Sheaffer v. Superior Tank Lines Nw. Div.

Decision Date23 March 2020
Docket NumberCASE NO. 2:19-cv-00190-BJR
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Washington
PartiesMICHAEL SHEAFFER, Plaintiff, v. SUPERIOR TANK LINES NORTHWEST DIVISION, LLC, Defendant.
ORDER DENYING IN PART AND GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Michael Sheaffer ("Plaintiff") brought this action against his former employer Defendant Superior Tank Lines Northwest Division, LLC ("STL"), alleging: (1) willful withholding of wages; (2) wrongful termination in violation of public policy; and (3) sex discrimination. Dkt. No. 1-2. On June 13, 2019, this Court dismissed Plaintiff's wrongful termination and sex discrimination claims. Dkt. No. 24. STL now moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's remaining claim for willful withholding of wages. Dkt. No. 31.1 Plaintiff opposes summary judgment. Dkt. No. 41. Having reviewed the motion, opposition thereto, the record of the case, and the relevant legal authorities, the Court will deny the motion in part and grant the motion in part. The reasoning for the Court's decision follows.

II. BACKGROUND

The Court outlined the facts of this case in its Order Granting Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Without Leave to Amend. Dkt. No. 24. As relevant to Plaintiff's remaining claim, STL, a regional transportation company for refined petroleum products, hired Plaintiff in January 2017 to work at STL's Tacoma location as a Diesel Mechanic/Shop Manager. Dkt. No. 31 at 2; Dkt. No. 41 at 2. Plaintiff's typical workday lasted from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, but his hours could fluctuate between 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM. Dkt. No. 31 at 2. Mark Van Osdol, the Northwest regional manager for STL, was Plaintiff's supervisor. Dkt. No. 41 at 2.

As part of his duties, Plaintiff was required to maintain STL's fuel tankers, manage the Tacoma shop, and remain on call outside work hours to respond to road calls, which are calls from STL truck drivers experiencing mechanical issues while on the road. Dkt. No. 41 at 2-3. Plaintiff was also required to send Mr. Van Osdol shop spend reports, i.e., reports outlining the Tacoma shop's total monthly spending. Id. at 10. Other tasks included sending Mr. Van Osdol fault code reports, which are "spreadsheets created in Microsoft Excel that contained fault codes produced by the computers inside each of STL's trucks." Id. at 12.

According to STL, Plaintiff was required to report all the hours he worked in order to be paid. See Dkt. No. 31 at 8; Dkt. No. 48 at 6. Mr. Van Osdol reviewed Plaintiff's time records and, if necessary, made corrections. Id. at 3. STL's Human Resources conducted a final review of time records, then processed payroll. Id. To keep track of road calls, which Plaintiff performed outside of the office and therefore could not use the time clock to record his time, Mr. Van Osdol states he would call Plaintiff and adjust the hours during the next morning meeting, or if the road call occurred on a weekend, he would make sure that Plaintiff texted or emailed him the hours spent on road calls. Dkt. No. 42-1 at 63:14-19. As for records of road calls, Mr. Van Osdol testified he "generally tried to take notes on what the road call was." Id. at 64:24-25.

On April 30, 2018, Plaintiff claims he submitted two weeks' notice of his intent to resign from STL to Mr. Van Osdol. Dkt. No. 41 at 17. Plaintiff claims he was terminated on May 4, 2018, prior to the expiration of his two-weeks. Id. On August 1, 2018, Plaintiff sent STL a letter claiming unpaid wages for work he performed off-the-clock. Dkt. No. 41 at 18. STL reviewed Plaintiff's claim and issued him a check for $1,488.38 based on unpaid work for 375 emails, with "five minutes of pay for every allegedly unpaid email, plus six months of interest at the rate of 12% on the full amount from the date of the first allegedly unpaid email." Dkt. No. 31 at 4. STL did not require Plaintiff to sign a settlement agreement or release of claims in exchange for cashing the check, which he did shortly thereafter. Id.

On November 28, 2018, Plaintiff filed suit in the Superior Court of the State of Washington for King County seeking additional unpaid wages, along with his claims for wrongful termination in violation of public policy and sex discrimination. Dkt. No. 1-2. STL removed the case to this Court on February 7, 2019. Dkt. No. 2.

