United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
BILLY SCHUMANN, DUSTIN ABRAHAM, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, LAUREN TIDWELL, JEANIE HAKENEWERT, STEPHANIE ALANA MARIE BENJAMIN, CHRISTOPHER M. BOURN, DEREK WHITE, LAHOMA J. NACHTRAB, RICHARDO ROSADO, LANNETTE GIBSON, DANIEL PENTON, DENISE ARMINIO, OFELIA BIAGAN, SHEILA SMITH, CELINE VIDAURRI, CHRISTINA VINAS, RICARDO ROSADO, PATRICK C. HARRELL, RACHEL GOODE, JAMIESON WISHMAN, PAUL CALOIAN, STEVEN TODD LITTLE, JESSICA LINCOLN, and CHRISTOPHER JALACKI, Plaintiffs,
COLLIER ANESTHESIA, P.A., a Florida corporation, WOLFORD COLLEGE, LLC, a Florida limited liability company, THOMAS L. COOK, an individual, and LYNDA M. WATERHOUSE, an individual, Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
E. STEELE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to
Bifurcate (Doc. #274) filed on December 20, 2016. Plaintiffs
filed a response in Opposition (Doc. #276) on January 6,
2017. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion
are twenty-five former student registered nurse anesthetists
(SRNAs) who enrolled in Defendant Wolford College, LLC's
28-month nurse anesthesia master's program seeking to
become Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists. While
students at Wolford, Plaintiffs participated as interns in a
clinical training program supervised and subsidized by
Defendant Collier Anesthesia, P.A. Though it is undisputed
that Plaintiffs knew the internship was unpaid and that
completing it was required to graduate, Plaintiffs now claim
they functioned as “employees” while at the
clinical sites and seek to recover minimum wage and overtime
compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29
U.S.C. § 201 et seq. The Court conditionally
certified a collective action (Doc. #91), and twenty-three
former SRNAs joined the two original plaintiffs. (Docs. ##
176, ¶ 6; 197, ¶ 1.)
side filed motions for summary judgment. Finding no material
disputed facts on the ultimate question of Plaintiffs'
employment status, the Court concluded that “the
economic realities of this case establish that Plaintiffs
were not ‘employees' of any Defendant, and
therefore are not entitled to wage and overtime
compensation.” (Doc. #226, p. 14.) Accordingly, the
Court issued an Opinion and Order (id.) on May 23,
2014 granting Defendants' motions for summary judgment
(Docs. ## 174, 181) and denying Plaintiffs' Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. #173).
appeal, the Eleventh Circuit vacated the summary judgment and
remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.
(Doc. #245). Observing that “a determination of an
individual's employment status under the FLSA is a
question of law, ” the Eleventh Circuit conducted a
de novo review of the undersigned's legal
determination that no employment relationship existed between
Plaintiffs and Defendants. Schumann v. Collier
Anesthesia, P.A., 803 F.3d 1199, 1207 (11th Cir. 2015)
(citation omitted). Recognizing that “[t]he tricky
part” is determining who falls within the FLSA's
definition of “employee, ” id., the
Eleventh Circuit ultimately followed the “primary
beneficiary” test of Walling v. Portland Terminal
Co., 330 U.S. 148 (1947), but “specifically
tailored” those factors to better “identify the
primary beneficiary of a modern-day internship for academic
credit and professional certification.”
Schumann, 803 F.3d at 1203. Rather than “take
a position . . . regarding whether [Plaintiffs] were
‘employees' for purposes of the FLSA, ”
id. at 1215, the Eleventh Circuit remanded the case
to this Court “to apply this test in the first
instance” when evaluating the cross motions for summary
judgment and “to give the parties an opportunity to
further develop the record to address the components of the
test.” Id. at 1203.
undersigned entered an Order (Doc. #247) vacating the May 23,
2014 Order (Doc. #226) and the Judgment (Doc. #227) and
invited the parties to file supplemental cross-motions for
summary judgment consistent with the Eleventh Circuit's
decision. The parties did so. (Docs. # 248; 249; 251; 252;
253; 256; 257; 258; 259; 260; 264.)
