Douglas et al v. First Student Inc
OPINION ARKANSAS SUPREME COURT re 141 Certification of Issue to State Court, 143 Per Curiam Order. Signed by Jim Gunter, Associate Justice on 11/3/11. (vjt)
SUPREME COURT OF ARKANSAS/AMES
NATE DOUGLAS, THOMAS DERICO,
LISA SMITH, and LEROY ROBINSON,
INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF
ALL PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED,
FIRST STUDENT, INC.,
Opinion Delivered NovelTIber 3, 2011
CERTIFIED QUESTION FROM THE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF
ARKANSAS, NO. 4:09CV00652,
HON. SUSAN WEBBER WRIGHT,
CERTIFIED QUESTION ANSWERED.
JIM GUNTER, Associate Justice
This case involves a question of Arkansas law certified to this court by the United
States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in accordance with our Supreme
Court Rule 6-8 (2011). This court accepted certification on April 21, 2011, and framed the
certified question as follows: what is the statute of limitations for causes of action involving
a violation of the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act, codified at Ark. Code Ann. §§ 11-4-201 et
seq.? See Douglas
First Student, Inc., 2011 Ark. 172 (per curiant). Under our Supreme Court
Rule 6-8(c)(1), this court has the authority to reformulate a certified question. See Hempstead
Cnty. Hunting Club, II1C.
Sw. Elec. Power Co., 2011 Ark. 234, _
S.W.3d _ . In this
instance, after further review, we have determined that the more specific question being asked
is as follows: what is the appropriate statute oflimitations for a private cause ofaction pursuant
to Ark. Code Ann. § 11-4-218(e) (Supp. 2011)?
Petitioners, Nate Douglas, Thomas Derico, Lisa Smith, and Leroy Robinson,
individually and on behalf of all persons similarly situated, filed a class-action complaint in
federal district court on July 31, 2009, alleging violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards
Act (FLSA), the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act (AMWA), breach of contract, and unjust
enrichment. Petitioners were all employed by Respondent First Student, Inc., as school-bus
drivers or dispatchers operating in the Little Rock public school system and claimed that
respondent violated the AMWA by failing to compensate them for regular and overtime
wages in weeks in which they worked more than forty hours. Petitioners initially sought to
recover under the AMWA for a period beginning on August 1, 2006, which was three years
prior to the filing of the complaint. On March 22, 2011, Petitioners filed a Motion for Leave
to Amend Complaint, seeking to alter their complaint to recover under the AMWA for a
five-year period beginning on July 31, 2004. Respondent opposed the motion, contending
that an amendment to the complaint would be futile because petitioners' AMWA claims were
governed by the three-year statute oflimitations set forth in Ark. Code Ann. § 16-56-105.
On April 1, 2011, the district court certified the question of what the appropriate statute of
limitations was for a violation of the AMWA to this court.
Petitioners' claim that respondent violated the AMWA is predicated on the obligation
contained in Ark. Code Ann. § 11-4-211 (Repl. 2002 & Supp. 2011), that an employer pay
one and one-half times the regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of forty per
week. Prior to October 2006, only the director of the Arkansas Department of Labor had
authority to recover overtime wages under the AMWA through legal action. Ark. Code Ann.
§ 11-4-218(d) (Repl. 2002). Effective October 1,2006, the General Assembly amended the
AMWA to add a private cause of action for an employee to recover overtime wages. Ark.
Code Ann. § 11-4-218(e) (Supp. 2011). However, the statute does not expressly provide for
a statute of limitations for such private actions.
Petitioners assert that the proper statute of limitations for private actions brought in
accordance with § 11-4-218(e) is five years based on the catch-all statute-of-limitations
provision found in Ark. Code Ann. § 16-56-115 (Repl. 2005). In support of that position,
they cite to our holding in Miller Brewing Co. v. Roleson, 365 Ark. 38, 223 S.W.3d 806 (2006).
Respondent counters that a long line of cases from this court prior to Miller Brewing establish
that the three-year statute of limitations provided in Ark. Code Ann. § 16-56-105 (Repl.
2005), is applicable to claims founded on statutory liability.
When determining which statute of limitations applies in a case, the court nwst look
to the facts alleged in the complaint itself to ascertain the area of law in which they sound.
Kassees v. Satteifield, 2009 Ark. 91, 303 S.W.3d 42. If two or more statutes oflimitation apply
to a cause of action, generally the statute with the longest limitation will be applied. ld.
However, we look to the gist of the action to determine which statute oflimitations to apply.
ld. Arkansas Code Annotated section 16-56-105 provides that all actions founded upon any
contract, obligation, or liability not under seal and not in writing and all actions founded on
any contract or liability, expressed or implied, shall be commenced within three years after the
cause of action accrues. (Emphasis added.) Arkansas Code Annotated section 16-56-115, the
catch-all provision, provides that all actions not included in §§ 16-56-104 (actions with a one
year limitation), 16-56-105 (actions with a three-year limitation), 16-56-108 (statutory
penalties), and 16-56-109 (actions against sheriffs, coroners, and other officials) shall be
commenced within five years atl:er the cause of action has accrued.
