Aston v. Global Prisoner Services, LLC
ORDER DENYING 6 Motion to Dismiss. Signed by Judge David A. Ezra. (aej)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
SAN ANTONIO DIVISION
ANDREW ASTON, Individually and
on behalf of others similarly situated,
GLOBAL PRISONER SERVICES,
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS
Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant Global
Prisoner Services, LLC (“GPS” or “Defendant”). (Dkt. # 6.) Pursuant to Local
Rule CV-7(h), the Court finds this matter suitable for disposition without a
hearing. After careful consideration of the memoranda filed in support of and in
opposition to the motion, the Court, for the reasons that follow, DENIES
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. # 6).
GPS is a Tennessee corporation that provides prisoner transportation
services in Texas and across the United States. (“Compl.,” Dkt. # 1 ¶¶ 3, 11.) In
Texas, GPS does business as Texas Prisoner Transportation Services. (Id. ¶ 11.)
GPS employed Plaintiff Andrew Aston as an Extradition Agent who was
responsible for transporting prisoners via auto, van, or plane across the United
States. (Id. ¶¶ 4
Plaintiff alleges that he regularly worked more than 40 hours per week
and that Defendant failed to compensate him at the required overtime rate for such
work under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq.
(Id. ¶¶ 4, 6.) Plaintiff specifically alleges that GPS paid a flat amount for each day
worked as well as a per diem, but that Defendant did not pay overtime wages for
hours worked in excess of 40 per week. (Id. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff further alleges that
similarly situated Extradition Agents were also not paid overtime for hours worked
in excess of 40 hours per week. (Id. ¶¶
On May 5, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint on behalf of himself and
all others similarly situated, alleging violations of the FLSA. (Id.
Plaintiff seeks unpaid overtime wages, compensation for payments below the
minimum wage, as well as liquidated damages. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 30, 32.)
On June 10, 2016, Defendant filed the Motion to Dismiss and an
Answer. (Dkt. # 6.) On June 24, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Response. (Dkt. # 8.) On
July 19, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Conditional Certification and Notice to
Potential Class Members. (Dkt. # 15.)
Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), a defendant may
move to dismiss a complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. “A case is
properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction when the court lacks the
statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case.” Home Builders Ass’n of
Miss., Inc. v. City of Madison, 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998). The plaintiff,
as the party asserting jurisdiction, bears the burden of proving that subject matter
jurisdiction exists. Choice Inc. of Tex. v. Greenstein, 691 F.3d 710, 714 (5th Cir.
If the defendant submits no evidentiary materials with its 12(b)(1)
motion, the trial court looks to the sufficiency of the allegations in the complaint,
which are assumed to be true. Paterson v. Weinberger, 644 F.2d 521, 523 (5th Cir.
1981); see also Superior MRI Servs., Inc. v. Alliance Healthcare Servs., Inc., 778
F.3d 502, 504 (5th Cir. 2015) (distinguishing a “facial” attack on a court’s subject
matter jurisdiction from a “factual” attack made on the basis of affidavits or other
evidentiary materials). If the defendant submits affidavits, testimony, or other
evidentiary materials, the court may consider and resolve disputes of fact, and the
plaintiff must prove the existence of subject matter jurisdiction by a preponderance
of the evidence. Superior MRI, 778 F.3d at 504; Greenstein, 691 F.3d at 714.
Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) authorizes dismissal where a
plaintiff fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” In analyzing a
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court “accept[s] ‘all well pleaded
facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.’” United
States ex rel. Vavra v. Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., 727 F.3d 343, 346 (5th Cir.
2013) (quoting In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir.
2007)). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead
“enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the
plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a
claim, a district court’s review is limited to the complaint, documents incorporated
into the complaint by reference that are central to the plaintiff’s claims, and matters
of which a court may take judicial notice. Funk v. Stryker Corp., 631 F.3d 777,
783 (5th Cir. 2011).
Defendant has moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims for lack of subject
matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) and for failure to state a claim under Rule
12(b)(6). Defendant argues that Plaintiff and those similarly situated are exempt
from the overtime requirements of the FLSA under the Motor Carrier Act
(“MCA”) exemption codified at 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(1), and that the Court therefore
lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims. (Dkt. # 6 at 3.)
Known as the MCA Exemption, § 213(b)(1) relieves an employer
from the obligation to pay overtime wages for “any employee with respect to
whom the Secretary of Transportation [(“the Secretary”)] has power to establish
qualifications and maximum hours of service pursuant to the provisions of [the
MCA codified at 49 U.S.C. § 31502].” The MCA, in turn, states that “[t]he
Secretary . . . may prescribe requirements for qualifications and maximum hours
of service of employees of, and standards of equipment of, a motor private carrier,
when needed to promote safety operation.” 49 U.S.C. § 31502(b)(2). Pursuant to
this authority, the Secretary has promulgated a regulation explaining that the
§ 213(b)(1) exemption “depends both on the class to which his employer belongs
and on the class of work involved in the employee’s job. 29 C.F.R. § 782.2(a).
The regulation specifically states that the Secretary’s power extends only to a class
of employees who,
(1) [a]re employed by carriers whose transportation of
passengers or property by motor vehicle is subject to his
jurisdiction under section 204 of the [MCA]; and
(2) engage in activities of a character directly affecting the safety
of operation of motor vehicles in the transportation on the public
highways of passengers or property in interstate or foreign
commerce within the meaning of the [MCA].
