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Carley v. Crest Pumping Technologies, LLC

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

May 16, 2018

SCOT CARLEY, On Behalf of Himself and All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
CREST PUMPING TECHNOLOGIES, L.L.C., Defendant-Appellant

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas

          Before KING, HAYNES and HIGGINSON, Circuit Judges.

          HAYNES, Circuit Judge:

         Crest Pumping Technologies, LLC ("Crest") appeals the magistrate judge's[1] denial of its motions for judgment as a matter of law and a new trial. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Scot Carley and Brandon Brown (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), former employees of Crest, finding that Crest wrongfully denied them overtime pay in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). On appeal, Crest argues that the trial court erred in not granting it judgment as a matter of law ("JMOL") or a new trial, because it was exempt from FLSA's overtime payment requirements. Crest also argues that it should have received a new trial because, inter alia, the court improperly placed the burden on Crest to prove that the SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act ("Corrections Act") did not except Plaintiffs from the Motor Carrier Act ("MCA") exemption.

         Because the magistrate judge incorrectly placed the burden of proof on Crest as to the Corrections Act's applicability, and Plaintiffs presented no evidence to meet their burden of proving the weight of the vehicles they operated, we VACATE and RENDER JUDGMENT for Crest.[2]

         I. Background

         Crest is a corporation providing downhole cementing and pump down services for complex unconventional and conventional oil wells. Crest employed Plaintiffs as cementers.[3] Carley was employed by Crest from February 18, 2014, to June 10, 2014, while Brown was employed by Crest from February 18, 2014, to October 19, 2014. After leaving their positions, Plaintiffs filed this claim under FLSA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-19, specifically alleging a failure to adequately compensate for overtime work as required under 29 U.S.C. § 207(a). Crest answered, alleging, inter alia, that Plaintiffs were exempt from the overtime pay requirements of FLSA under the MCA exemption. The parties have stipulated to the requisite facts establishing the MCA exemption[4]; therefore, the issue is whether Plaintiffs were otherwise not subject to the exemption, as explained below.

         On September 12-14, 2016, a jury trial was held to determine Crest's liability. Plaintiffs called defense witness David Crombie, founder and president of Crest. He testified that cementers used only Ford F-350 vehicles for their jobs, as those vehicles were required to carry the weight necessary for work. Crombie testified that he located the vehicle assigned to Carley and that it was an F-350 with a gross vehicle weight rating ("GVWR")[5] of 11, 500 pounds. He made the determination based upon (1) the doorplate and (2) calling the manufacturer and providing the vehicle's VIN number. He testified that Crest had sold the vehicle assigned to Brown, but that it was an F-350 identical to Carley's. Crombie stated that he had provided the VIN number to the manufacturer to determine that its GVWR was also 11, 500 pounds. No competent contrary evidence as to GVWR was presented.

         Plaintiffs questioned Crombie about an Internet Registration Renewal that Crest had submitted to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles for an F-350, in which Crest represented that Plaintiffs' vehicles' "empty weight" was 7600 pounds and their "gross weight" was 9600 pounds. Crest's counsel asked Crombie to clarify the meaning of "gross weight" as compared to GVWR, and Crombie explained that the two measurements are different. Thus, the evidence of the vehicles' "gross weight" was not evidence of their GVWR.[6]

         At the close of Plaintiffs' evidence, Crest moved for JMOL under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a). Crest argued, inter alia, that the Corrections Act did not except Plaintiffs from the MCA exemption because the Corrections Act only applies if the GVWR of the vehicles operated by Plaintiffs was 10, 000 pounds or less. Because Plaintiffs had not refuted Crest's evidence that Plaintiffs' vehicles had a GVWR of 11, 500 pounds, no reasonable juror could conclude that Plaintiffs were not subject to the MCA exemption.[7] The court denied the motion. At the close of the evidence, Crest reiterated its JMOL motion, which the court again denied.

         At the charge conference, the parties disputed the allocation of the burden of proof with respect to the Corrections Act. Crest argued that the jury charge should place the burden on Plaintiffs, as employees, to prove that the Corrections Act excepts them from the MCA exemption. However, the court left the charge as written, requiring Crest to prove that the Corrections Act did not apply to Plaintiffs.

         The jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiffs, finding that Crest did not prove that Plaintiffs were exempt from overtime compensation under the MCA exemption. The magistrate judge subsequently entered final judgment for Plaintiffs. Crest timely moved for JMOL under Rule 50(b) and argued, in the alternative, for a new trial under Rule 59(a). Crest's motion for a new trial stated, inter alia, that the jury's conclusion regarding the MCA exemption was against the great weight of the evidence and that the burden of proof should not have been placed on it with respect to the Corrections Act. The court denied both motions.[8] Crest timely appealed both denials.

         II. Standard of Review

         "We review de novo the district court's denial of a motion for judgment as a matter of law, applying the same standard as the district court." Heck v. Triche, 775 F.3d 265, 272 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Foradori v. Harris, 523 F.3d 477, 485 (5th Cir. 2008)). "A motion for judgment as a matter of law in a case tried by a jury, however, 'is a challenge to the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury's verdict.'" Id. at 272-73 (quoting Hiltgen v. Sumrall, 47 F.3d 695, 699 (5th Cir. 1995)). Therefore, the standard of review is "especially deferential, " and "we draw all reasonable inferences and resolve all credibility determinations in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Id. at 273 (quoting Flowers v. S. Reg'l Physician Servs. Inc., 247 F.3d 229, 235 (5th Cir. 2001), and Foradori, 523 F.3d at 485). We review a trial court's decision to deny a new trial for abuse of discretion. Pryor v. Trane Co., 138 F.3d 1024, 1026 (5th Cir. 1998) (per curiam).

         III. Discussion

         Section 207 of FLSA requires an employer to pay overtime compensation to employees working more than forty hours a week, subject to certain statutory exemptions. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1); 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)-(b). Crest's motions here relate to exemptions to FLSA's overtime requirement in § 207. The Supreme Court recently clarified that courts are to give FLSA exemptions "a fair reading, " as opposed to the narrow ...


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