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Appeals court reverses District Court on overtime pay

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a District Court’s finding that a tow truck driver was not entitled to overtime pay.

Bobby Johnson was a tow truck driver for Hix Wrecker for about four months, during which he worked 12-hour shifts. In the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Johnson and Hix filed cross motions for summary judgment, with Hix claiming that Johnson was not entitled to overtime pay due to the motor carrier exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act. Johnson argued he was not subject to the exemption and that the company’s owners and corporate secretary were individually liable for unpaid overtime wages.

The FLSA requires employers to pay overtime to employees who work more than 40 hours a week, according to 29 U.S.C. Section 207(a)(1). Ordinarily, the employees of a motor carrier that engages wholly in intrastate commerce are subject to the Secretary of Labor’s jurisdiction, and consequently to the overtime and maximum hours provisions of the FLSA. In contrast, the employees of a motor carrier that engages in interstate commerce may come under the Secretary of Transportation’s jurisdiction under the Motor Carrier Act 49 U.S.C. Section 31502. Under Section 31502(b), the Secretary of Transportation, rather than the Secretary of Labor, has the power to prescribe these employees’ qualifications and maximum hours of service.

Employees subject to the Secretary of Transportation’s jurisdiction are exempt from the FLSA’s maximum hour and overtime provisions, and the motor carrier has the burden to show that an employee is exempt, the 7th Circuit noted.

Many motor carriers engage in both interstate and intrastate commerce, but a motor carrier employee cannot be subject to the jurisdiction of both the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Transportation simultaneously. Citing Goldberg v. Faber Indus., Inc., 291 F.2d 232, 234-35 (7th Cir. 1961), the Circuit Court held that an employee comes within the Secretary of Transportation’s jurisdiction so long as the employee is “subject, at any time, to be[ing] assigned to interstate trips.”

In the District Court, Hix submitted an affidavit from its corporate secretary, Gail Neil, in support of its claim that the FLSA motor carrier exemption applied to Johnson because the company routinely provides out-of-state services. The appeals court disagreed.

In its opinion, Bobby Johnson Jr. v. Hix Wrecker Service Inc., et al., No. 09-3023, the court held that Neil’s affidavit did not show that Hix engaged in interstate commerce within a “reasonable period of time” prior to the time during which it claims the exemption for Johnson. It also held that the affidavit did not establish that Johnson was subject to being used in interstate commerce during the four-month period or during any other “reasonable period of time.”

Johnson argued that the District Court erred in not finding that he was entitled to summary judgment on his claim that the owners and secretary – as employers under the FLSA –  were liable for unpaid wages. The District Court, finding that Johnson was exempt, did not address that issue, so the appeals court remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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