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Couch v. Convenience Store Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

February 5, 2019

JAMES COUCH, Plaintiff,
CONVENIENCE STORE INC., et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff James Couch and Defendant Convenience Store Inc., which operates a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, have filed cross-motions for summary judgment.[1] For the following reasons, the Plaintiff's motion (Doc. 25) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, and the Defendant's motion (Doc. 13) is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff James Couch brought this suit alleging breach of contract and violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) based on the Defendant's failure to pay appropriate wages to the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff alleges three categories of FLSA violations: (1) failure to pay overtime for the Plaintiff's off-the-clock work for Jim Morrison, a store manager; (2) failure to pay wages when waiting on delivery trucks to arrive; and (3) failure to pay wages for June 21, 2018. Doc. 25-1 at 5-8. The Plaintiff has moved for summary judgment on the FLSA claims (Doc. 25), and the Defendant has moved for summary judgment on the FLSA claims stemming from the Plaintiff's arrangement with Morrison (Doc. 13).[2]


         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         A court must grant summary judgment “if the movant shows 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). “A factual dispute is genuine only if ‘a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Info. Sys. & Networks Corp. v. City of Atlanta, 281 F.3d 1220, 1224 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting United States v. Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir. 1991)). The burden rests with the moving party to prove that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Id. The party may support its assertion that a fact is undisputed by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A).

         “If the moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party must establish all essential elements of the claim or defense in order to obtain summary judgment.” Anthony v. Anthony, 642 F.Supp.2d 1366, 1371 (S.D. Fla. 2009) (citing Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d at 1438). The moving party must carry its burden by presenting “credible evidence” affirmatively showing that, “on all the essential elements of its case on which it bears the burden of proof at trial, no reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party.” Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d at 1438. In other words, the moving party's evidence must be so credible that, if not controverted at trial, the party would be entitled to a directed verdict. Id.

         “If the moving party makes such an affirmative showing, it is entitled to summary judgment unless the nonmoving party, in response, ‘come[s] forward with significant, probative evidence demonstrating the existence of a triable issue of fact.'” Id. (quoting Chanel, Inc. v. Italian Activewear of Fla., Inc., 931 F.2d 1472, 1477 (11th Cir. 1991)) (alteration in original). However, “credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge. ... The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Thus, the Court “‘can only grant summary judgment if everything in the record demonstrates that no genuine issue of material fact exists.'” Strickland v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 692 F.3d 1151, 1154 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Tippens v. Celotex Corp., 805 F.2d 940, 952 (11th Cir. 1986)).

         In contrast, “[w]hen the nonmoving party has the burden of proof at trial, the moving party is not required to ‘support its motion with affidavits or other similar material negating the opponent's claim.'” Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d at 1437 (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Cartrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The moving party “simply may show . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Id. at 1438 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Assuming the moving party has met its burden, the non-movant must then show a genuine dispute regarding any issue for which it will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Info. Sys. & Networks Corp., 281 F.3d at 1224-25 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324).

         The standard of review for cross-motions for summary judgment does not differ from the standard applied when only one party files a motion. See Am. Bankers Ins. Grp. v. United States, 408 F.3d 1328, 1331 (11th Cir. 2005). “Cross-motions for summary judgment will not, in themselves, warrant the court in granting summary judgment unless one of the parties is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on facts that are not genuinely disputed.” United States v. Oakley, 744 F.2d 1553, 1555 (11th Cir. 1984) (quotation marks and citation omitted). The Court will consider each motion on its own merits, resolving all reasonable inferences against the party whose motion is under consideration. See Am. Bankers Ins. Grp., 408 F.3d at 1331.

         B. Analysis

         Under FLSA, “[n]o employer shall employ any of his employees who in any workweek is engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce . . . for a workweek longer than forty hours . . . unless such employee receives compensation for his employment in excess of the hours above specified at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which he is employed.” 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(2)(C). “An unpaid-overtime claim has two elements: (1) an employee worked unpaid overtime, and (2) the employer knew or should have known of the overtime work.” Bailey v. TitleMax of Ga., Inc., 776 F.3d 797, 801 (11th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted).

         1. Failure to Pay Overtime for Off-the-Clock Work for Jim Morrison

          One of the Plaintiff's claims concerns work he performed for Jim Morrison, a managerial employee at Piggly Wiggly. It is undisputed that the Plaintiff worked off the clock on certain occasions and was not paid by the Defendant at the required rate of 1.5 times the employee's normal wage for doing so. Doc. 33-1 ¶ 5.

