Puga et al v. About Tyme Transport, Inc. et al
ORDER ON MOTION FOR CLARIFICATION OR RECONSIDERATION denying 122 Motion for Clarification.(Signed by Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos) Parties notified.(mserpa, 2)
United States District Court
Southern District of Texas
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
CORPUS CHRISTI DIVISION
June 26, 2017
David J. Bradley, Clerk
ALEXANDRO PUGA, et al,
§ CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:15-CV-73
ABOUT TYME TRANSPORT, INC., et al, §
ORDER ON MOTION FOR
CLARIFICATION OR RECONSIDERATION
On January 3, 2017, this Court entered its Order (D.E. 110), granting in part and
denying in part RCX Solutions, Inc.’s (RCX’s) second motion for summary judgment
(D.E. 91). Puga v. About Tyme Transport, Inc., 2017 WL 25557 (S.D. Tex. 2017). Now
before the Court is RCX’s Motion for Clarification or Reconsideration (D.E. 122),
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b), complaining of the Court’s denial of
summary judgment on the statutory employer issue. For the reasons set out below, the
Court DENIES the motion (D.E. 122).
In relevant part and in RCX’s words, the basis for relief that RCX originally
sought, but which the Court denied, was:
RCX was, as a matter of law, not the DOT motor carrier for
the load being hauled by Brown at the time of the collision
because in order for RCX to be liable for Brown’s conduct as
his “statutory employer,” there must be a lease agreement
between RCX and Brown/About Tyme. There was no lease
agreement between those individuals/entities in this case and
Plaintiffs’ expert admits that fact . . . .
D.E. 91, pp. 3-4 (emphasis in original). Three issues are imbedded in this claim for
summary judgment: (1) whether RCX was the DOT motor carrier for the load; (2)
whether a lease agreement is required before statutory employer liability may be
assessed; and (3) whether there was in fact a lease agreement. The Court denied RCX
relief on all three issues.
First, there is a disputed issue of material fact regarding whether RCX was a
responsible carrier. Evidence in favor of Plaintiffs includes the fact that RCX was the
only party that had an agreement with Albea, L’Oreal, and/or Sunset Transportation to
transport the load and was the carrier identified on the bill of lading. RCX had exclusive
authority under its lease with Xtra Lease, LLC to transport the trailer. And RCX did not
formally relinquish any of its authority when Brown/About Tyme stepped in to transport
the load. By the same token, there is evidence contrary to Plaintiffs, such as About
Tyme’s own status as a motor carrier and use of its own motor carrier placard during the
shipment, along with RCX’s contention that it acted as a broker (without regulatory
authority to do so) to assign the load to About Tyme as an independent carrier. Thus this
fact issue may not be disposed of as a matter of law.
The problem with RCX’s approach to the second and third issues, and what has
apparently led to RCX’s confusion, is that RCX substituted the term “lease agreement”
for the statutory requirement of an “arrangement.” It then tried to impose upon Plaintiffs
that stricter standard of factual evidence. RCX now complains that the Court’s rejection
of its conflation of “lease agreement” and “arrangement” turns the law on its head
because the Department of Transportation is concerned with regulating only lease
agreements and not any other arrangements.
The problem with this argument is that nothing in the Court’s Order (D.E. 110)
suggests that arrangements can be unrelated to what is normally involved in a lease and
still trigger the statutory employer provision. It is axiomatic under the statute and this
Court’s prior ruling that the “arrangement” must pertain to the use of equipment to
transport property. This is fully consistent with DOT regulations, which define a “lease”
as “A contract or arrangement in which the owner grants the use of equipment, with or
without driver, for a specified period to an authorized carrier for use in the regulated
transportation of property, in exchange for compensation.” 49 C.F.R. § 376.2 (emphasis
added). So when the statute addresses a motor carrier’s “arrangement” for the use of
motor vehicles not owned by it to transport property, it is referring to a lease (but not
necessarily a lease agreement) as defined by regulation.
RCX’s premise in its motion that the statute required a “lease agreement” rather
than an “arrangement” ignores the fact that, as applied to a motor carrier lease, a contract
and an arrangement may be two different things. A “lease agreement” is not separately
defined and connotes a lease as a contract (different from, and perhaps more formal or
complete than, an arrangement).
Because the statute uses “arrangement” and not
“contract” or “agreement,” this Court held that a full contract or agreement was not
Yet RCX’s factual predicate for relief was that there was no contract or agreement.
Even if this is true, it does not eliminate the prospect of an arrangement. Plaintiffs have
offered some evidence of an arrangement that places them within the statute. In that
regard, it is undisputed that RCX permitted Brown/About Tyme to pick up the load from
Albea and Brown was transporting it consistent with delivery to L’Oreal at the time of
the collision. While we may not know the terms on which this occurred, and while there
may not have been a full meeting of the minds on all material terms, a jury could infer
from the undisputed facts already of record sufficient consent from RCX to make the
scenario upon which Brown/About Tyme acted as a lease arrangement.
The parties have not made this Court aware of any argument in the context of this
case that would allow the term “arrangement” to be used in a scenario that is not leaselike.
And while RCX characterizes Plaintiffs’ position as considering the statutory
employer issue decided in their favor as a matter of law, Plaintiffs’ response clearly
acknowledges that the issue presents a question of fact for the jury. D.E. 123, p. 5.
For the reasons set out above, the Court DENIES RCX’s motion for clarification
or reconsideration (D.E. 122).
ORDERED this 26th day of June, 2017.
NELVA GONZALES RAMOS
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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