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Gaye v. TJD Transportation

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

June 25, 2019

MOUHAMADOU GAYE, Plaintiff,
v.
TJD TRANSPORTATION, TJD LIMO, and DJIBRIL GACOU, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND OPINION

          LEE H. ROSENTHAL, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Mouhamadou Gaye sued TJD Transportation, TJD Limo, and Djibril Gacou, alleging that the defendants failed to pay him overtime rates for overtime work, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. (Docket Entry No. 1). Gaye has moved for partial summary judgment on the grounds that he was the defendants' employee, not an independent contractor, and that the defendants' affirmative defenses are improper or fail as a matter of law. The defendants cross-moved for summary judgment on the ground that Gaye was an independent contractor, and Gaye responded. (Docket Entry No. 46, 47, 50).

         After a careful review of the pleadings, record evidence, motions, response, and the applicable law, Gaye's motion for summary judgment is granted as to his employment status and denied as to the defendants' affirmative defenses. (Docket Entry No. 46). The defendants' cross-motion is denied. (Docket Entry No. 47). The reasons for these rulings are explained in detail below.

         I. Background

         Djibril Gacou is the sole proprietor of a Houston-area luxury transportation company that operates a fleet of ten vehicles. (Docket Entry No. 50-1 at 5, 36, 40). TJD Limo and TJD Transportation are unincorporated business names that Gacou registered with Harris County, Texas. (Id. at 5-6). Gaye worked as a driver for the defendants from August 2014 to June 2017, earning a flat daily rate of $185 plus tips. (Id. at 11, 18).

         The defendants required Gaye to work an “evening shift” three to five days per week. (Id. at 31, 65-67). Gaye received driving assignments by text messages telling him who, when, and where to pick up; the destination; and how much to charge. (Id. at 61; see Docket Entry No. 46-3). Gaye could do what he pleased during downtime, including driving for ride-hailing services like Uber, so long as he split that income with the defendants. (Docket Entry No. 50-1 at 60). Gaye could not, however, turn down driving assignments during a shift. (Id. at 50).

         The defendants owned, insured, and maintained the business's vehicles; and paid for fuel and carwashes. (Id. at 39). Gacou hired and fired drivers. (Id. at 72). He also trained new drivers, including Gaye, for six months, teaching them how to avoid traffic, navigate Houston's airports, park the vehicles, and open doors for clients. (Id. at 20-22, 26-28, 36, 39, 61). Gaye had to buy water, soda, candy, newspapers, and air fresheners for the vehicles he drove. (Id. at 40).

         II. The Legal Standard

         “Summary judgment is appropriate only when ‘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.'” Shepherd on Behalf of Estate of Shepherd v. City of Shreveport, 920 F.3d 278, 282-83 (5th Cir. 2019) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). “A material fact is one that might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law, ” and “a fact issue is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Renwick v. PNK Lake Charles, L.L.C., 901 F.3d 605, 611 (5th Cir. 2018) (quotations and citations omitted). The moving party “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, ” and identifying the record evidence “which it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         “Where the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, ‘the movant may merely point to the absence of evidence and thereby shift to the non-movant the burden of demonstrating that there is an issue of material fact warranting trial.'” Kim v. Hospira, Inc., 709 Fed.Appx. 287, 288 (5th Cir. 2018) (alteration omitted) (quoting Nola Spice Designs, L.L.C. v. Haydel Enters., Inc., 783 F.3d 527, 536 (5th Cir. 2015)). The moving party must demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, but it need not negate the elements of the nonmovant's case. Austin v. Kroger Tex., L.P., 864 F.3d 326, 335 (5th Cir. 2017). “If the moving party fails to meet [its] initial burden, the motion must be denied, regardless of the nonmovant's response.” Pioneer Expl., L.L.C. v. Steadfast Ins. Co., 767 F.3d 503, 511 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Kee v. City of Rowlett, 247 F.3d 206, 210 (5th Cir. 2001)).

         “When the moving party has met its Rule 56(c) burden, the nonmoving party cannot survive a summary judgment motion by resting on the mere allegations of its pleadings.” Duffie v. United States, 600 F.3d 362, 371 (5th Cir. 2010). The nonmovant must identify specific evidence in the record and articulate “the precise manner in which” that evidence supports that party's claim. Willis v. Cleco Corp., 749 F.3d 314, 317 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1537 (5th Cir. 1994)). “A party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence.” Lamb v. Ashford Place Apartments L.L.C., 914 F.3d 940, 946 (5th Cir. 2019) (quotation omitted). “A failure on the part of the nonmoving party to offer proof concerning an essential element of its case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial and mandates a finding that no genuine issue of fact exists.” Adams v. Travelers Indem. Co. of Conn., 465 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2006). In reviewing a summary judgment motion, the court draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Newman v. Guedry, 703 F.3d 757, 761 (5th Cir. 2012).

         III. Analysis

         A. Gaye's Employee Status

         The parties' summary judgment motions require the court to decide whether Gaye was an employee or an independent contractor under the FLSA. “To determine if a worker qualifies as an employee, ” a court “focus[es] on whether, as a matter of economic reality, the worker is economically dependent upon the alleged employer or is instead in business for himself.” Hopkins v. Cornerstone Am., 545 F.3d 338, 343 (5th Cir. 2008). Five factors guide this inquiry: “(1) the degree of control exercised by the alleged employer; (2) the extent of the relative investments of the worker and the alleged employer; (3) the degree to which the worker's opportunity for profit or loss is determined by the alleged employer; (4) the skill and initiative required in performing the job; and (5) ...


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