8th Cir. Applies Brakes to Drivers’Overtime Claims

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By Jay-Anne B. Casuga

Aug. 22 — Eleven truck drivers in Arkansas who made interstate trips less than 1 percent of the time they were assigned to make deliveries for a joint employer aren’t entitled to overtime pay, a federal appeals court ruled ( Alexander v. Tutle & Tutle Trucking, Inc. , 2016 BL 271370, 8th Cir., No. 15-2710, 8/22/16 ).

“The court has clarified an area of law wherein employees and employers formerly had disagreements about what work was compensable, and to what degree,” Josh Sanford of the Sanford Law Firm in Little Rock, Ark., told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 22, referring to the application of the federal Motor Carrier Act exemption to drivers where interstate transportation makes up a small percentage of their duties.

Sanford is one of the attorneys representing the drivers, who worked for Tutle & Tutle Trucking Inc. and were assigned to Schlumberger Ltd.

Generally, the motor carrier exemption applies to truck drivers who engage in activities that directly affect the safety of transporting property in interstate commerce.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected the drivers’ argument that the exemption shouldn’t apply to them because they drove outside of Arkansas only 0.45 percent of the time between January 2012 and July 2013 when they were designated as Schlumberger drivers. The court assumed without deciding that Tutle and Schlumberger were joint employers of the drivers.

Interstate Assignments Not Uncommon

Even a small proportion of interstate travel doesn’t eliminate the exemption’s application because the drivers still were reasonably expected to be assigned such trips, the court said. It affirmed summary judgment to the companies on the drivers’ Fair Labor Standards Act and Arkansas Minimum Wage Act claims.

“We are very pleased that the Eighth Circuit Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling on summary judgment applying the motor carrier exemption,” Brent M. Langdon of Langdon & Davis in Texarkana, Texas, Aug. 22 told Bloomberg BNA. Langdon is one of the attorneys who represented Tutle and Schlumberger. “This is a clear, non-dissenting opinion reflecting the importance and necessity of the motor carrier exemption for interstate carriers.”

Sanford added that “we are disappointed for our clients, because they worked many, many hours for which they were not fairly compensated.”

Although they “strove for a different outcome,” he said “we appreciate the hard work that the Court put into resolving the ambiguity that existed in the law.”

Judge Steven Colloton wrote the opinion, joined by Judges Raymond Gruender and Stephen R. Bough.

Court Applies Motor Carrier Act Exemption

The companies and drivers all agreed that the Motor Carrier Act exemption applies if there is a “reasonable expectation” that drivers will be assigned to interstate routes, the court said.

The drivers argued that they drove primarily in Arkansas and that, while assigned to Schlumberger, interstate trips weren’t part of their ordinary duties.

But the court said the drivers were still employees of Tutle, an interstate trucking company. They thus had a reasonable expectation of receiving interstate assignments because Tutle retained the authority to reassign the drivers to Tutle trucks and take interstate routes, it said.

Additionally, the record shows that nine of the 11 drivers in the suit drove at least one interstate route for Schlumberger, and five of those nine drivers made multiple interstate trips, the court said.

“The Motor Carrier Act exemption applies even where interstate transportation makes up a small percentage of an employee’s duties,” it said, adding that the interstate driving in the case wasn’t “trivial, casual or insignificant.”

Josh Sanford and Joshua West of the Sanford Law Firm in Little Rock, Ark., represented the drivers. Brent M. Langdon and Melissa G. McPherson of Langdon & Davis in Texarkana, Texas, and Robert P. Lombardi of the Kullman Firm in New Orleans represented Tutle and Schlumberger.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga in Washington at jcasuga@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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