Adams v. United States, 16-1378C

CourtCourt of Federal Claims
Writing for the CourtGRIGGSBY, Judge
PartiesRICHARD W. ADAMS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. THE UNITED STATES, Defendant.
Docket NumberNo. 16-1378C,16-1378C
Decision Date18 January 2019

RICHARD W. ADAMS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE UNITED STATES, Defendant.

No. 16-1378C

United States Court of Federal Claims

January 18, 2019


Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"); RCFC 56; Customs Officer Pay Reform Act ("COPRA"); Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act.

Gregory K. McGillivary, Counsel of Record, Molly A. Elkin, Attorney, T. Reid Coploff, Attorney, Woodley & McGillivary LLP, Washington, DC, for plaintiffs.

Mollie L. Finnan, Trial Attorney, Reginald T. Blades, Assistant Director, Robert E. Kirschman, Jr., Director, Joseph A. Hunt, Assistant Attorney General, Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC; Frislanda Goldfeder, Of Counsel, United States Customs and Border Protection, Washington, DC, for defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

GRIGGSBY, Judge

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs, border patrol agents working as canine handlers and instructors, bring this action against the United States alleging that the government has failed to compensate them for overtime worked, pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219 ("FLSA"), and the Federal Employee Pay Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 5541-5550 ("Title V"). The government has filed a corrected motion for partial summary judgment and plaintiffs have filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of whether the overtime pay cap in the annual Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") Appropriations Act ("DHS Cap") limits certain plaintiffs' eligibility to earn or receive overtime compensation for each fiscal year within the claim period for this case, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Rules of the United States Court of Federal Claims ("RCFC"). For the reasons set forth below, the Court: (1) GRANTS the government's

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corrected motion for partial summary judgment on appropriations caps; (2) DENIES plaintiff's cross-motion for partial summary judgment on appropriations caps; and (3) DENIES AS MOOT the government's motion for partial summary judgment on appropriations caps.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND1

A. Factual Background

1. Plaintiffs' Back-Pay Claims

Plaintiffs—border patrol agents who work as canine handlers or instructors for the United States Customs and Border Protection ("CBP")—filed this action seeking earned, but unpaid, overtime compensation under the FLSA and Title V for work performed during the period 2011-2016. Def. Mot. at 4. On April 23, 2018, the parties entered into a settlement agreement that calls for the payment of settlement funds comprised of back-pay, liquidated damages, attorney fees, expenses, and costs to certain plaintiffs (the "Settlement Agreement"). Def. App'x at A1-A11. The remaining plaintiffs—Roy Lopez, Scott Stacy, and Bryan Trujillo—have not yet resolved their claims and they seek a determination by the Court regarding whether the DHS Cap limits the amount of back-pay that they may receive under the Settlement Agreement. Pl. Mot. at 2.

Specifically, plaintiff Roy Lopez seeks overtime pay for work performed during the period March 23, 2014, through September 5, 2015. Pl. Mot. at 6; Def. App'x. at A12. The parties have agreed to two different amounts to settle this claim. Def. Mot. at 2-4; Pl. Mot. at 6-7. First, should the Court determine that the DHS Cap applies, the parties agree that Mr. Lopez will receive $748.12 in back-pay and an equal amount in liquidated damages, resulting in a total award of $1,496.24, and that this amount would not exceed the DHS Cap. Def. Mot. at 3; Def. App'x at A3-A4; Pl. Mot. at 6. Second, should the Court determine that the DHS Cap does not apply, the parties agree that Mr. Lopez will receive $8,625.12 in back-pay and an equal amount in liquidated damages, resulting in a total award of $17,270.24, and that this amount would result in Mr. Lopez exceeding the DHS Cap during the relevant claim period. Def. Mot. at 3; Def.

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App'x. at A12; Pl. Mot. at 6.

Plaintiff Scott Stacy seeks overtime pay for work performed during the period November 2, 2014, through January 9, 2016. Pl. Mot. at 6.; Def. Mot. at 3; Def. App'x. at A12. Should the Court determine that the DHS Cap applies, the parties agree that Mr. Stacy will receive $5,380.72 in back-pay and an equal amount in liquidated damages, resulting in a total award of $10,761.44, and that this amount would not exceed the DHS Cap. Def. Mot. at 3; Def. App'x at A3-A4. Def. App'x. at A13; Pl. Mot. at 6. Should the Court determine that the DHS Cap does not apply, the parties agree that Mr. Stacy will receive $7,044.44 in back-pay and an equal amount in liquidated damages, resulting in a total award of $14,088.88, and that this amount would result in Mr. Stacy exceeding the DHS Cap. Def. Mot. at 3-4; Def. App'x at A13; Pl. Mot. at 6.