Court denied (Doc. #269) the three supplemental motions for
summary judgment. Although the first and seventh
Glatt factors were undisputed and weighed in favor
of a finding that Plaintiffs were students (id. p.
16), the Court found conflicting evidence as to the other
factors, which precluded summary judgment, both as to those
factors, and on the ultimate question of plaintiffs'
employment status. (Id. pp. 16-38.) The undersigned
observed in several places that resolution of these material
evidentiary disputes will depend on the jury's weighing
each side of the story and making credibility determinations.
(Id. pp. 26, 34.)
Court then entered an Order (Doc. #270) reopening the case
and directing the parties to file a new joint Case Management
Report. On November 28, 2016, the parties submitted their
joint Case Management Report (Doc. #271). Plaintiffs selected
the jury trial option, but Defendants - for the first time -
designated the trial as “non-jury” and
“request[ed] briefing on this issue.” On December
6, 2016, the Court issued a Second Amended Case Management
and Scheduling Order (Doc. #272). Noting that Defendants had
not filed a motion to strike Plaintiffs' jury demand, the
Court set a jury trial for the April 2017 term.
weeks later, Defendants filed the instant Motion seeking to
bifurcate trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
42(b). Defendants assert that because employment status under
the FLSA presents a “question of law, ” the Court
- not the jury -should first hold a bench trial to make that
determination (and, presumably, to settle any outstanding
factual disputes), before a jury is convened to resolve any
remaining issues. Plaintiffs oppose bifurcation.
Rule 42(b), a court has discretionary authority to bifurcate
the resolution of certain issues or claims in a case.
Allstate Ins. Co. v. Vizcay, 826 F.3d 1326, 1333
(11th Cir. 2016). Notwithstanding such discretion, a court
may not grant bifurcation where doing so would infringe upon
a party's Seventh Amendment right to have a jury decide a
particular issue or to issue a final verdict. Fed.R.Civ.P.
42(b) (“[T]he court must preserve any federal right to
a jury trial.”); Houseman v. U.S. Aviation
Underwriters, 171 F.3d 1117, 1121 (7th Cir. 1999)
(“[S]eparate trials must not be granted if doing so
would violate the Seventh Amendment.).
initial matter, the Court observes that there is a
“well-established . . . right to a jury trial in
private actions pursuant to the FLSA.” Lorillard v.
Pons, 434 U.S. 575, 580 (1978). It is also
well-established, however, that “a determination of an
individual's employment status under the FLSA is a
question of law.” Schumann, 803 F.3d at 1207
(citing Scantland v. Jeffry Knight, Inc., 721 F.3d
1308, 1310 (11th Cir. 2013)). In practice, this means that
where the material facts are not disputed, the issue of
employment status under the FLSA is treated as a pure
“question of law” and is appropriately resolved
by the judge. E.g., Martinez-Mendoza v. Champion
Int'l. Corp., 340 F.3d 1200, 1215 (11th Cir. 2003)
(affirming finding on summary judgment that paper
manufacturer was not migrant farm workers' “joint
employer” where undisputed facts showed that workers
were not “economically dependent” on
manufacturer); Aimable v. Long & Scott Farms, 20
F.3d 434, 445 (11th Cir. 1994) (same); Kaplan v. Code
Blue Billing & Coding, Inc., 504 F. App'x 831,
835 (11th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (affirming grant of summary
judgment for defendants where no genuine issue of material
fact existed as to whether medical billing students were
employees); Freeman v. Key Largo Volunteer Fire and
Rescue Dept. Inc., 494 F. App'x 940 (11th Cir. 2012)
(affirming dismissal of FLSA claim where complaint did not
allege facts sufficient to infer that employment relationship
existed between volunteer firefighter and fire department).
this case presents a different scenario. Here, the Court has
already found that material disputed facts do exist,
preventing a finding on employment status as a matter of law.
In this posture, Eleventh Circuit case law leaves clear that
employment status becomes a mixed issue of law and fact to ...