Transportation Law Update: DOL Opinion Letter Does Not Derail Sleeper Berth Case
Previously, we have reported on a class action in federal district court in Arkansas which has implications on whether time spent in a sleeper berth constitutes hours worked for purposes of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. (Link to Court Holds Time Spent in Sleeper May Constitute Time Worked 02.12.2019) Subsequently, the Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor addressed the identical issue in an Opinion Letter—also reported here. (Link to U.S. Department of Labor Issues New Wage and Hour Opinion Letter Regarding Sleeper Berths 07.24.2019) An astute reader might question if the Opinion Letter was the end of the road for the case. In the eyes of the federal district court, it was not and the class action persists.
Previously, the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas held that when a truck driver is required to work a 24-hour shift, the employer must compensate for time spent in their sleeper berth, unless the driver entered into an agreement with the employer, express or implied, that the employer will exclude up to 8 hours of compensation during the 24-hour shift. Browne v. P.A.M. Transp., Inc., No. 5:16-CV-5366, 2018 WL 5118449, at *1 (W.D. Ark. Oct. 19, 2018). Consequently, summary judgment was denied. Id.
Plaintiffs in this case, employee truck drivers, brought a class action lawsuit against their employer, P.A.M. Transport, Inc. (“PAM”) asserting violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), among other claims. Plaintiff’s asserted that Department of Labor (DOL) regulations prohibit PAM from excluding more than eight (8) hours of pay, during a 24-hour shift, for time the truck driver spends in their sleeper berth.
SECOND BITE AT THE APPLE FAILS
In light of the Opinion Letter, Defendants moved to dismiss the class certification and for summary judgment. Browne v. P.A.M. Transp., Inc., No. 5:16-CV-5366, 2020 WL 412126 (W.D. Ark. January 24, 2020). The district court denied the renewed request.
The district court found that the regulation was not ambiguous prior to the issuance of the Opinion Letter. Id. at *3. Thus, under prevailing United States Supreme Court precedent, the district court “need not defer to a novel WHD opinion now. Therefore, the Court will not revisit its holding interpreting the DOL regulations.” Id. Likewise, the district court also rejected the Defendants’ argument that the district court should defer to the like-interpretation of the Arkansas statute. Id. at * 4. Consequently, it appears the case will proceed to trial.
While this is not an appellate decision, it could be a sign of this to come before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Readers should continue to monitor this website for case developments.
Contact John F. Fatino for more information about trucking and transportation matters at 515-288-6041.