Sarrazin v. Coastal, Inc.

Citation311 Conn. 581,89 A.3d 841
Decision Date29 April 2014
Docket NumberNo. 18877.,18877.
PartiesBrian SARRAZIN v. COASTAL, INC.
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut

311 Conn. 581
89 A.3d 841

Brian SARRAZIN
v.
COASTAL, INC.

No. 18877.

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued April 18, 2013.
Decided April 29, 2014.


[89 A.3d 845]


Leonard A. McDermott, Naugatuck, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Steven R. Rolnick, Hamden, for the appellee (defendant).


Margaret B. Ferron filed a brief for the Connecticut Employment Lawyers Association as amicus curiae.

ROGERS, C.J., and NORCOTT, PALMER, ZARELLA, EVELEIGH,

[89 A.3d 846]

McDONALD and ESPINOSA, Js.*

ESPINOSA, J.

This appeal requires us to consider under what circumstances an employee's travel time between home and work constitutes compensable work time. In this action seeking payment of overtime wages, the plaintiff, Brian Sarrazin, appeals 1 from the judgment of the trial court awarding him $641.44,2 in accordance with a stipulated agreement between the plaintiff and the defendant, Coastal, Inc., and denying his motion for attorney's fees. The plaintiff claims that the trial court improperly concluded that the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. (FLSA), preempts the relevant state laws and regulations governing overtime and travel time. See General Statutes (Supp.2014) §§ 31–603 and 31–71b; 4

[89 A.3d 847]

General Statutes §§ 31–76b (2)(A)5 and 31–76c; 6Regs., Conn. State Agencies § 31–60–10.7 The plaintiff further argues that pursuant to § 31–60–10(b) of the regulations, which he claims confers greater benefits than those afforded to employees under the relevant provision of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 254(a)8 (also referred to as the

[89 A.3d 848]

Portal–to–Portal Act of 1947, as amended by the Employee Commuting Flexibility Act of 1996, Pub.L. No. 104–188, 110 Stat.1928 [Portal–to–Portal Act] ),9 he is entitled to overtime compensation for his travel time. In the alternative, the plaintiff claims that the trial court improperly concluded that his travel time was not compensable under the Portal–to–Portal Act. Finally, the plaintiff claims that the trial court improperly denied his motion seeking attorney's fees. Because we conclude that § 31–60–10(b) of the regulations, as applied to the facts of the present case, confers lesser benefits on employees than those afforded under the FLSA, we conclude that federal preemption applies, and resolve the plaintiff's claim under the Portal–to–Portal Act, pursuant to which we conclude that the plaintiff is not entitled to compensation for his commuting time. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court in favor of the plaintiff. We also affirm the decision of the trial court denying the plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees.

The record reveals the following relevant facts, some of which are undisputed, others as found by the trial court, and procedural history. The defendant, a plumbing subcontractor engaged in the installation and repair of plumbing systems in large construction projects throughout the state, handles, sells and works with goods that move in interstate commerce and has annual gross sales in excess of $500,000. In September, 2004, the plaintiff began working for the defendant as a plumber. At all relevant times, the plaintiff's work hours were from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., with one-half hour for lunch, five days a week, for a total of forty hours per week. Each day the plaintiff traveled directly from his home to the location of his current job assignment, which changed periodically. The complaint alleged that the plaintiff's commute to the various job sites was approximately one hour each way for a total of two hours travel time each day, in excess of his regular forty hours per week.

After laying off the plaintiff in June, 2005, the defendant rehired him in February, 2006, and then promoted him to plumbing foreman in March, 2006. The plaintiff's promotion came with a pay raise of $1 per hour and the use of a company pickup truck for commuting to the various job sites. Although the plaintiff was expected to arrange during business hours for regular service and maintenance of the truck, the defendant paid for all gasoline, maintenance and repairs. As foreman, the plaintiff was required to keep some of the

[89 A.3d 849]

defendant's equipment and tools in the truck so that he could bring them back and forth from his home to the job sites. Additionally, the defendant occasionally directed the plaintiff to pick up tools and equipment from the defendant's warehouse at the end of the workday, after regular work hours, for use at the job site on the next day. The plaintiff drove the pickup truck until May, 2006, when the truck was totaled in an accident. For the next eight to nine months, the plaintiff drove his own truck to work, and the defendant paid him an extra $50 per week, until the defendant provided the plaintiff with a company van for commuting purposes, which he used for one year and two months until the defendant demoted him in March, 2008.10 The plaintiff alleged that while he was foreman, when he arrived home after work each day, he spent one-half hour cleaning the company vehicle—or his own truck, during the period following the accident—and organizing the tools for the next day.