Id.; Allen v. Coil Tubing Servs., LLC, 755 F.3d 279, 283 (5th Cir. 2014) (noting
that an employee must meet both qualifications for the motor carrier exemption to
apply). Defendant claims that regulations promulgated pursuant to the Interstate
Transportation of Dangerous Criminals Act of 2000 (“Jeanna’s Act”), 42 U.S.C.
§ 13726b, specifically subjects Plaintiff and those similarly situated to the
authority of the Secretary under the MCA and thus makes them exempt from
overtime compensation pursuant to the § 213(b)(1) exemption.
Jeanna’s Act states that “the Attorney General . . . shall promulgate
regulations relating to the transportation of violent prisoners in or affecting
interstate commerce.” 42 U.S.C. § 13726b(a). Acting under this authority, the
Attorney General promulgated a regulation stating,
Companies covered under this part must adhere to the maximum
driving time provisions applicable to commercial motor vehicle
operators, as set forth in Department of Transportation regulations . . .
which will apply regardless of whether a private prisoner transport
company is covered by Department of Transportation regulations.
28 C.F.R. § 97.13. As a result of this regulation, Defendant argues that because the
MCA exemption found in 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(1) applies to Plaintiff, the Court
lacks subject matter jurisdiction and Plaintiff fails to state a claim.
Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Since Defendant seeks dismissal on the basis of both a lack of subject
matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim, the Court must first consider the
Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional attack. Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161
(5th Cir. 2001). “This requirement prevents a court without jurisdiction from
prematurely dismissing a case with prejudice.” Id. Defendant argues that the
MCA exemption deprives the Court of subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s
FLSA claim. (Dkt. #6, at 3.)
Federal question jurisdiction is properly invoked by pleading a claim
“arising under” the laws of the United States. See Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678,
1331; U.S. Const. art. III. A claim “arises under” the
laws of the United States when a “well-pleaded complaint establishes either that
the federal law creates the cause of action or that the plaintiff’s right to relief
necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law.”
Franchise Tax Bd. Of State of Cal. For Southern Cal.
Plaintiff’s claim arises under the laws of the United States, as it is brought pursuant
to the private right of action in the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).
Further, “[w]hen Congress does not rank a statutory limitation on
coverage as jurisdictional, courts should treat the restriction as nonjurisdictional in
character.” Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 516 (2006). Indeed, “[n]othing
in § 213 [of the FLSA] suggests that district courts are deprived of subject matter
jurisdiction to hear claims implicating the exemptions provided for under that
provision.” Morgan v. Rig Power, Inc., No. 7:15-cv-73-DAE; 2015 WL 6506953,
at *3 (W.D. Tex. 2015). Determining whether the MCA exemption under § 213(b)
applies to Plaintiff’s FLSA claims is not a jurisdictional question, and is more
appropriately addressed at the merits stage. Id.; McLeland v. 1845 Oil Field
Servs., 97 F. Supp. 3d 855, 860 (W.D. Tex. 2015); Vanzzini v. Action Meat
Distribs., Inc., 995 F. Supp. 2d 7
MCA exemption an affirmative defense decided at the summary judgment stage).
Because Plaintiff’s claims are brought pursuant to the private right of action
provided for under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), they arise under the laws of the United
States, and the Court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The
Court therefore DENIES Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter
Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim
Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted because Plaintiff falls into the class of employees who are
exempt from the overtime compensation requirements of 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1).
To state a prima facie claim for relief pursuant to 29 U.S.C.
§ 207(a)(1), a plaintiff must state that he or she was or is (1) employed by the
defendant; (2) engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce,
or was employed in an enterprise engaged in commerce or in the production of
goods for commerce; (3) worked a workweek in excess of forty hours; and
(4) received compensation less than one and one-half times the regular rate at
which he or she is employed. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1).
As to the first element, Plaintiff alleges that he worked for GPS at its
Thrall, Texas, location from March 3, 2016 to April 29, 2016. (Compl. ¶¶ 14, 18.)
Plaintiff next contends that he and GPS are engaged in interstate commerce
because he transported prisoners “throughout the United States” using
automobiles, vans weighing less than 10,000 pounds, and commercial airlines. (Id.
Plaintiff further alleges that he was paid $120 per day in addition to a
$60 per diem (id. ¶ 14), and that such a “uniform payroll practice violates the
overtime and minimum wage provisions of the FLSA.” (Id. ¶ 22.) Finally,
Plaintiff states that he has “regularly worked in excess of 40 hours per week [and]
often in excess of 100 hours per week,” but never received overtime compensation
for those hours worked in excess of forty per week. (Id. ¶¶
the Court finds that Plaintiff has alleged “enough facts to state a claim to relief that
is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
Defendant argues that Plaintiff failed to state a claim because Plaintiff
and those similarly situated are exempt from the FLSA’s overtime compensation
requirement due to the MCA exemption found at 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(1). (Dkt. #6
at 4.) This argument is a fact-based assertion that goes to the merits of Plaintiff’s
claims and requires factual determinations not appropriate on a motion to dismiss.
Instead, the applicability of an exemption is better suited for summary judgment.
See McLeland, 97 F. Supp. 3d at 861 (finding that the MCA exemption argument
is not appropriate at the motion to dismiss stage, because the exemption is an
affirmative defense requiring discovery and factual development); Vanzzini, 995 F.
addressing the exemption on summary judgment); Morgan, 2015 WL 6506953 at
*4. Accordingly, the Court DENIES Defendant’s motion to dismiss for failure to
state a claim.
For the reasons stated, the Court DENIES Defendant’s Motion to
Dismiss. (Dkt. # 6.)
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED: San Antonio, Texas, July 29, 2016.
DAVID ALAN EZRA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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