Estrada v. Fedex Ground Package System, B189031.

Citation64 Cal.Rptr.3d 327,154 Cal.App.4th 1
Decision Date13 August 2007
Docket NumberNo. B189031.,B189031.
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
PartiesAnthony ESTRADA et al. Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. FEDEX GROUND PACKAGE SYSTEM, INC, Defendant and Appellant.

Seyfarth Shaw, James M. Nelson, Sacramento; O'Melveny & Myers, Walter Dellinger, Washington, DC, Robert M. Schwartz, Los Angeles, Chris A. Hollinger, San Francisco, and Jonathan D. Hacker, Washington, DC, for Defendant and Appellant.

Law Offices of Ellen Lake and Ellen Lake, Oakland; Leonard Carder, Lynn Rossman Faris, Oakland, and Beth A. Ross, San Francisco, for Plaintiffs and Appellants.


Three drivers brought this class action against FedEx Ground Package System, Inc., contending that, for the limited purpose of their entitlement to reimbursement for work-related expenses, they were employees, not independent contractors. They sought reimbursement and declaratory and injunctive relief, and obtained class certification for their reimbursement claim. In a trifurcated trial, the court found the drivers were employees within the meaning of Labor Code section 2802 (Phase I), ordered. FedEx to reimburse some (about $5 million, including prejudgment interest) but not all of their expenses (Phase II), granted most of the equitable relief sought by the drivers (Phase III), and ordered FedEx to pay the drivers' costs and attorneys' fees (about $12.3 million).

This is the third appeal in this case. In Estrada I, we held that orders dismissing some potential class members were not appealable, and dismissed the appeal as premature. (Estrada v. RPS, Inc. (2005) 125 Cal.App.4th 976, 23 Cal.Rptr.3d 261.) In Estrada II, we reversed all of the equitable orders, resolving those issues against the drivers and in favor of FedEx. (Estrada v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc. (Nov. 22, 2006, B187951), 2006 WL 3378246 [nonpub. opn.], Estrada II.) On this appeal, we consider FedEx's challenges to the trial court's class certification order, the court's Phase I finding that the drivers are employees, its Phase II reimbursement awards, and its post-trial attorneys' fee award.1 On the drivers' crossappeal, we consider their challenges to limitations imposed on the Phase II reimbursement awards and to the pretrial orders dismissing potential class members (the issue prematurely before us in Estrada I). We affirm the finding that the drivers are employees, the certification order, and the finding that attorneys' fees are recoverable, but reverse the fee award because the amount must be reconsidered, reverse two orders limiting the scope of reimbursable expenses, and remand to the trial court for further proceedings and recalculation of the attorneys' fee award.

A. The Evidence At Trial
1. The Operating Agreement

Men and women who apply to FedEx for positions as drivers must complete applications, submit to background checks and strength tests, and satisfy appearance standards. The only required skill is driving and no commercial driving experience is needed. Upon acceptance, a driver must execute a nonnegotiable "Pick-up and Delivery Contractor Operating Agreement" that obligates him to "provide daily pick-up and delivery service, and to conduct his ... business so that it can be identified as being a part of the [FedEx] system." The Operating Agreement identifies the driver as an "independent contractor, and not as an employee ... for any purpose," sets forth the parties'"mutual business objectives," notes that "the manner and means of reaching [these objectives] are within the discretion of the [driver]," and states that "no officer or employee of [FedEx] shall have the authority to impose any term or condition [including hours of work or travel routes] contrary to this understanding."

Under the terms of the Operating Agreement, the driver must provide his own truck meeting FedEx's specifications, mark the truck with the FedEx logo, pay all costs of operating and maintaining the truck (including repairs, cleaning, fuel, tires, taxes, licenses and insurance), and use the truck exclusively in the service of FedEx (or mask the logo if the truck is used for any other purpose). The driver must provide "fully competitive" service to a "primary service area" assigned by FedEx, and the Operating Agreement acknowledges the driver's "proprietary interest" in his primary service area's customer accounts—but gives FedEx the right to reconfigure primary service areas (and to reassign packages to another driver) if the volume of packages in the driver's primary service area exceeds the amount the driver could reasonably be expected to handle on any given day. In the event of reconfiguration, the driver has a right "to receive payment" from FedEx or the benefited driver.