         The Plaintiff performed this off-the-clock work for Morrison pursuant to a running financial relationship between the two, a relationship that was entered into for the Plaintiff's personal benefit. Doc. 28 at 48:13-50:24. Morrison had loaned money to the Plaintiff to prevent his truck from being repossessed. Id. According to the Plaintiff, Morrison loaned him $300 for a monthly payment on his truck and, later, loaned him approximately $2, 100 to get his truck out of title pawn. Id. at 56:1-57:4. According to Morrison, the relationship started with an approximately $1, 200 loan for the Plaintiff to get his truck out of title pawn. Doc. 17 at 21:16-22:21. Morrison testified that he borrowed money at the bank to make the loan and that he did not charge the Plaintiff interest. Id. at 23:5-24:23. Morrison also made other loans to the Plaintiff-one for a Georgia Power bill and, according to Morrison, one for rent to prevent the Plaintiff from being evicted. Docs. 28 at 62:25-63:22; 17 at 33:9-24, 25:8-22. In sum, while the details of the loans are muddled, it is undisputed that Morrison, individually, made personal loans to the Plaintiff.

         The Plaintiff made agreed-upon repayments-$100 a month, according to Morrison (Doc. 17 at 24:7-16), and $100 or $50 bimonthly or every two weeks, according to the Plaintiff (Doc. 28 at 59:1-25)-for a time, then could not make them anymore. According to Morrison, the Plaintiff had a stroke and was out of work for a while, during which time the payments ceased. Doc. 17 at 25:23-26:14. Morrison testified that when the Plaintiff recovered, he asked Morrison if he could earn credit on the loan by working. Id. at 27:11-28:10. Those jobs began with personal work for Morrison, like moving furniture, but eventually the Plaintiff began working extra hours at Piggly Wiggly in return for loan credits from Morrison. Id. at 27:15-30:8. According to the Plaintiff, his off-the-clock duties were the same as his on-the-clock duties, plus stripping and waxing floors, although Morrison claims the Plaintiff's off-the-clock time was spent on less important tasks. Docs. 28 at 76:7-24; 17 at 46:25-47:8. Morrison testified that he would compensate the Plaintiff in cash when the Plaintiff needed it, but the Plaintiff asserted he was never paid in cash. Docs. 17 at 30:12-31:12; 28 at 73:10-74:7. Morrison testified all money came from him. Doc. 17 at 34:4-5. Morrison also testified the loan was eventually paid in full. Id. at 34:24-35:17, 66:7-12. Morrison testified that because he did not charge interest and he gave gas money to the Plaintiff's mother, he lost money even after repayment. Id. at 36:8-12.

         The amount of off-the-clock work by the Plaintiff is disputed. Morrison testified the Plaintiff worked less than twenty hours per week for him and did not work for him every week. Doc. 33-2 ¶¶ 34-35. The Plaintiff testified he worked off the clock for four to six hours a day, four days a week, for a year and eight months. Doc. 28 at 89:7-90:13, 90:21-91:10, 94:16-21, 96:14-19. Elsewhere in his deposition, the Plaintiff claimed he worked off the clock for Morrison four to five days a week. Id. at 54:11-16. The Plaintiff also testified that everybody who worked at the store could corroborate that claim and that Frank Hellvig, a manager, knew about his off-the-clock work. Id. at 91:6-25, 95:14-96:18. But Hellvig testified he never knew of anyone working off the clock (Doc. 24 at 37:12-20), and the other employees who were deposed did not corroborate the Plaintiff's claim that he worked off the clock for four to six hours a day, four days a week, for a year and eight months. Docs. 35 at 25:14-23; 36 at 14:21-15:16. The Plaintiff testified that payment receipts record “[p]robably about 90%” of his off-the-clock work, and those receipts come to approximately $3, 000. Docs. 28 at 79:2-23; 28-12 at 1-8.[3]

         There is also conflicting evidence on the rate of compensation for the off-the-clock work. The Plaintiff claims he always made exactly $10 an hour for his off-the-clock work for Morrison. Doc. 28 at 52:7-53:12. But he also testified that Morrison might ask him to do a four-hour job for $50-implying an hourly rate of $12.50. Id. at 69:16-25. And he testified he once did three hours of work for loan credit in the amount of $50-implying a rate of $16.67 for that job. Id. at 73:10-23. Morrison, on the other hand, testified the rate “worked out to approximately $25.00 per hour of work, ” and he also referred to payments of $25 for 20 minutes of work on one occasion and of $100 for certain jobs around the store. Docs. 33-2 ¶ 33; 17 at 27:15-23, 30:9-19. Another employee who had a loan arrangement with Morrison testified he was paid approximately $25.00 per hour. Doc. 22 at 40:2-11.

         The Plaintiff's claim of four to six hours of work for Morrison a day, four days a week, for a year and eight months, at $10 per hour, indicates total payments in the approximate range of $12, 000 to $19, 000.[4] Those figures are obviously inconsistent with the claim that receipts ...

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