ 2, 22.) DLC Limousine contracted with the County of Westchester to provide taxi and limousine service from the Westchester County Airport from 1981 to 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 3-5.) While it primarily serves customers originating from the airport, its second largest source of business is generated by members of the general public who call DLC Limousine to arrange transportation within Westchester County. (Id. ¶ 22.)

         In addition to its work at the Westchester County Airport and with its local residents, a small percentage of DLC Limousine's business is generated from contracts with other corporate entities. One such contract is with Doral Arrowwood, a Westchester hotel, where DLC Limousine operated a counter that primarily offered rides to the Westchester County Airport. (Id. ¶ 23.) DLC Limousine terminated this contract because it did not provide enough business-generating, at most, 1.91% of DLC Limousine's overall business in 2013. (Id. ¶ 24.) DLC Limousine also contracted with PepsiCo to provide transportation primarily among various offices and airports. (Id. ¶ 25.) Between 2013 and 2016, this contract generated between 0.02% and 0.91% of DLE Limousine's overall business. (Id. ¶ 26.)

         Primarily as a result of these recurrent contracts, Plaintiff seeks summary judgment that the taxicab exception no longer applies to DLC Limousine. (Dkt. No. 58.) DLC Limousine seeks summary judgment on the same issue, as well as on whether certain of Plaintiff's claims are time barred and whether Plaintiff is entitled to liquidated damages. (Dkt. No. 52.)

         II. Legal Standard

         It is appropriate for a court to grant summary judgment when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine if, considering the record as a whole, a rational jury could find in favor of the non-moving party. Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).

         At the summary judgment stage, the court views the evidence “in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in its favor.” Allen v. Coughlin, 64 F.3d 77, 79 (2d Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). On summary judgment, any interpretation of an exemption to FLSA should be “narrowly construed against the employers seeking to assert them.” Bilyou v. Dutchess Beer Distributors, Inc., 300 F.3d 217, 222 (2d Cir. 2002) (quoting Arnold v. Ben Kanowsky, Inc., 361 U.S. 388, 392 (1960)) (internal quotation mark omitted). Summary judgment may be granted only if “no reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the nonmoving party.” Allen, 64 F.3d at 79 (quoting Lunds, Inc. v. Chemical Bank, 870 F.2d 840, 844 (2d Cir. 1989)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. Discussion

         In 2005, Judge McMahon held that DLC Limousine was in the business of operating taxicabs and was therefore entitled to the taxicab exemption. See Cariani, 363 F.Supp.2d at 641-45. Now, Plaintiff argues that, since the decision in Cariani, DLC Limousine's business activities have materially changed such that it is no longer covered by the exemption. (Dkt. No. 59 at 9-18.) Plaintiff alternatively argues that Defendants are engaged in the “operation of an airport limousine service, ” which the Department of Labor refers to as an “[e]xample[] of non-exempt work.” (Id. at 6-9.)[3]

         DLC Limousine also moves for summary judgment on the taxicab exemption, arguing that any changes to its operations are not sufficient to undermine Judge McMahon's prior holding that the company is covered by the taxicab exemption. (Dkt. No. 53 at 12-17.) In addition, Defendants argue that certain of the Plaintiff's claims are time-barred (id. at 19-20), and that Plaintiff's claims for liquidated damages must be dismissed because DLC Limousine acted in good faith (id. at 21-22).

         A. The Field Operations Handbook and Post-2005 Activities

         “[E]mployer[s] engaged in the business of operating taxicabs” are exempt from the FLSA's overtime compensation requirements. 29 U.S.C. 213(b)(17). While the FLSA does not define what constitutes “the business of operating taxicabs, ” numerous courts seeking to determine whether a defendant's business fell within the exemption have turned to Chapter 24 of the Department of Labor's Field Operations Handbook (“FOH”). See, e.g., Arena v. Plandome Taxi Inc., No. 12 Civ. 1078, 2014 WL 1427907, at *15 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 14, 2014); June-Il Kim v. SUK Inc., No. 12 Civ. 1557, 2014 WL 842646, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 4, 2014); Cariani, 363 F.Supp.2d at 641; see also Abel v. S. Shuttle Servs., Inc., 301 F.App'x 856, 859 (11th Cir. 2008); McKinney v. Med Grp. Transp. LLC, 988 F.Supp.2d 993, 1000 (E.D. Wis. 2013); Rossi v. Associated Limousine Servs., Inc., 438 F.Supp.2d 1354, 1363 (S.D. Fla. 2006); Powell v. Carey Int'l, Inc., 490 F.Supp.2d 1202, 1212 (S.D. Fla. 2006).

         The 2016 FOH[4] (used by federal courts in interpreting the FLSA's taxicab exemption in order to achieve a “uniform definition” well-suited to “the purposes of a federal labor law, ” Cariani, 363 F.Supp.2d at 645) defines the “[b]usiness of operating taxicabs” as follows:

The taxicab business consists normally of common carrier transportation in small motor vehicles of persons and such property as they may carry with them to any requested destination in the community. The business operates without fixed routes or contracts for recurrent transportation. It serves the miscellaneous and predominantly local transportation needs of the community. It may include such occasional and unscheduled trips to or from transportation terminals as the individual passengers may request, and may include stands at the transportation terminals as well as at other places where numerous demands for taxicab transportation may be expected.

FOH, Ch. 24(h)(01). Based on this definition, the Cariani court concluded that DLC Limousine is in the business of operating ...


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