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Miles v. Illini State Trucking Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

January 10, 2017

QUINCY MILES, On Behalf of Himself and All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiff,
v.
ILLINI STATE TRUCKING CO., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SIDNEY A FITZWATER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this putative collective action to recover overtime pay and unpaid wages, the court addresses plaintiff's motion for conditional certification and notice to potential class members. For the reasons that follow, the court largely grants the motion, except for sustaining certain objections to the proposed notice and requested discovery.

         I

         Plaintiff Quincy Miles (“Miles”) brings this putative collective action on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated against defendant Illini State Trucking Co. (“Illini”). He sues under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., to recover overtime pay and unpaid wages. Illini is a transportation company serving, among others, the energy industry. Miles is a former Illini employee who worked as a well site coordinator.[1]

         Illini's well site coordinators are responsible for “inventorying and keeping track of sand, inspecting equipment for sand leaks, reporting conditions to the Terminal Manager, recording the delivery of sand and placement in designated bins, hooking up hoses, communicating with dispatchers regarding levels of sand, and blowing off sand.” Miles Decl. ¶ 3. As a well site coordinator, Miles was paid a fixed salary of approximately $1, 250 per week and a per diem of $45.00.

         Miles alleges that he often worked 16 to 20 hours per day, six to seven days per week, without receiving a premium for overtime hours. He asserts that, in one instance, he worked 90 days in a row without a day off; in another instance, on a site in Colorado, he worked “nearly 5 months” without a day off, Miles Decl. ¶ 5; and, at a facility in Mississippi, he worked for more than three months without a day off. According to the declarations of other Illini well site coordinators, they worked similar hours for which they were paid a fixed salary and a per diem rate, but not overtime. In addition to the five total declarants who submitted declarations, approximately eight other Illini employees are suggested as potential plaintiffs.

         Miles moves the court to conditionally certify this collective action and approve court-facilitated notice to a class defined as “All persons employed by Illini State Trucking, Co. as Sand Coordinators at any time during the last three years.” P. Mot. 5.

         II

         The court first sets out the legal standard for conditional certification.

Section 216(b) of the FLSA authorizes a plaintiff to bring a collective action on behalf of similarly-situated persons, provided that any person who desires to become a part of the collective action files a written consent in the court. When a plaintiff seeks to bring a collective action, a district court can in its discretion facilitate notice to potential plaintiffs of their right to opt-in to the suit.

Behnken v. Luminant Mining Co., 997 F.Supp.2d 511, 515 (N.D. Tex. 2014) (Fitzwater, C.J.) (citation omitted) (citing Hoffman-La Roche, Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 169 (1989); Barnett v. Countrywide Credit Indus., Inc., 2002 WL 1023161, at *1 (N.D. Tex. May 21, 2002) (Lynn, J.) (applying Hoffman-La Roche to FLSA context)). “Although the Fifth Circuit has declined to adopt a specific test to determine when courts should exercise their discretion to facilitate notice or certify a collective action, this court has adopted the prevailing two-stage test.” Id. (citing Aguilar v. Complete Landsculpture, Inc., 2004 WL 2293842, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Oct. 7, 2004) (Fitzwater, J.) (adopting prevailing standard)); see also Sandoz v. Cingular Wireless LLC, 553 F.3d 913, 915 n.2 (5th Cir. 2008) (noting that collective actions are “typically” analyzed this way); Mooney v. Aramco Servs. Co., 54 F.3d 1207, 1216 (5th Cir. 1995) (declining to adopt specific standard, but finding no abuse of discretion where district court applied prevailing standard), overruled on other grounds by Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa, 539 U.S. 90 (2003); Valcho v. Dall. Cnty. Hosp. Dist., 574 F.Supp.2d 618, 621-22 (N.D. Tex. 2008) (Fitzwater, C.J.) (reaffirming decision in Aguilar).

Under this test, the court first determines whether plaintiffs have provided sufficient evidence of similarly-situated potential plaintiffs to warrant court-facilitated notice. If they have, the court conditionally certifies the class and facilitates notice to the potential plaintiffs. Second, the court reexamines the class after notice, time for opting-in, and discovery have taken place, typically in response to defendant's motion. If the court finds that the class is no longer made up of similarly-situated persons, it decertifies the class. To establish that employees are similarly situated, a plaintiff must show that they are similarly situated with respect to their job requirements and with regard to their pay provisions. The positions need not be identical, but similar.

Id. at 516 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

The court is generally more lenient with regard to substantial similarity during the notice stage of the analysis, but notice is by no means mandatory. The relevant inquiry in each particular case is whether it would be appropriate to exercise the court's discretion to facilitate notice. A primary reason for exercising this discretion is to ensure that the joining of other parties occurs in an orderly, sensible, efficient and proper way. The use of court-facilitated notice can ensure that information is timely, accurate, and informative, and it can also guard against abuse by misleading communications. The parties and the court can benefit from settling disputes about the content of the notice before it is distributed, because it may avoid the need to cancel consents obtained in an improper manner.

Id. (citations, internal quotation marks, brackets, and ellipsis omitted).

But before granting court-facilitated notice, the court should satisfy itself that there are other similarly-situated employees of [Illini] who would desire to opt-in to the lawsuit. This is because courts have a responsibility to avoid the stirring up of litigation through unwarranted solicitation. The court must ensure that an employer is not unduly burdened by a frivolous fishing expedition.

Id. (bracketed material added; citations, internal quotation marks, other brackets, and ...


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