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Brown v. Bucher and Christian Consulting, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

November 1, 2017

Raymond Brown, on behalf of Himself and All Others Similarly Situated, Appellants-Plaintiffs,
v.
Bucher and Christian Consulting, Inc., d/b/a BCforward, Appellee-Defendant

         Appeal from the Marion Superior Court The Honorable Michael D. Keele, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 49D07-1604-PL-12518

          Ronald E. Weldy Barker Hancock & Cohron Noblesville, Indiana Attorney for Appellant

          Michael A. Blickman Paul C. Sweeney Derek R. Molter Justin P. Spack Ice Miller LLP Indianapolis, Indiana Attorneys for Appellee

          Baker, Judge.

         [¶1] Raymond Brown appeals the trial court's order granting the motion for partial judgment on the pleadings filed by Bucher and Christian Consulting, Inc., d/b/a BCforward (BCforward), on Brown's claims under the Wage Payment Statute.[1] Brown argues that the trial court erred by finding as a matter of law that he is not entitled to seek damages for salary-based wages or commission-based payments under the Wage Payment Statute. Finding no error, we affirm.

         Facts

         [¶2] On December 9, 2013, BCforward hired Brown as a consultant pursuant to an employment agreement. During Brown's tenure with BCforward, the company paid him an annual salary of approximately $36, 000. Brown was entitled to additional compensation as follows: he was eligible to receive "Incentive Compensation"[2] or sales commission, [3] each of which was calculated and paid monthly, and each of which were paid forty-five days after the calendar month in which they were earned. For the first six months of his employment, he was guaranteed a minimum monthly Incentive Compensation payment of $500.

         [¶3] On March 1, 2016, Brown quit his employment with BCforward. On March 28, 2016, Brown filed a class action complaint against BCforward under the Wage Payment Statute, arguing that BCforward failed to pay its employees their salary-based wages within the timeframe mandated by Indiana's Ten-Day Rule.[4] Individually, Brown also filed claims that BCforward failed to pay him all commissions earned following his voluntary termination of employment and thereby (1) violated the Wage Payment Statute and (2) breached its contract with him. On May 24, 2016, BCforward filed a motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, arguing in relevant part as follows:

• No actionable Wage Payment Statute claims exist because all wages have been paid to Brown; and
• The Incentive Compensation and commission payments do not qualify as wages under the Wage Payment Statute.

         On August 22, 2016, the trial court granted BCforward's motion. In relevant part, it found and held as follows:

1. It is undisputed that Brown received all of his salary from [BCforward]. Therefore, Plaintiff holds no basis for Count I of his lawsuit because (a) there exist no unpaid wages;(b)attorney's fees and liquidated damages are only recoverable under the current version of the Wage Payment Statute in a claim for unpaid wages; and, (c)retroactive [a]pplication of the Wage Payment Statute, as revised, stands warranted.
2. As a matter of law, the commissions paid to Brown . . . fail to qualify as wages under the Wage Payment Statute because (a) they are contingent on factors outside the employee's control; (b) commissions hold no relation to the time worked by the employee; (c) the commissions were not paid on a regular periodic basis for regular work done by the employee; and, (d) employees received the commissions in addition to the wages. Since the commissions fail to qualify as wages under the Wage Payment Statute, Brown fails to state a claim in Count II of the Complaint.

         Appellant's App. Vol. II p. 10-11. The trial court dismissed Brown's class action claims under the Wage Payment Statute; his individual claim for breach of contract is still pending before the trial court. Brown now appeals.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶4] Brown argues that the trial court erroneously ruled as follows: (1) under the Wage Payment Statute, an employee is only entitled to damages and attorney fees for unpaid wages, and Brown's wages are not unpaid; and (2) Brown's commission payments do not qualify as wages under the Wage Payment Statute.

         I. Standard of Review

         [¶5] A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Indiana Trial Rule 12(C) tests the sufficiency of a claim or defense presented in the pleadings and should be granted "only where it is clear from the face of the complaint that under no circumstances could relief be granted." Veolia Water Indianapolis, LLC v. Nat'l Trust Ins. Co., 3 N.E.3d 1, 5 (Ind. 2014). We base our ruling solely on the pleadings and accept as true the material facts alleged in the complaint. KS&E Sports v. Runnels, 72 N.E.3d 893, 898 (Ind. 2017). We apply a de novo standard of review to a trial court's ruling on a motion for judgment on the pleadings. Id.

         [¶6] We also apply a de novo standard of review to issues of statutory interpretation.Id. If a statute is clear and unambiguous, we put aside canons of statutory construction and require that words and phrases be taken in their plain, ordinary, and usual sense. Id. at 898-99.

         II. Wage Payment Statute

         [¶7] The general rules set forth by Section 1 of the Wage Payment Statute are as follows: (1) every employer shall pay each employee at least semimonthly or biweekly; and (2) payment shall be made for all wages earned to a date not more than ten business days prior to the date of payment (the "Ten-Day Rule"). Ind. Code ยง ...


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