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Billings v. Ryze Claim Solutions, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

June 18, 2019

LESLIE BILLINGS, Plaintiff,
v.
RYZE CLAIM SOLUTIONS, LLC, Defendant.

          ENTRY

          HON. JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, CHIEF JUDGE

         Leslie Billings brought this putative collective action to challenge what he believes to be an inappropriate exemption of claims adjusters from the minimum and overtime wage requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), among other employment practices not presently at issue. In particular, Mr. Billings contends that he is not exempt because his compensation does not meet the so-called “salary test.” According to Mr. Billings, his former employer, RYZE Claim Solutions, LLC (“Ryze”), deducted his commission shortcomings from his salary, resulting in payment beneath the regulatory threshold. Ryze has moved for partial summary judgment, arguing that Mr. Billings' exemption arguments suffer from factual and legal deficiencies. In fact, the undisputed evidence demonstrates that the commission system was wholly separate from Mr. Billings' guaranteed salary. Because Mr. Billings satisfies the salary test and does not challenge any other aspect of his FLSA administrative exemption, the Court GRANTS Ryze's Motion for Summary Judgment. [Filing No. 79.]

         I.

         Legal Standard

         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, that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. SeeFed. 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 suffice to defeat summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (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 factfinder 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).

         II.

         Preliminary Matters

         In their briefing of this matter, the parties have flouted the undersigned's Practices & Procedures, [Filing No. 22], and the requirements set forth in the Local Rules of this Court. First, the Practices & Procedures require that all exhibits be cited by reference “to the docket number, the attachment number (if any), and the applicable .pdf page as it appears on the docket information located at the top of the filed document.” [Filing No. 22 at 4.] The parties failed to comply with this format, and it has made review of the summary judgment exhibits needlessly cumbersome. All future filings must comply with this format.

         Second, Local Rule 5-1 requires that all briefs “be double spaced.” S.D. Ind. L.R. 5-1(b). Neither of Mr. Billings' briefs are double spaced, making it a certainty that Mr. Billings' response brief also fails to comply with the applicable 35-page limit set forth in Local Rule 7-1. S.D. Ind. L.R. 7-1(e)(1).

         The Court will excuse these transgressions in this instance-in no small part because there are plenty to go around. But in so doing, the Court in no way minimizes their seriousness. This Court is among the busiest in the country, see U.S. Courts, Federal Court Management Statistics, National Judicial Caseload Profile (Mar. 31, 2019), https://www.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/datatables/fcmsnadistprofile0331.2019.pdf, and these rules are designed to further the purpose of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 1; cf.Fed. R. Civ. P. 83 (authorizing local rules and standing practices consistent with the federal rules). The parties must carefully comply with these requirements in all future filings in this matter.

         III.

         Factual Background

         The following factual background is set forth pursuant to the standards detailed above. The facts stated are not necessarily objectively true, but as the summary judgment standard requires, the undisputed facts and the disputed evidence are presented in the light most favorable to “the party against whom the motion under consideration is made.” Premcor USA, Inc. v. American Home Assurance Co., 400 F.3d 523, 526-27 (7th Cir. 2005). This does not mean, however, that Mr. Billings is relieved of his burden to demonstrate that there is a genuine of material fact requiring a trial. Logan v. Commercial Union Ins. Co., 96 F.3d 971, 978 (7th Cir. 1996). As long as the movant fulfills its “initial responsibility of informing the district court” why there is no genuine issue of fact, Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986), then Mr. Billings must meet his burden in response. Mr. Billings' convenient omission of this principle, which is at the heart of federal summary judgment practice, from his discussion of the standard of review, [see Filing No. 92 at 25], may help to explain why he later asserts that Ryze's exhibits “do not establish the lack of a genuine issue of material fact” and do not “establish that Plaintiff was paid a biweekly salary, ” [Filing No. 98 at 5].[1] Ryze is required to establish neither; Mr. Billings is required to set forth evidence to controvert these assertions to the extent they are properly supported. While Mr. Billings is entitled to the benefit of reasonable inferences, his mischaracterization of his burden on summary judgment does not entitle him to any inferences not properly supported by admissible evidence. With this observation, the Court turns to the facts relevant to the Court's ultimate decision on the instant motion. The parties' myriad evidentiary disputes are addressed below as appropriate.

         A. Claims Adjusting for Ryze

         Ryze works primarily with insurance companies and financial institutions, providing them with independent claims adjusters to evaluate insureds' claims of personal injury or property damage. [Filing No. 81-2 at 2-3.] Mr. Billings was one such claims adjuster. [Filing No. 81-2 at 3.] When an insured of one of Ryze's clients made a claim, Mr. Billings would be dispatched to investigate and evaluate the claim. [Filing No. 81-2 at 3.] Among other things, Mr. Billings was responsible for interviewing witnesses, inspecting the scene, making coverage recommendations, assessing the value of the claims, and negotiating settlements. [Filing No. 81-2 at 3.]

         Mr. Billings did not work out of a Ryze office, nor did he report to a single manager. [Filing No. 81-2 at 3.] Rather, Mr. Billings worked out of his home without direct supervision and reported to one of a team of supervisors, depending on the client. [Filing No. 81-5 at 7; Filing No. 81-5 at 45-46.]

         B. Payment Scheme

         Throughout the relevant period of Mr. Billings' employment with Ryze, which extends from October 20, 2014 until the end of his employment in July 2016, [2] his payment was governed by the terms of his employment agreements. The 2010 “parent” Employment Agreement (which governed when Mr. Billings worked for Eagle, a predecessor company to Ryze, [seeFiling No. 97-2 at 1]) provided in part as follows:

4. Compensation and Benefits.
(a) Compensation: Eagle shall pay Employee compensation pursuant to the terms of the attached Schedule A. All such payments will be made in installments at such payment intervals as are the usual custom of Eagle. Schedule A may be amended from time to time in the sole discretion of Eagle, provided that Eagle shall provide Employee with no less than ten (10) days written notice of any change.

[Filing No. 97-2 at 15.][3] Paragraph 4(a) of the 2016 Employment Agreement was identical to the 2010 agreement in every material aspect:

4. Compensation and Benefits
(a) Compensation: RYZE shall pay Employee compensation pursuant to the terms of the attached Schedule A. All such payments will be made in installments at such payment intervals as are the usual custom of RYZE. Schedule A may be amended from time to time in the sole discretion of RYZE, provided that RYZE shall notify Employee of any such changes as soon as practicable.

[Filing No. 81-6 at 3.]

         At times prior to the relevant period, the attached Schedule A provided for payment only by commission. [See, e.g., Filing No. 97-2 at 19 (2010 Schedule A).][4] But during the entire relevant period, Schedule A provided as follows:

Schedule A
Pursuant to and in accordance with the terms of Paragraph 4(a) of the Agreement between RYZE and Employee, RYZE shall pay to Employee compensation as follows:
(1) Salary: RYZE shall pay Employee a salary of Nine Hundred Ten Dollars and Zero Cents ($910.00) on a bi-weekly basis (such bi-weekly basis shall be referred ...

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