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Thacker v. Halter Vegetation Management, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

January 30, 2015




Presently pending before the Court in this action brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. ยง 201, et seq. ("FLSA") and the Indiana Wage Claims Act, I.C. 22-2-5-1, et seq. ("IWCA") is a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff Thomas Thacker. [Filing No. 26.]


A motion for summary judgment asks the Court to find that a trial is unnecessary because there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, instead, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). As the current version of Rule 56 makes clear, whether a party asserts that a fact is undisputed or genuinely disputed, the party must support the asserted fact by citing to particular parts of the record, including depositions, documents, or affidavits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). A party can also support a fact by showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B). Affidavits or declarations must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent to testify on matters stated. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). Failure to properly support a fact in opposition to a movant's factual assertion can result in the movant's fact being considered undisputed, and potentially in the grant of summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court need only consider disputed facts that are material to the decision. A disputed fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Hampton v. Ford Motor Co., 561 F.3d 709, 713 (7th Cir. 2009). In other words, while there may be facts that are in dispute, summary judgment is appropriate if those facts are not outcome determinative. Harper v. Vigilant Ins. Co., 433 F.3d 521, 525 (7th Cir. 2005). Fact disputes that are irrelevant to the legal question will not be considered. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed. 202 (1986).

On summary judgment, a party must show the Court what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events. Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if no reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 875 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court views the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Darst v. Interstate Brands Corp., 512 F.3d 903, 907 (7th Cir. 2008). It cannot weigh evidence or make credibility determinations on summary judgment because those tasks are left to the fact-finder. O'Leary v. Accretive Health, Inc., 657 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court need only consider the cited materials, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3), and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has "repeatedly assured the district courts that they are not required to scour every inch of the record for evidence that is potentially relevant to the summary judgment motion before them, " Johnson, 325 F.3d at 898. Any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is resolved against the moving party. Ponsetti v. GE Pension Plan, 614 F.3d 684, 691 (7th Cir. 2010).


The Court notes at the outset that Defendant Halter Vegetation Management, Inc. ("Halter") has not complied with Local Rule 56-1(b), which provides that a response to a motion for summary judgment "must include a section labeled Statement of Material Facts in Dispute' that identifies the potentially determinative facts and factual disputes that the party contends demonstrate a dispute of fact precluding summary judgment." See also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(a). While Halter filed a separate document titled "Defendant's Statement of Genuine Disputed Material Facts, " [Filing No. 29], it merely lists six "disputed" facts without citing any evidence to support its argument that Mr. Thacker's version of the facts are inaccurate. But Halter must cite to the record - either depositions, documents, or affidavits - to explain why it disputes certain facts, and simply listing facts it disagrees with does not comply with Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A) and is not helpful.

Additionally, Halter does not tie the facts it has listed to any alleged inaccuracies in Mr. Thacker's Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute. This approach does not comply with Local Rule 56-1(b), and can result in a concession of the movant's version of events. See, e.g., Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 922 (7th Cir. 1994) (the Seventh Circuit has "repeatedly upheld the strict enforcement of these rules, sustaining the entry of summary judgment when the non-movant has failed to submit a factual statement in the form called for by the pertinent rule and thereby conceded the movant's version of the facts"). Nevertheless, the Court has attempted to sift through the admissible evidence supporting both parties' versions of events, determine which facts are genuinely disputed, and construe disputed facts in favor of Halter as the non-movant.

The Court finds the following to be the undisputed facts, supported by admissible evidence in the record:

A. Mr. Thacker's Employment at Halter

Mr. Thacker began working for Halter as a tree trimmer in July 2005. [Filing No. 27-1 at 1.] While employed at Halter, his title was either "operator" or "foreman." [Filing No. 27-1 at 1.] Mr. Thacker's job responsibilities included clearing branches and vegetation from power lines, and his work was performed primarily on the side of roads or highways. [Filing No. 27-1 at 2.] Throughout his employment with Halter, Mr. Thacker was paid on an hourly basis and was eligible for overtime pay. [Filing No. 27-1 at 1-2.]

1. Uniform Deduction

Due to the nature of Mr. Thacker's job as a tree trimmer, Halter was required to provide certain safety gear and equipment to him. [ See Filing No. 27-7.] Halter rented this equipment from a company called Sitex, [Filing No. 27-8], but deducted some or all of the rental cost for Mr. Thacker's safety equipment from his paycheck. [ See, e.g., Filing No. 27-5 at 2.] In total, Halter deducted $417.88 from Mr. Thacker's paychecks during his employment at Halter. Halter did not have an agreement from Mr. Thacker that if he permitted a uniform deduction, he could revoke his permission at any time by submitting a written revocation to the company. [Filing No. 27-2 at 9.]