We have traditionally applied a three-year statute of limitations to actions arising
under a liability that is imposed by statute. In Nebraska National Bank v. Walsh, 68 Ark. 433,
59 S.W.952, 954-55 (1900), we noted that
[h]aving reached the conclusion that this is a statutory liability, and not a penalty, the
statute of limitations would be that applicable to "all actions founded upon any
contract or liability, expressed or implied, not in writing." For, before the forms of
action were abolished, debt was the proper action for enforcing a statutory liability of
the kind under consideration.
(Internal citations omitted.) Thereafter, we reaHirmed that holding in McDonald v. Mueller,
123 Ark. 226,183 S.W. 751 (1916). Consequently, in Winston v. Robinson, 270 Ark. 996, 606
S.W.2d 757 (1980), this court applied the three-year statute of limitations to the bastardy
statutes, which did not contain a specific statute of limitations, and cited to Walsh, supra,
because the legal obligation arose from a statutory provision. The Wi11Ston court also cited
with favor to Wilder v. Gilmer, 235 Ark. 400, 360 S.W.2d 192 (1962), in which this court
noted that in cases where the parties have a written contract for support, we have applied the
five-year statute oflimitations for written contracts, but held that the three-year limitation
applies to the statutory obligation compelling a putative father to support his child where no
writing exists. See also DaIJis' Estilte v. Herrington, 53 Ark. 5, 13 S.W. 215 (1890)
(acknowledging putative father's statutory obligation). Similarly, in City of Powhontas
Huddleston, 309 Ark. 353, 831 S.W.2d 138 (1992), we applied the three-year-limitations
period in § 16-56-105 to a city's obligation to pay holiday compensation to its employees
because the duty was fixed by statute. See also Love v. Couch, 181 Ark. 994, 28 S.W.2d 1067
(1930) (applying three-year statute of limitations to enforcement of statutory liability);
Zimmerman v. W. & S. Fire Ins. Co., 121 Ark. 408, 181 S.W. 283 (1915) (same); Crites
Cowan, 2011 Ark. App. 11 (rejecting § 16-56-115's catch-all provision and noting that § 16
56-105 has consistently applied to liabilities that exist only by statute).
Petitioners cite this court's holding in Miller Brewing Co. v. Roleson, 365 Ark. 38, 223
S.W.3d 806 (2006), as standing for the proposition that the catch-all limitations provision in
Ark. Code Ann. § 16-56-115 applies to statutory causes of action that do not contain an
express limitations provision. In Miller Brewing, we observed that the cause of action arose
under both the Arkansas Franchise Practices Act and the written franchise agreement.
Therefore, both the three-year statute oflimitations provided in § 16-56-105 and the five
year provision for written contracts in § 16-56-111 were applicable. However, we declined
to apply either § 16-56-105 or § 16-56-111 and affirmed the circuit court's application ofthe
catch-all provision's five-year statute oflimitations to actions brought under the Franchise
Act. Although in the present case the petitioners' cause of action arises only under the
AMWA, we take this opportunity to revisit our holding in Miller Brewing and clarifY that the
circuit court in that instance reached the right result-the appropriate statute of limitations
was five years-but for the wrong reason. We have held many times that where two or more
statutes of limitation apply to a cause of action, generally the statute with the longest
limitation period will be applied. See Kassees, supra; Sturgis tJ. Skokos, 335 Ark. 41, 977 S. W.2d
217 (1998); O'Bryant
Horn, 297 Ark. 617, 764 S.W.2d 445 (1989). Thus, our application
Miller Brewing of a five-year statute of limitations was correct where two conflicting
limitations provisions applied to the cause of action. However, to the extent Miller Brewing
conflicts with prior case law, we reaffirm our precedent that where a cause of action is
brought pursuant to a statute that does not expressly provide a limitations period, § 16-56-105
is the appropriate limitations provision.
Here, the question certified to this court involves the appropriate statute oflimitations
for the private cause of action provided by Ark. Code Ann. § 11-4-218(e), which allows an
employee to bring an action for equitable and monetary relief against an employer for
minimum wages, including overtime wages, without exhausting administrative remedies.
Section 11-4-218(e) constitutes a liability created expressly by statute, and it does not include
a specific limitations provision. Accordingly, based on our long history of applying § 16-56
105's three-year limitation period for statutorily created liabilities that do not contain an
express limitations period, we hold that a three-year statute of limitations would apply to
private causes of action brought pursuant to the AMWA.
Certified question answered.
Proceedings of November 3,2011
NATE DOUGLAS, THOMAS DERICO,
LISA SMITH, AND LEROY ROBINSON,
INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF
ALL PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED
v. An Original Action from the
United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Arkansas
(No. 4:09CV00652 SWW)
FIRST STUDENT, INC.
This certified question of law was submitted to the Arkansas Supreme Court as an
original action petition from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Arkansas, and on briefs of the respective parties. After due consideration, the answer ofthe
Court to the certified question is set out in the attached opinion.
IN TESTIMONY, that the above is a true copy of
the judgment of the Arkansas Supreme Court. I,
Leslie W. Steen, Clerk, set my hand and affix the
seal this 22nd day of November, A.D. 2011.
IN TESTIMONY, That the above is a true copy of the opinion of said Supreme Court rendered in the case therein stated,
I, Leslie W. Steen, Clerk of said Supreme Court, hereunto set my hand and affix the Seal of said Supreme Court, at my
office in the City of Uttle Rock this
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