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Miller v. Travis County

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

February 21, 2018

TRAVIS COUNTY, TEXAS, and SARAH ECKHARDT, in her official capacity, Defendants.



         Before the Court are Plaintiffs' partial motion for summary judgment, [1] (Dkt. 27), and Defendants' motion for summary judgment, (Dkt. 28). After reviewing the record, briefing, and relevant law, the Court issues the following order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs, all lieutenants in the Travis County Sherriff's Office, seek compensation for time worked in excess of 40 hours per week. They claim they are entitled to this compensation based on three grounds: (1) Travis County has declined to compensate them for overtime work in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”); (2) Travis County is obligated by a Texas statute to pay them overtime but has failed to do so; and (3) by not paying them overtime, Travis County has unconstitutionally deprived them of the property right to overtime pay secured by the Texas statute. Three of the plaintiffs were parties to a similar overtime case in this Court, which went to trial in September 2016. (Cause No. 1:15-cv-331 [hereinafter “Escribano I”], Dkt. 60).[2] The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs on their FLSA claims, (id., Dkt. 71), and the Court partially granted the defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law and partially granted the plaintiffs' motion for a new trial, (id., Dkt. 89). Subsequent post-trial briefing in that case is still pending.

         In this case, Travis County and Sarah Eckhardt, in her capacity as Travis County Judge, (“Defendants”) have moved for judgment on the pleadings regarding the constitutional and state law claims. Both Plaintiffs and Defendants have moved for summary judgment on the FLSA claim.


         A. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “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). A dispute is “genuine” only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254 (1986). “A fact issue is ‘material' if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.” Poole v. City of Shreveport, 691 F.3d 624, 627 (5th Cir. 2012).

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of “informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). “[T]he moving party may [also] meet its burden by simply pointing to an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., 402 F.3d 536, 544 (5th Cir. 2005). The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to establish the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-87 (1986); Wise v. E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Co., 58 F.3d 193, 195 (5th Cir. 1995). “After the non-movant has been given the opportunity to raise a genuine factual issue, if no reasonable juror could find for the non-movant, summary judgment will be granted.” Miss. River Basin Alliance v. Westphal, 230 F.3d 170, 174 (5th Cir. 2000). “Where a defendant moves for summary judgment on the basis of an affirmative defense and, thus, bears the ultimate burden of persuasion, ‘evidence must be adduced supporting each element of the defense and demonstrating the lack of any genuine issue of material fact with regard thereto.'” Gellhaus v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 769 F.Supp.2d 1071, 1074 (E.D. Tex. 2011) (quoting Terrebonne Parish Sch. Bd. v. Mobil Oil Corp., 310 F.3d 870, 877 (5th Cir. 2002)). The parties may satisfy their respective burdens by tendering depositions, affidavits, and other competent evidence. Topalian v. Ehrman, 954 F.2d 1125, 1131 (5th Cir. 1992). The Court views this evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Rosado v. Deters, 5 F.3d 119, 122 (5th Cir. 1993).

         Cross-motions for summary judgment “must be considered separately, as each movant bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Shaw Constructors v. ICF Kaiser Engineers, Inc., 395 F.3d 533, 538-39 (5th Cir. 2004).

         B. Rule 12(c)

         “A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) is subject to the same standard as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” Doe v. MySpace, Inc., 528 F.3d 413, 418 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Johnson v. Johnson, 385 F.3d 503, 529 (5th Cir. 2004)). Accordingly, the Court “must accept the factual allegations in the pleadings as true, ” but the “plaintiff must plead ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).


         Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) with respect to Plaintiffs' claims under Texas law, the United States Constitution, Texas Local Government Code § 157.022, and certain specific forms of relief sought by Plaintiffs. (Defs.' Mot. J. on Pleadings and Mot. Summ. J., Dkt. 28, at 2).

         A. Section 1983 Claim

         Plaintiffs assert that Defendants' failure to compensate Plaintiffs for overtime hours worked deprives them of the right to overtime pay conferred upon them by Texas statute, which mandates overtime pay for certain peace officers. Tex. Loc. Govt Code § 157.022(a) (“A peace officer employed by a county with a population of more than one million may not be required to work more hours during a calendar week than the number of hours in the normal work week of the majority of other county employees.”); id. § 157.022(c) (“A peace officer who elects to work extra hours during a calendar week shall be compensated on a basis consistent with overtime provisions of the county personnel policy.”). Plaintiffs contend they have a property interest in this guarantee of overtime compensation and that Defendants have violated the Fourteenth Amendment by depriving Plaintiffs of that property without due process. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. Plaintiffs have accordingly brought a claim pursuant to 42 U.S. § 1983. (Pls.' Third Compl., Dkt. 18, ¶ 21).

