Sanchez v. Palacios, Civil Action 3:21-CV-0071-B

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Texas
Writing for the CourtJANE J. BOYLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
PartiesLOURDES SANCHEZ, Plaintiff, v. SHIRLEY A. PALACIOS and JORGE T. GUARDADO, Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil Action 3:21-CV-0071-B
Decision Date06 July 2022

LOURDES SANCHEZ, Plaintiff,
v.

SHIRLEY A. PALACIOS and JORGE T. GUARDADO, Defendants.

Civil Action No. 3:21-CV-0071-B

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

July 6, 2022


MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JANE J. BOYLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Before the Court is Plaintiff Lourdes Sanchez (“Plaintiff”)'s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 23). For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES the motion.

I.

BACKGROUND[1]

This is a claim for unpaid overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Defendants Shirley A. Palacios and Jorge T. Guardado (collectively, “Defendants”) operate JSE Freight Solution, Inc., a trucking carrier company. See Doc. 8, Guardado Answer, ¶ 2; Doc. 10, Guardado Answer, ¶ 2; Doc. 24-1, Sanchez Decl., ¶ 4. Though the parties disagree about the exact nature of the relationship, they do agree that Plaintiff performed work for Defendants as a dispatcher from May 2018 to June 2020. Doc. 24-1, Sanchez Decl., ¶ 3.

Plaintiff performed her tasks from her home, where she claims she was expected to be “on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week” and was required to seek approval before taking time off. Id. ¶¶ 10-11, 27.

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Her responsibilities primarily consisted of finding customer freight loads in need of transport and then booking the loads for pick-up by Defendants' trucks. Id. ¶¶ 5-7. To facilitate Plaintiff's work, Defendants provided Plaintiff with authorization to act as their agent, which was necessary for her to access an online “load board”-a digital forum where potential customers can list freight loads in need of transport. Id. ¶ 7. According to Plaintiff, she was required to seek “approval from Defendant Guardado prior to accepting loads for certain amounts of money and was expected to negotiate as Defendants' agent for higher paying loads.” Id. ¶ 15. Once a load was booked, Plaintiff would remotely track the transport and follow up with the driver to address any issues that arose in transit. Id. ¶¶ 5, 7. In all, Plaintiff estimates that she worked “11 to 12 hours daily” from Monday through Saturday. Id. ¶ 11. In addition to her dispatching duties, Plaintiff occasionally spent three to four hours on weekends performing invoicing work for Defendants. Id. ¶¶ 8, 14.

Defendants set Plaintiff's rate on a task-by-task basis. For dispatching work, Plaintiff was paid $25 for each load paying under $600[2] and $50 for each load paying over $600. Id. ¶ 14. For invoicing work, Plaintiff was paid either $50 or $75 to complete all invoices provided to her on a given day. Id. Throughout the parties' working relationship, “Defendants classified Plaintiff as an independent contractor and exempt from the overtime [pay] requirements of the FLSA.” Doc. 1, Compl., ¶ 26; Doc. 8, Guardado Answer, ¶ 30 (admitting this allegation); Doc. 10, Palacios Answer, ¶ 30 (same).

It is undisputed that Plaintiff performed dispatching work for other trucking companies during her working relationship with Defendants. See Doc. 24-1, Sanchez Decl., ¶ 16; Doc. 28, Defs.' Br., ¶ 26. Plaintiff maintains that she did so at the direction or suggestion of Defendants, and that

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some of the companies she worked for were owned by family members of Defendants. See Doc. 24-1, Sanchez Decl., ¶ 16. Defendants contend Plaintiff's outside work was indicative of the Plaintiff's preference for flexibility, i.e., that she be able to place loads with other trucking companies when one was unavailable. Doc. 28, Defs.' Br., ¶¶ 11-12; see Doc. 14, Guardado Aff..

The parties' business relationship ended in June 2020, when Plaintiff claims she tested positive for COVID-19, requested sick leave, but was terminated in response. Doc. 24-1, Sanchez Decl., ¶¶ 23-25.

On January 12, 2021, Plaintiff filed the instant suit bringing claims for (1) failure to pay overtime under the FLSA and (2) failure to provide paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”). Doc. 1, Compl., ¶¶ 61-80. On April 12, 2022, Plaintiff filed the instant motion seeking partial summary judgment on her FLSA claim. See Doc. 23, Pl.'s Mot. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for review. The Court considers it below.

