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Boyington v. Percheron Field Services, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

November 8, 2017

ERIC BOYINGTON, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
PERCHERON FIELD SERVICES, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KIM R. GIBSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         Pending before the Court is the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 193) filed by Plaintiff Eric Boyington (“Boyington”), on behalf of himself and others similarly situated. This Motion has been fully briefed by all parties (see ECF Nos. 194, 195, 196, 197, 205, 206, 207, 208, 209, 210) and is ripe for disposition.

         This case is a hybrid collective/class action brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-19, and the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (“PMWA”), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 333.101-15. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 1.) Plaintiffs are current and former Right of Way Agents (“ROW Agents”)[1] for Defendant Percheron Field Services, LLC (“Percheron”). Plaintiffs allege that Percheron improperly classified them as overtime-exempt employees and, thus, seek backpay for non-payment of overtime wages, liquidated damages, and reasonable attorneys' fees and costs under the FLSA. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 75.)

         In their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Plaintiffs ask the Court to enter judgment as a matter of law on two discrete issues: (1) whether Defendant made a judicial admission that Defendant misclassified the ROW Agents as overtime exempt prior to December 31, 2014 and (2) whether the Second Affirmative Defense asserted in Defendant's Amended Answer must be dismissed under the law of the case doctrine. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         II. Jurisdiction and Venue

         The Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' FLSA claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and supplemental jurisdiction over their related state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). Because a substantial part of the events underlying this case occurred in Altoona, Pennsylvania in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, venue is proper in this District pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2).

         III. Relevant Background[2]

         The present Motion for Partial Summary Judgment was filed on October 14, 2016. (ECF No. 193.) Briefing concluded on this Motion on November 28, 2016. (See ECF Nos. 194, 195, 196, 197, 205, 206, 207, 208, 209, 210.)

         This case has featured frequent and contentious disputes. Most relevant to the present Motion, the Court denied Defendant's Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement (ECF No. 64) by Memorandum Opinion and Order of June 14, 2015. (ECF No. 96.) Shortly thereafter, on July 13, 2015, Defendant filed its Motion for Reconsideration or, in the Alternative, for Permission to File an Interlocutory Appeal (ECF No. 111), which the Court denied by Memorandum Opinion and Order of March 24, 2016. (ECF No. 141.)

         The Court granted Plaintiffs' Motion to Conditionally Certify an FLSA Collective and to Facilitate Notice (ECF No. 45) by Memorandum Opinion and Order of June 16, 2015. (ECF No. 97). However, Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification (ECF No. 224) filed on March 31, 2017- but not scheduled to be fully briefed until November 15, 2017 (see ECF No. 249)-remains pending before the Court.

         Defendant also filed two motions to strike (ECF Nos. 253, 254) on October 16, 2017, asking the Court to strike numerous declarations submitted by Plaintiffs in support of their Motion for Class Certification. (ECF No. 224). These motions to strike-the disposition of which could affect the Court's ruling on Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification (ECF No. 224)-await responsive briefing by Plaintiffs and are not yet ripe for disposition.

         IV. Discussion

         Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and accompanying briefs move for summary judgment on two matters. (See ECF Nos. 193, 194, 208.) First, Plaintiffs ask the Court to hold that, pursuant to the admissions of Defense Counsel, no overtime exemptions apply to any of the ROW Agents subject to this lawsuit for any overtime damages through December 31, 2014. (See ECF No. 194 at 1.) Second, Plaintiffs ask the Court to dismiss the Second Affirmative Defense asserted in Defendant's Amended Answer on the basis of the law of the case doctrine. (See id.)

         The Court addresses each of these requests in turn.

         A. Defense Counsel's Admission Regarding Overtime Exemptions

         1. Plaintiffs' Arguments

         Plaintiffs first argue that Defendant “has unequivocally admitted that no overtime exemptions apply to the opt-in plaintiffs” because of a judicial admission made by Defense Counsel. (Id. at 3.) At an oral argument before the Court on July 13, 2016, Defense Counsel stated:

The defendant has waived its affirmative defenses associated with the classification of these individuals as exempt during the time period when they were paid on a day-rate basis. That's originally what this case was about. These folks were classified as exempt, but it was admitted that they were not paid a fixed salary for all hours worked through the end of 2014. And, as a result of that, Percheron acknowledges that it is liable for misclassification prior to December 31st, 2014, leaving the key factual dispute for this whole litigation to be the question of hours worked.

(ECF No. 196-1 at 11:8-17.) On the basis of this statement by Defense Counsel, Plaintiffs ask this Court to “rule that no overtime exemptions under the FLSA or PMWA apply to any of the Percheron ROW Agents, either in the FLSA collective action or in the proposed Rule 23 class, for any of the time periods worked through[3] December 31, 2014.” (ECF No. 194 at 3.)

         Plaintiffs also specifically assert that this judicial admission by Defense Counsel should apply to all potential Rule 23 class members-not only to Boyington-because such potential Rule 23 class members must be similarly situated to Boyington, must satisfy the typicality and other requirements of Rule 23, and must necessarily have the same employment and pay characteristics. (Id. at 4.) Lastly, Plaintiffs argue that, if the Court grants summary judgment as to Boyington, such a judgment would also apply to other ROW Agents under the doctrine of issue preclusion. (ECF No. 208 at 3-4.)

         2. Defense Counsel's Verbal Admissions Are Binding on Defendant

         As a preliminary consideration, the Court must determine whether the verbal admissions made by Defense Counsel at an oral ...


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