2. Work Travel

Mr. Thacker resides in Sullivan, Indiana, approximately 37.51 miles from Halter's Vincennes, Indiana office. [Filing No. 27-1 at 1.] During his employment, but particularly during the last three years of his employment, Mr. Thacker drove a Halter vehicle to work sites directly from his home, and then drove a Halter vehicle home again at the end of the day. [Filing No. 27-1 at 3.][1] [Filing No. 30 at 3.] Mr. Thacker states that he was required on many occasions to drive from his home to the homes of coworkers, or to an agreed meeting place, pick up his coworkers, and drive them to a work site. [Filing No. 27-1 at 3.] Some of the coworkers that Mr. Thacker regularly transported to work sites did not have their driver's license. [Filing No. 27-1 at 3.] Sometimes, Mr. Thacker was responsible for driving equipment in his Halter vehicle to work sites. [Filing No. 27-1 at 3.] Mr. Thacker also had to store the Halter vehicle and equipment at his house. [Filing No. 27-1 at 3.] It was not uncommon for Mr. Thacker to drive a Halter truck with coworkers and equipment to a work site that was one hour or more away from his home. [Filing No. 27-1 at 3.] Mr. Thacker estimates that he drove a Halter truck to transport coworkers and equipment to Halter work sites on "far more than 50%" of his work shifts during the last three years of his Halter employment. [Filing No. 27-1 at 3-4.] Halter did not pay Mr. Thacker for the time he spent driving its vehicles and transporting its employees and equipment to work sites. [Filing No. 27-2 at 12.]

3. Bona Fide Meal Period

Halter automatically recorded and deducted a thirty-minute increment of time each full work day from Mr. Thacker's time records. [Filing No. 27-1 at 2; Filing No. 27-2 at 20.][2] This deduction was made on Halter's assumption that its employees, including Mr. Thacker, took a thirty-minute lunch break each day. [Filing No. 27-2 at 20-21.] Halter did not keep records regarding whether its employees actually took a lunch break. [Filing No. 27-2 at 20.]

Halter did not provide a regularly scheduled lunch break. [Filing No. 27-1 at 4.] Mr. Thacker brought food with him to the work sites, and almost never took a lunch break that was thirty minutes long. [Filing No. 27-1 at 4.] Instead, he would typically eat his food during a few free minutes and then return to work. [Filing No. 27-1 at 4.] Mr. Thacker occasionally drove from a work site to go to a fast food restaurant or a convenience store for lunch, but customarily ate his food at the roadside work site and spent an average of fifteen minutes on a lunch break. [Filing No. 27-1 at 4.][3]

B. The Lawsuit

Mr. Thacker was involuntarily terminated as a Halter employee on October 1, 2013. He initiated this action on October 22, 2013. [Filing No. 1.] He asserts claims for: (1) violations of the FLSA and IWCA for not paying him for all periods of time worked, including travel time and time deducted for lunch breaks that he did not take; and (2) violation of the IWCA for deducting amounts from his paychecks for his uniform. [Filing No. 1 at 3; Filing No. 1 at 5-6.]


A. IWCA Claim for Uniform Deduction

Mr. Thacker argues that Halter improperly deducted amounts from his paycheck for his uniform, in violation of the IWCA. [Filing No. 27 at 9-11.] He argues that a uniform deduction does not fall within the thirteen permitted reasons for a wage assignment listed in the IWCA, and that Halter admits it did not have a signed wage assignment from him permitting the uniform deduction. [Filing No. 27 at 10.] Mr. Thacker contends that the amount of improper uniform deductions totals $417.88, which must be trebled under the IWCA for a total damages award of $1, 253.64. [Filing No. 27 at 10-11.] He requests summary judgment on his claim for illegal uniform deductions in that amount. [Filing No. 27 at 11.]

In response, Halter admits that the uniform deductions violated the IWCA, but disputes Mr. Thacker's calculation of damages. [Filing No. 28 at 2.] Specifically, Halter argues that the IWCA caps Mr. Thacker's liquidated damages at double the amount deducted, or $835.76. [Filing No. 28 at 3.] Halter also asserts that the Court cannot enter summary judgment for any attorneys' fees in connection with the uniform deductions, because Mr. Thacker has not submitted any evidence reflecting the amount of those fees. [Filing No. 28 at 3.] Halter concludes that "Thacker [may be] entitled to summary judgment concerning his uniform wage deduction claim, but only in an amount at this time not to exceed $835.76." [Filing No. 28 at 3.]

On reply, Mr. Thacker argues that the IWCA mandates payment of the underlying wage owed - here, $417.88 - plus liquidated damages that do not exceed two times that underlying wage owed, which would be $835.76. [Filing No. 31 at 8.] Thus, Mr. Thacker asserts, the damages ...

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