II.

LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows 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). The substantive law governing a matter determines which facts are material to a case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The summary-judgment movant bears the burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Latimer v. Smithkline & Fr. Labs., 919 F.2d 301, 303 (5th Cir. 1990). Usually, this requires the movant to identify “those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes

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demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quotation marks omitted).

Once the summary-judgment movant has met this burden, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to “go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts” showing that a genuine issue exists. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (per curiam) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325). “This burden is not satisfied with ‘some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts,' by ‘conclusory allegations,' by ‘unsubstantiated assertions,' or by only a ‘scintilla' of evidence.' Id. (citations omitted). Instead, the nonmoving party must “come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quotation marks omitted). “[C]ourts are required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (alterations incorporated and quotation marks omitted). But the court need not “sift through the record in search of evidence to support a party's opposition to summary judgment.” Ragas v. Tenn. Gas Pipeline Co., 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir. 1998) (quoting Skotak v. Tenneco Resins, Inc., 953 F.2d 909, 915 n.7 (5th Cir. 1992)). If the nonmovant is unable to make the required showing, the court must grant summary judgment. Little, 37 F.3d at 1076.

III.

ANALYSIS

A. FLSA Unpaid Overtime Claims Overview

The Court begins with a brief review of the legal framework for unpaid overtime claims under the FLSA. The FLSA provides overtime pay requirements for employers engaged in interstate commerce. See 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). Under § 216(b), a qualifying employer is liable to an employee

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whom it fails to pay one-and-one-half times the regular hourly rate of hours worked over forty hours per week. To prevail on an unpaid overtime claim, a plaintiff must first establish the following four elements: “(1) that there existed an employer-employee relationship during the unpaid overtime periods claimed; (2) that the employee engaged in activities within the coverage of the FLSA; (3) that the employer violated the FLSA's overtime wage requirements; and (4) the amount of overtime compensation due.” Parrish v. Premier Directional Drilling, L.P., 917 F.3d 369, 379 (5th Cir. 2019) (quoting Johnson v. Heckmann Water Res. (CVR), Inc., 758 F.3d 627, 630 (5th Cir. 2014)). If the employee establishes each element, “the burden then shifts to the employer to ‘come forward with evidence of the precise amount of work performed or with evidence to negative the reasonableness of the inference to be drawn from the employee's evidence.'” Id.

The parties' briefing on Plaintiff's instant motion predominantly concerns the first element of Plaintiff's prima facie case. Specifically, the parties dispute whether Plaintiff was Defendants' employee and therefore covered by the FLSA, or merely an independent contractor working outside the FLSA's scope. See Doc. 24, Pl.'s Br., 9-16; Doc. 28, Defs.' Br., ¶¶ 6-7, 26-27. See generally Faludi v. U.S. Shale Sols., L.L.C., 950 F.3d 269, 272 (5th Cir. 2020) (noting the difference between employees and independent contractors under the FLSA). Relevant here is that Defendants maintain a genuine issue of material fact exists regarding Plaintiff's appropriate employment classification under the FLSA. See Doc. 28, Defs.' Br., ¶¶ 6-7. 26-27. As explained below, the Court agrees with Defendants and therefore denies Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment.[3]

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B. Genuine Issues of Material Fact Exist Regarding Whether Plaintiff Was Defendants' Employee

To determine whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor, courts in the Fifth Circuit examine five non-exhaustive factors (the “economic realities” or “Silk” factors):

(1) the degree of control exercised by the alleged employer; (2) the extent of the relative investments of the worker and the alleged employer; (3) the degree to which the worker's opportunity for profit or loss is determined by the alleged employer; (4) the skill and initiative required in performing the job; and (5) the permanency of the relationship.

Hobbs v. Petroplex Pipe & Constr., Inc., 946 F.3d 824, 829 (5th Cir. 2020) (quoting Hopkins v. Cornerstone Am., 545 F.3d 338, 343 (5th Cir. 2008)). “No single factor is determinative. Rather, each factor is a tool used to gauge the economic dependence of the alleged employee, and each must be applied with this ultimate concept in mind.” Id.

Below, the Court begins by addressing the parties' evidentiary arguments regarding the evidence appropriately considered at this stage. The Court then examines each Silk factor listed above in turn.[4]

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1. Evidentiary Arguments

As a threshold issue, the Court first...

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