         Defendants counter that this claim is precluded, citing cases holding that § 1983 claims based on FLSA violations are barred. Defendants cite a Fourth Circuit decision and an opinion by another district court in this circuit declaring § 1983 unavailable to plaintiffs bringing claims based on FLSA violations. See Kendall v. City of Chesapeake, Va., 174 F.3d 437, 443 (4th Cir. 1999) (“Congress has evinced a clear intent to preclude the use of § 1983 for the protection of overtime compensation rights secured by the FLSA.”); Perez v. City of New Orleans, 173 F.Supp.3d 337, 349 (E.D. La. 2016) (dismissing a § 1983 claim on the grounds that the FLSA provides the exclusive remedy under federal law for bringing claims related to overtime pay violations). The two cases reason that Congress intended to make the FLSA's remedial scheme the exclusive means of pursuing a lawsuit alleging an FLSA violation, thereby implicitly barring a § 1983 cause of action for plaintiffs deprived of rights granted by the FLSA.

         However, these cases have no bearing on Plaintiffs' § 1983 claim. Plaintiffs maintain that their § 1983 claim stems from a property interest independently created by state law; they do not allege that claim depends upon an underlying FLSA violation. Plaintiffs claim a property interest in the right to receive overtime compensation enumerated in the statute and allege that Defendants have unconstitutionally deprived them of that interest. (Pls.' Resp., Dkt. 31, at 17). The rationale underlying Kendall does not apply to this claim. Section 1983 provides a federal right of action to those who “allege the violation of a right preserved by another federal law or by the Constitution.” Kendall, 174 F.3d at 440 (citing Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 140, 144 n.3 (1979)). If the right violated is secured by a federal statute, a person “can bring an action pursuant to § 1983 only if Congress has not foreclosed recourse to that statute.” Id. The Kendall court found that the FLSA's remedial scheme precluded a § 1983 remedy based on a violation of FLSA. Id. at 443. However, neither Kendall nor Perez held that the FLSA precluded a § 1983 claim based on a right secured by the Constitution itself. Those cases do not bar a § 1983 property right claim merely because it is related to the same subject matter-overtime compensation-as the FLSA. The plaintiffs in those cases did not bring a § 1983 claim that alleged the deprivation of a property interest granted by the state, as Plaintiffs do here.

         “The hallmark of property, the Court has emphasized, is an individual entitlement grounded in state law, which cannot be removed except ‘for cause.'” Logan v. Zimmerman Brush Co., 455 U.S. 422, 430 (1982) (quoting Memphis Light, Gas & Water Div. v. Craft, 436 U.S. 1, 11-12 (1978)). Although the types of interests constitutionally protected as property “are varied and, often as not, intangible, ” id., the property interest in money claimed by Plaintiffs here falls on the tangible end of the spectrum. If a state statute does secure a right to overtime compensation, and Defendants have deprived Plaintiffs of that right without due process, then Plaintiffs may have a valid § 1983 claim.

         B. Texas Local Government Code Section 157.022

         As discussed above, Section 157.022 mandates overtime pay for certain peace officers. It does not, however, provide an express remedy for peace officers who are not paid accordingly. Tex. Loc. Govt Code § 157.022. Although this statute may provide the source of a valid § 1983 claim for deprivation of a property right, Plaintiffs have not shown that Texas law provides a private cause of action for a violation of this statute. Plaintiffs' suggestion that Karr v. City of Beaumont supports their position misapprehends the case. Plaintiffs assert that the Karr court “granted summary judgment to police officers of the City of Beaumont based upon claims that they were entitled to overtime for work over 40 hours in a week pursuant to Texas Local Government Code § 142.005.” (Pls.' Resp., Dkt. 31, at 16). It is true that the court granted summary judgment to police officers. But it was not because of Texas Local Government Code § 142.005. Rather, that provision prevented the defendants from claiming a particular exemption to the FLSA-Section 207(k)-that is not at issue in this case. The court's reason for doing so was based on the FLSA itself, which provides that the Section 207(k) exemption does not apply when a state law establishes a maximum workweek lower than the maximum workweeks established by the FLSA. The court did not, as Plaintiffs suggest, ground its finding for the plaintiffs on the government code provision, which was only significant insofar as it rebutted an argument that is ...

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