The plaintiff brought this action, seeking payment of overtime wages for: (1) the daily commute between his home and the job sites; (2) the one-half hour that he claimed he spent cleaning the vehicle and organizing the tools after he arrived home each day; and (3) the occasional trips he made to the defendant's warehouse to pick up tools and equipment.11 The plaintiff claimed that the defendant's failure to pay him the claimed wages violated General Statutes §§ 31–60, 31–71b, and 31–76c, and § 31–60–10(b) of the regulations. The parties agreed to bifurcate the issues of liability and damages. Following the trial on liability, the court issued a memorandum of decision finding that the defendant was liable only for payment of overtime compensation in connection with the plaintiff's claim that he made occasional trips to the defendant's warehouse to pick up tools and equipment. With respect to that claim, the court found that the testimony established that the defendant had required the plaintiff to take such trips before or after his regular work hours on at least some occasions. The court accordingly held that the plaintiff was entitled to recover for the number of such trips that he could prove occurred.

As to the remaining two claims, the court resolved the plaintiff's claim for compensation in connection with the alleged one-half hour each day he spent cleaning the company vehicle and organizing the tools on the basis of its factual findings to the contrary.12 Regarding

[89 A.3d 850]

the plaintiff's claim for compensation in connection with his daily two hours of travel time, the court first concluded that the FLSA preempted applicable state laws, then applied the Portal–to–Portal Act to evaluate the plaintiff's claim.13 In the course of its analysis, the court made the following additional findings. The plaintiff was employed as a plumbing foreman, not a driver. The use of the company vehicle for commuting—pursuant to an oral agreement between the plaintiff and the defendant—was “one of the benefits of being a foreman,” and the requirement that he carry tools in the vehicle was merely incidental to his use of it for commuting. Finally, the court found that the distance that the plaintiff traveled from home to the various job sites was within the normal commuting area for the defendant's business. On the basis of these factual findings, the court concluded that the plaintiff had failed to prove that he was entitled to overtime wages for his commuting time pursuant to the Portal–to–Portal Act.

The plaintiff appealed from the judgment of the trial court to the Appellate Court, which dismissed the appeal sua sponte for lack of a final judgment, on the basis that the court had not yet ruled on damages. On remand, the trial court rendered judgment awarding the plaintiff $641.44 in overtime wages for his occasional trips to the defendant's warehouse; see footnote 2 of this opinion; and denying the plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees. This appeal followed.

The plaintiff claims that the trial court improperly concluded that the FLSA preempts Connecticut statutes and regulations governing overtime wages and travel time, and improperly applied federal principles to conclude that he was not entitled to overtime compensation for his travel

[89 A.3d 851]

time. Specifically, the plaintiff relies on an interpretation of § 31–60–10 of the regulations by the Connecticut Department of Labor (department) to argue that § 31–60–10(b) confers greater benefits on employees than does the Portal–to–Portal Act. Therefore, the plaintiff argues, the FLSA's savings clause; 29 U.S.C. § 21814 (savings clause); dictates that state law governs his claim, under which he is entitled to overtime compensation for his travel time. The defendant responds that the FLSA preempts applicable state laws because the savings clause covers only minimum wage and overtime laws, not travel time laws, and, in the alternative, because the applicable state laws are not more beneficial to employees than the FLSA. Because we conclude that § 31–60–10(b) of the regulations, as applied to the facts of the present case, confers lesser benefits to employees than the FLSA does, we conclude that state law is preempted. Applying the Portal–to–Portal Act to the plaintiff's claim, we conclude that the trial court properly concluded that the plaintiff was not entitled to compensation for his travel time.

I
SCOPE OF THE FLSA PREEMPTION

We first consider whether the FLSA, specifically the provisions of the Portal–to–Portal Act, preempts our state laws governing travel time and overtime. “Under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, state laws that conflict with federal law are without effect ... and are preempted. The purpose of Congress is the ultimate touchstone in every [preemption] case ... and we start with the...

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