In total, Plaintiff claims approximately 605 hours of work for which STL did not pay him. Dkt. No. 41 at 15-16. Plaintiff claims that STL failed to pay him for numerous tasks and time spent working, including (1) a one-year promised raise Plaintiff claims STL never honored, see Dkt. No. 41 at 16-17; (2) road calls for which he was never compensated, id. at 7; (3) time spent sending shop spend reports, id. at 10-11; (4) time spent reviewing and updating Mr. Van Osdol on fault code reports, id. at 12; and (5) time spent responding to other work emails, phone calls, and text messages outside of working hours, id. at 9-10, 13; see also Dkt. No. 50 at ¶ 2.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

To succeed on a motion for summary judgment, the movant must 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). The movant bears the "initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion," including "identifying those portions of the pleadings . . . which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal citations and quotations removed). "Where the moving party will have the burden of proof on an issue at trial, the movant must affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party." Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007). On an issue where the nonmovant bears the burden of proof, however, "the moving party can prevail merely by pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Macareno v. Thomas, 378 F. Supp. 3d 933, 940 (W.D. Wash. 2019) (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325).

Where the moving party meets its initial burden, the nonmovant must show that a genuine issue of material fact exists for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).Summary judgment should be entered against the nonmoving party if it fails "to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323.

Facts are material if they "might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Williams v. PRK Funding Services, Inc., 596 B.R. 375, 379 (W.D. Wash. 2019) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). A dispute is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence "in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Universal Cable Prod., LLC v. Atlantic Specialty Ins. Co., 929 F.3d 1143, 1151 (9th Cir. 2019) (quoting Pension Tr. Fund for Operating Eng'rs v. Fed. Ins. Co., 307 F.3d 944, 949 (9th Cir. 2002)).

IV. DISCUSSION
A. Plaintiff's Non-Willful and Federal Claims

STL contends that Plaintiff's response to its Motion for Summary Judgment "tacitly asserts new claims" not pled in his complaint. Dkt. No. 48 at 4, 4 n.6. STL argues that the Court should not allow Plaintiff to advance these new claims so late in litigation. Here, the claims at issue are: (1) Plaintiff's invocation of non-willful causes of action under Washington state law and (2) his federal claims.

1. Plaintiff's "non-willful" state claim

Plaintiff's complaint is relatively sparse. In the relevant "Causes of Action" section, entitled "Willful Withholding of Wages," Plaintiff claims "STL willfully paid Mr. Sheaffer a lower wage than the wages which STL was required to pay him under state and federal law." Dkt. No.1-2 at ¶ 3.3. Nowhere in his complaint does Plaintiff mention non-willful withholding of wages. It is not until his response to STL's Motion for Summary Judgment that Plaintiff makes arguments invoking non-willful withholding of wages claims, citing RCW § 49.46.090 (Payment of amounts less than chapter requirements) and RCW § 49.46.130 (Minimum rate of compensation for employment in excess of forty-hour workweek). See Dkt. 41 at 20.

Under Washington law, there is a difference between willful withholding of wages under RCW §§ 49.52.050 (Rebates of wages) and 49.52.070 (Civil liability for double damages)2 (included in the Wage Rebate Act) and non-willful failure-to-pay claims under RCW §§ 49.46.090 and 49.46.130 (included in the Minimum Wage Act). Thus, while STL was able to identify Plaintiff's claim as a Wage Rebate Act claim in its Motion for Summary Judgment, it was not on notice as to claims under the Minimum Wage Act until cited in Plaintiff's response to the summary judgment motion. See generally Dkt. Nos. 31, 48.

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, the allegations in a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8 is designed to give defendants "fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Pickern v. Pier 1 Imports (U.S.), Inc., 457 F.3d 963, 968 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002)). Ninth Circuit "precedents make clear that where . . . the complaint does not include the necessary factual allegations to state a claim, raising such claim in a summary judgment motion is insufficient topresent the claim to the district court." Navajo Nation v. U.S. Forest Serv., 535 F.3d 1058, 1080 (9th Cir. 2008); see also Pickern, 457 F.3d at 968-69 (holding that a district court need not address allegations raised for the first time in a...

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