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Francois v. Gulf Cost Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

May 22, 2017

ESTIME FRANCOIS and RENETTE ORDEUS, Plaintiffs,
v.
GULF COAST TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          SUSAN C. BUCKLEW United States District Judge.

         This cause comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 72). Plaintiffs oppose the motion. (Doc. No. 78). With the Court's permission, both Plaintiffs and Defendant filed reply briefs. (Doc. No. 81, 82). Because genuine issues of material fact exist, this Court denies Defendant's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' Fair Labor Standards Act claim. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claim under Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

         I. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court must draw all inferences from the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and resolve all reasonable doubts in that party's favor. See Porter v. Ray, 461 F.3d 1315, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006)(citation omitted). The moving party bears the initial burden of showing the Court, by reference to materials on file, that there are no genuine issues of material fact that should be decided at trial. See id. (citation omitted). When a moving party has discharged its burden, the non-moving party must then go beyond the pleadings, and by its own affidavits, or by depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. See id. (citation omitted).

         II. Background

         Plaintiffs Estime Francois and Renette Ordeus allege that they were formerly employed by Defendant Gulf Coast Transportation, Inc. as taxicab drivers and that Defendant misclassified them as independent contractors.[1] In the summer of 2015, Plaintiffs entered into agreements with Defendant, titled “Agreement for Independent Vehicle-For-Hire Operators” (the “Agreement”), which purport to outline their relationship with Defendant. (Doc. No. 78-2; Doc. No. 78-3).

         Defendant holds itself out as a taxicab company. Defendant owns taxicabs and certificates enabling its taxicabs to be used as taxicabs within Hillsborough County. Taxicab drivers, including Plaintiffs, entered into twelve-month Agreements with Defendant to lease one of its taxicabs for a certain period of time for a certain amount of money. Specifically, they could lease a taxicab for a 12-hour period for $86, a 24-hour period for $98, or a weekly period for $560. (Doc. No. 78-4, ¶ 5; Doc. No. 78-5, ¶ 5). In return, the drivers would drive the taxicabs for that period of time and would earn all of the money they generated while driving.

         Defendant outfitted the taxicabs with a radio communication system so that the drivers could receive transportation requests that Defendant dispatched. Defendant also outfitted the taxicabs with a fare meter and a laptop that could accept credit card payments.

         While the Agreement explicitly states that the taxicab drivers are independent contractors (Doc. No. 78-2, ¶ 8; Doc. No. 78-3, ¶ 8), Plaintiffs allege that they were, in fact, employees because Defendant controlled the manner in which they performed their work and made them economically dependent on Defendant.

         As a result, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint asserting three claims. (Doc. No. 6). First, Plaintiffs contend that due to Defendant's willful misclassification of them as independent contractors, Defendant did not pay them any wages at all, in violation of the minimum wage requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

         Second, Plaintiffs contend that the misclassification of them as independent contractors resulted in substantial cost savings to Defendant (due to its not having to pay employment taxes) and gave Defendant an unfair competitive advantage as a taxicab company. Therefore, Plaintiffs contend that Defendant violated Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (“FDUTPA”).

         Third, Plaintiff Francois, individually, asserted a conversion claim under Florida common law due to Defendant's failure to return taxicab bond money that he had paid. However, the Court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss this claim. (Doc. No. 40).

         III. Motion for Summary Judgment

         Currently pending before this Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' FLSA and FDUTPA claims. Accordingly, the Court will address Defendant's motion as to each claim.

         A. FLSA Minimum Wage Claim

         Defendant argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs' FLSA claim, because Plaintiffs were independent contractors, not employees. When determining whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor under the FLSA, the Eleventh Circuit ...


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