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Garcia v. Jia Logistics, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

May 30, 2017

ROGER GARCIA, Plaintiff,
JIA LOGISTICS, INC., et al., Defendants.



         THIS CAUSE comes before the Court upon Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 29]. The Court has reviewed the Motion and the pertinent portions of the record and is otherwise fully advised. For the reasons stated below, the Motion is denied.


         Plaintiff Roger Garcia (“Plaintiff”) brings this action against his former employer, JIA Logistics (“JIA”), and an owner of JIA, Candis Lopez (“Lopez”) (collectively “Defendants”), for unpaid overtime wages. Because Plaintiff was a driver for JIA, the central question for the Court is whether Plaintiff is exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) under the Motor Carrier Act (“MCA”). To make this determination, the Court must analyze the nature of both Plaintiff and JIA's activities.

         I. The Parties

         JIA provides ground transportation in Florida to freight forwarders who are shipping goods and materials from all over the world. JIA's drivers pick up goods from one location in Florida and drive them to a second location, often the port or the airport, where the goods are then transported to a final destination. Although JIA occasionally transports goods that originated and will remain in Florida, the majority of the goods that JIA handles will not stop in Florida, but rather will continue to destinations outside of the state. JIA sometimes holds third-party goods for a few days in its own warehouses, but eventually delivers the goods to a freight forwarder. JIA does not distribute goods or materials to an end consumer from JIA's warehouses. In short, JIA's drivers serve as one leg of the interstate journey for many different goods and materials.

         JIA is registered with the United States Department of Transportation (“DOT”) and has a DOT motor carrier identification number.[1] During the relevant time period, JIA's fleet included two to three trucks each with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (“GVWR”) of over 26, 000 pounds.[2] JIA's fleet also included a van with a GVWR of 5, 449 pounds. See ECF No. 33-6.

         Plaintiff Roger Garcia (“Garcia”) was a driver for JIA. Plaintiff had a Class A driver's license with a hazmat endorsement that enabled him to drive vehicles as large as a tractor trailer and to transport hazardous materials. Plaintiff only drove routes in Florida, but consistently handled goods that were traveling through the state en route to other destinations. Plaintiff, at times, transported guns, ammunition, explosives, and other hazardous materials. Plaintiff primarily drove JIA's trucks, but drove JIA's van approximately 1 to 2 times per month.

         II. The Litigation

         On July 1, 2016, Plaintiff filed this action alleging that Defendants failed to pay him overtime wages in violation of the FLSA. On December 28, 2016, Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that (1) pursuant to the MCA, Plaintiff was exempt from the provisions of the FLSA; (2) even if Plaintiff was covered under the FLSA, Lopez is not individually liable; and (3) Plaintiff is not entitled to liquidated damages because Defendants did not willfully violate the FLSA. In response, Plaintiff argues that the MCA does not apply, and, even if it did, the SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act of 2008 (“TCA”) places Plaintiff back within the purview of the FLSA.


         Legal Standard

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows 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). “[T]he plain language of Rule 56[a] mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

         “The moving party bears the initial burden to show the district court, by reference to materials on file, that there are no genuine issues of material fact that should be decided at trial. Only when that burden has been met does the burden shift to the non-moving party to demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment.” Clark v. Coats & Clarks, Inc., 929 F.3d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). Rule 56(e) “requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by [his] own affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. Thus, the nonmoving party “may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings, but … must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The inferences drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007).

         I. The FLSA and the MCA

         The FLSA requires employers to pay hourly employees one and a half times their regular hourly rate if they work over forty hours in a week. 29 U.S.C. § 207 (a)(1). However, the FLSA has several exemptions, including the MCA. The MCA exemption applies to “any employee with respect to whom the Secretary of Transportation has the power to establish qualifications and maximum hours of service.” 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(1). The MCA's applicability depends “on whether the Secretary has the power to regulate, not on whether the Secretary has actually exercised such power.” Baez v. Wells Fargo Armored Serv. Corp., 938 F.2d 180, 181 n.2 (11th Cir. 1991).

         As the employer, JIA has the burden to show that the MCA exemption applies. See Abel v. Southern Shuttle Serv., 631 F.3d 1210, 1212 (11th Cir. 2011). Therefore, JIA must establish (1) that it is subject to the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Transportation (the “Secretary”) and (2) that its employees' duties directly affect the safety of operation of motor vehicles in the transportation on the public highways of passengers or property in interstate or foreign commerce. See 29 C.F.R § 782.2. See also Baez, 938 F.2d at 181-82; Walters v. Am. Coach Lines of Miami, Inc., 575 F.3d 1221, 1227 (11th Cir. 2009) (“The applicability of the motor carrier exemption depends both on the class to which his employer belongs and on the class of work involved in the employee's job.”) (internal quotation omitted).

         A. JIA's Activities and Jurisdiction under the MCA

         To satisfy the first prong of the MCA exemption, that JIA is subject to the Secretary's jurisdiction, JIA must show that it (a) is a motor carrier and (b) transports passengers or ...

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