Lastly, plaintiff Bryan Trujillo seeks overtime pay for work performed during the period November 3, 2013, through October 4, 2014. Pl. Mot. at 7; Def. Mot. at 4; Def. App'x. at A13. Should the Court determine that the DHS Cap applies, the parties agree that Mr. Trujillo will receive $4,198.96 in back-pay and an equal amount in liquidated damages, resulting in a total award of $8,397.92, and that this amount does not exceed the DHS Cap. Def. Mot. at 4; Def. App'x at A3-A4. Should the Court determine that the DHS Cap does not apply, the parties agree that Mr. Trujillo will receive $5,453.76 in back-pay and an equal amount in liquidated damages, resulting in a total award of $10,907.52, and that this amount would result in Mr. Trujillo exceeding the DHS Cap. Def. Mot. at 4; Def. App'x at A3-A4; Pl. Mot. at 7.

2. Title V And The FLSA

During the period 2011-2016, plaintiffs were eligible to earn various forms of overtime pay, including overtime pay under Title V and the FLSA.2 Def. Mot. at 4.

As background, Title V and the FLSA govern hourly overtime compensation for certain federal employees, including customs officers and border patrol agents. See generally 5 U.S.C.

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§§ 5541-5550b; 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219. Prior to 1974, federal employees received overtime compensation exclusively pursuant to Title V. 5 U.S.C. §§ 5541-5550; Christofferson v. United States, 64 Fed. Cl. 316, 319 (2005); Aaron v. United States, 56 Fed. Cl. 98, 100-01 (2003). Title V authorizes eligible employees to earn 1.5 times for "work officially ordered or approved" in excess of 40 hours in an administrative workweek. 5 U.S.C. § 5542(a)(1)-(2). But, Title V places limitations on how much an employee can earn in overtime if that employee is entitled to overtime pay under multiple statutes. Id. In this regard, Title V's implementing regulations provide in relevant part that:

An employee entitled to overtime pay under this subpart and overtime pay under any authority outside of title 5, United States Code, shall be paid under whichever authority provides the greater overtime pay entitlement in the workweek.

5 C.F.R. § 551.513. In addition, an employee may receive Title V premium pay "only to the extent that the payment does not cause the aggregate of basic pay and such premium pay for any pay period for such employee to exceed . . . the maximum rate of basic pay payable for GS-15." 5 U.S.C. § 5547(a)(1).

In 1974, Congress extended the FLSA to cover federal employees unless the employee was expressly exempted from coverage. 29 U.S.C. § 213(a). In general, the FLSA requires that "no employer shall employ any of his employees . . . for a workweek longer than forty hours unless such employee receives compensation for his employment in excess of the hours above specified at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which he is employed." 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1); Abbey v. United States, 745 F.3d 1363, 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2014). The FLSA also authorizes employees to earn overtime pay at 1.5 times an eligible employee's pay for activities that qualify as "work" that was "suffered or permitted" in excess of a 40 hour workweek. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1); 5 C.F.R. §§ 551.104, 551.401(a)(2).

3. Overtime Pay Caps For Customs And Border Patrol Agents

The Federal Circuit addressed the statutory and regulatory framework that governs the compensation of customs inspectors in Bull v. United States, 479 F.3d 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2007). Specifically relevant to this case, the Federal Circuit recognized that, in 1911, Congress enacted a comprehensive statutory scheme that, among other things, directed the Secretary of the Treasury to "'fix a reasonable rate of extra compensation [for customs inspectors] . . . [which]

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shall not exceed an amount equal to double the rate of compensation allowed to each such officer or employee for like services rendered by day' for [customs] inspections at night, on Sundays, and on holidays." Bull, 479 F.3d at 1371 (quoting Act of Feb. 13, 1911, § 5, 36 Stat. 899, 901).

The 1911 Act did not, however, provide compensation for overtime work performed during customary working hours, or during the first hour after 5:00 p.m. Id. Given this, customs inspectors were to be compensated for overtime work pursuant to the overtime pay provisions of the FLSA or Title V. Id. at 1371-72 (first citing GAO Report, Customs Service: 1911 Act Governing Overtime is Outdated, at 49 (1991), https://www.gao.gov/assets/160/150608.pdf; then citing GAO Report, Premium Pay for Federal Inspectors at U.S. Ports-Of-Entry, at 3 (1975), https://www.gao.gov/assets/120/114587.pdf). And so, for work performed outside of the time periods covered by the 1911 Act, customs inspectors were eligible to earn or receive Title V overtime if the work was "officially ordered" and to earn or receive FLSA overtime if the work was "suffered or permitted." Bull, 479 F.3d at 1372.

In 1976, Congress shifted the financial responsibility for overtime charges incurred by customs inspectors on Sundays and holidays from private parties to the Federal Government. See Airport and Airway Dev. Act Amendments of 1976, Pub. L. No. 94-353, 90 Stat. 871, 882 (codified at 49 U.S.C. § 1741 (repealed)). As the...

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