Lugo v. Farmer's Pride Inc.

Decision Date20 July 2011
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 07–0749.
Citation802 F.Supp.2d 598
PartiesLuz LUGO, et al. v. FARMER'S PRIDE INC.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania


Carolyn H. Cottrell, Clint J. Brayton, Todd M. Schneider, Andrew P. Lee, Schneider Wallace Cottrell Brayton Konecky LLP, San Francisco, CA, Philip A. Downey, The Downey Law Firm, Unionville, PA, Shanon J. Carson, Ellen T. Noteware, James Wells, Berger & Montague PC, Philadelphia, PA, for Luz Lugo, et al.

George C. Werner, Jill S. Welch, Barley Snyder, Lancaster, PA, Gregory B. Robertson, Ryan A. Glasgow, Hunton & Williams, Richmond, VA, Michael J. Mueller, Hunton & Williams, Washington, DC, for Farmer's Pride Inc.


BAYLSON, District Judge.I. Introduction

This case is about whether employees at a chicken processing plant are entitled to compensation for time spent putting on and taking off (“donning and doffing”) items of personal protective equipment and clothing (“PPE”). Plaintiffs Luz Lugo and members of the certified subclass (Plaintiffs) allege that Defendant Farmer's Pride, Inc. (Defendant or “Farmer's Pride”) violated the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., as amended by the Portal–to–Portal Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C. § 254(a), by not compensating them for donning and doffing PPE at the beginning and end of their shifts and during their meal periods. Currently before the Court are Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.

The motions raise five basic issues:

1. What PPE do Plaintiffs use when they work at Farmer's Pride, and why?

2. Should Farmer's Pride compensate Plaintiffs for time spent putting on PPE before their shifts and taking off PPE after their shifts?

3. Should Farmer's Pride compensate Plaintiffs for time spent putting on and taking off their PPE before and after their meal breaks?

4. Are Plaintiffs entitled to liquidated damages?

5. Is the statute of limitations two years or three years?

The Court has reviewed the parties' briefs and held oral argument on the motions. As to the first three issues, the Court finds there are disputes of material fact that prevent a decision as a matter of law. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted in part and denied in part, and Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied.

II. Procedural History

Plaintiffs Luz Lugo and Yesenia Marco filed the initial Complaint on February 23, 2007 (ECF No. 1), claiming Defendant's compensation practices violated the FLSA and seeking to proceed as a collective action under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). The Court denied Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint. 1 (ECF No. 54) Plaintiffs filed an amended Complaint on January 24, 2008. (ECF No. 55) On March 7, 2008, the Court granted Plaintiffs' Motion for Conditional Certification.2 (ECF No. 62) More than 300 Plaintiffs opted in to the suit. (ECF Nos. 72–264; 271–397) Following an evidentiary hearing on May 17–18, 2010, the Court granted Defendant's Motion to Decertify on August 25, 2010.3 (ECF No. 492) The Court later certified for trial a revised and limited collective action consisting of the subclass of Plaintiffs who worked in the Deboning Department on the Third Shift from the period of February 23, 2004 to December 31, 2007, and for Plaintiffs' claims for off-the-clock work during meal periods.4 (ECF Nos. 504/505) Extensive discovery took place and expert reports have been submitted with the motions for summary judgment.

Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 510/511) on March 31, 2011. Plaintiffs responded on April 25, 2011 (ECF No. 518), and Defendant replied on May 5, 2011 (ECF No. 519). Plaintiffs also filed their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 512) on March 31, 2011. Defendant responded on April 25, 2011 (ECF No. 517), and Plaintiffs replied on May 5, 2011 (ECF No. 520). Plaintiffs filed a notice of supplemental authority on June 9, 2011 (ECF No. 526), to which Defendant responded on June 10, 2011 (ECF No. 527). The Court heard oral argument on the summary judgment motions on June 17, 2011.

III. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate if the movant can show “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).5 A dispute is “genuine” “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A factual dispute is “material” if it might affect the outcome of the case under governing law. Id. Where the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof on a particular issue at trial, the moving party's initial burden can be met simply by showing the district court “that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if the nonmoving party fails to rebut by making a factual showing “sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Id. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548. Under Rule 56, the Court must view the evidence presented in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

IV. Applicable FLSA Law

The Court begins its evaluation of the parties' cross motions for summary judgment by reviewing several key cases applying the FLSA and the Portal–to–Portal Act. The FLSA did not define the term “work.” See 29 U.S.C. § 203 (“Definitions”). The question of how to define “work” arose in Tennessee Coal, Iron & R. Co. v. Muscoda Local, 321 U.S. 590, 64 S.Ct. 698, 88 L.Ed. 949 (1944), superseded by statute, 29 U.S.C. § 251 et seq., when iron ore miners sought overtime compensation for time spent traveling underground from the entrance of the mine to workstations in the mine. Id. at 592–93, 64 S.Ct. 698. The Supreme Court defined “work” as “physical or mental exertion (whether burdensome or not) controlled or required by the employer and pursued necessarily and primarily for the benefit of the employer and his business.” Id. at 598, 64 S.Ct. 698. Tennessee Coal held that traveling from the portal of the mine to the workstation was compensable “work” under the FLSA. Id. at 603. Although this holding was overruled by the Portal–to–Portal Act, the Tennessee Coal definition of “work” remains operative.

A. Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co.

In Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S. 680, 66 S.Ct. 1187, 90 L.Ed. 1515 (1946), superseded by statute, 29 U.S.C. § 251 et seq., employees sought to recover unpaid minimum wages and overtime compensation under the FLSA, for time spent walking to their workstations after punching their time cards in excess of time credited to the employees. Id. at 682–84, 66 S.Ct. 1187. The district court entered a judgment against the employer, finding that walking was compensable. Id. at 686, 66 S.Ct. 1187. The Sixth Circuit overturned the ruling and dismissed the case, holding that the district court erred in failing to accept a finding that the employees were not doing productive work until their scheduled shift time. Id. The Supreme Court later reversed and remanded for the district court to determine “the amount of walking time involved and the amount of preliminary activities performed, giving due consideration to the de minimis doctrine and calculating the resulting damages under the [FLSA].” Id. at 694, 66 S.Ct. 1187. The Court affirmed the Tennessee Coal definition of work. Id. at 691–92, 66 S.Ct. 1187.

Anderson is significant for the Supreme Court's introduction of the “de minimis” doctrine, that “insubstantial and insignificant periods of time spent in preliminary activities need not be included in the statutory workweek.” Id. at 693, 66 S.Ct. 1187. The “statutory workweek” included “all time during which an employee is necessarily required to be on the employer's premises, on duty or at a prescribed workplace.” Id. at 690–91, 66 S.Ct. 1187. Under the de minimis doctrine, a “few seconds or minutes of work beyond the scheduled working hours” may be excluded from compensation. Id. at 692, 66 S.Ct. 1187. The de minimis rule avoided [s]plit-second absurdities,” as the objective of the FLSA was to compensate employees when they are “required to give up a substantial measure of [their] time and effort.” Id.

Shortly after the Anderson decision, Congress passed the Portal–to–Portal Act, which overruled Anderson to the extent the decision expanded employers' liability under the FLSA for time employees spent walking. See Univs. Research Ass'n, Inc. v. Coutu, 450 U.S. 754, 101 S.Ct. 1451, 67 L.Ed.2d 662 (1981) (The Portal–to–Portal Act “was intended to curtail the numerous suits for unpaid compensation and liquidated damages under the FLSA that were filed after this Court's decision in Anderson v. Mount Clemens Pottery Co. ...”). The Portal–to–Portal Act amended the FLSA to exempt the following activities from being compensable work:

(1) walking, riding, or traveling to and from the actual place of performance of the principal activity or activities which such employee is employed to perform, and

(2) activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to said principal activity or activities,

which occur either prior to the time on any particular workday at which such employee commences, or subsequent to the time on any particular workday at which he ceases, such principal activity or activities.

29 U.S.C. § 254(a). The Portal–to–Portal Act also imposed a two-year statute of limitations for nonwillful violations of the FLSA, and a three-year statute of limitations for willful violations. 29 U.S.C. § 255(a).

B. Steiner v. Mitchell

The Supreme Court restricted the application of the Portal–to–Portal Act in ...

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