The Operating Agreement obligates the driver to try to "retain and increase" business within his primary service area, to "cooperate" with FedEx's employees, customers, and other drivers for the common goal of efficient pickup and delivery, to load, handle, and transport packages using methods designed to avoid theft, loss and damage, and to foster FedEx's "professional image" and "good reputation." The driver agrees to drive safely, to prepare driver logs, inspection reports, fuel receipts, and shipping documents, and (on a daily basis) to return these items and any collected charges and undeliverable packages to FedEx. He agrees to wear a FedEx-approved uniform and to maintain his appearance "consistent with reasonable standards of good order," his uniform "in good condition," and his truck in a "clean and presentable fashion."

For its part, FedEx reserves the right to have its management employees travel with the driver four times each year to verify that the driver is meeting FedEx's standards, and agrees to train or "familiarize [the driver] with [its] quality service procedures." FedEx pays or "settles" with a driver weekly based on a stated calculation, and offers the driver a "business support package" to help him obtain and maintain a truck, a scanner, clean uniforms, and other similar items, the cost of which is paid by the driver by deductions from his weekly "settlements."3

The driver may elect the initial term of his Operating Agreement (from one to five years), with automatic yearly renewals unless, 30 days before expiration of the term, one party gives the other written notice of termination. The Operating Agreement may be terminated at any time by mutual consent, by FedEx for "intentional misconduct or reckless or willfully negligent operation" of equipment, by either party for breach of the Operating Agreement's obligations, by either party if FedEx stops doing business or reduces its operations at the driver's terminal, and by a driver on 30 days written notice. The driver has the right to challenge his termination by an arbitration at which, if he prevails, he may be awarded reinstatement or damages or both. A driver in good standing has the right to assign his rights under the Operating Agreement to a replacement contractor acceptable to FedEx. The Operating Agreement recites that it and its attachments constitute the "entire agreement and understanding between the parties," and that it can be modified only by a writing signed by both parties.

2. Implementation of the Operating Agreement

Although FedEx claimed at trial that the Operating Agreement (and only the Operating Agreement) determined the drivers' status as independent contractors, both sides presented anecdotal and other evidence through the testimony of numerous drivers, FedEx managers, and experts.

Notwithstanding the merger clause in the Operating Agreement, the drivers' relationship to FedEx is defined by a number of other sources, including the FedEx "Ground Manual" and "Operations Management Handbook," which set forth "policies and procedures" in great detail to ensure the uniform operation of FedEx terminals throughout California, as well as by recruiting materials, welcome packets, memoranda, training videos, bulletin board posters, round-table presentations, and similar means of communication.

A new driver leases a scanner and purchases or leases a truck (usually obtained from FedEx preferred vendors) that meets FedEx's size, model and condition specifications, paints the truck "FedEx White," and applies the FedEx logo to the truck. To pay for these items, drivers may obtain loans through FedEx's business support programs (with repayment through pay deductions). FedEx offers its drivers a deferred compensation or retirement plan (the record is ambiguous on this point) and other "employee benefits" (including direct deposit, a seniority-based "time-off program" for unpaid leave, and a scholarship program for the drivers' children). As is true of all FedEx employees, drivers are paid weekly at rates set by FedEx without negotiation (the drivers' rate is based on a daily rate, a piece rate for packages handled, and bonuses for length and quality of service).4 Customers are billed by FedEx, not the drivers.

Regional managers supervise terminal managers and have weekly discussions about goals and procedures. Terminal managers, in turn, supervise and train drivers. Drivers work full time and exclusively for FedEx, and must work every day FedEx provides service unless they have preapproved replacements. FedEx sets the drivers' work hours (9.5 to 11 hours a day), and the average driver has worked for FedEx for eight years, with an annual income of $35,000 to $50,000 after expenses. The drivers and their trucks are subject to inspection every day (the trucks must be clean, the drivers in uniform and well groomed), and if either fails inspection, the driver may be barred from service.

Trucks must be parked in assigned spots and loaded by FedEx employees with the packages assigned to the driver by management (the drivers may not refuse an assignment).5 FedEx adjusts the number of assigned packages (thereby controlling the driver's hours and pay)...

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