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Serna v. Board of County Commissioners of Rio Arriba County

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

August 13, 2018

JOSEPH SERNA, SANTANA BUSTAMANTE, GABRIEL M. BLEA, RONNIE CARILLO, JR., ALIFONSO DELEON, GERMAN JACQUEZ-TORRES, GUY J. JORDAN, DAVID WAYNE JOURDAN, ADELINE MARTINEZ, ANTHONY MARTINEZ, CHRISTOPHER M. MARTINEZ, ROMAN MARTINEZ, KENNETH MERCURE, LEA PACHECO, ELIZABETH RAMIREZ, ROSE RASCON, and CHRIS VALDEZ, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF RIO ARRIBA COUNTY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. BRACK, SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is an employment case involving detention workers at a prison. The workers have sued their employer, the Board of County Commissioners of Rio Arriba County (County), accusing the County of not paying them for time worked. The County disputes the workers' claims and has filed a motion for partial summary judgment. (Doc. 44.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in part and denies in part the County's motion.

         In their response to the summary judgment motion, the workers seek to amend their complaint. The Court denies the workers' request. Additionally, the Court will allow the workers another opportunity to respond to some of the County's arguments by August 20, 2018, as described in the Opinion.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiffs are detention recruits, detention officers, and detention supervisors (collectively, “Correctional Officers” or “Workers”) employed by the Rio Arriba County Detention Center. (Doc. 44 at 2.) Their duties involve ensuring the secure and orderly detention of inmates at the detention facility. (See id.) To perform their duties at the detention center, which is always staffed, the Correctional Officers usually work 12-hour shifts from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. (Id.)

         Approximately 15 minutes prior to their shifts, Correctional Officers are required to report to work. (See Docs. 64-A at 2; 64-B at 2; 64-C at 2; 64-D at 2; 64-E at 2 (affidavits from Correctional Officers testifying about the requirement to arrive 15 minutes early).) During this time, incoming and outgoing supervisors conduct a shift-change headcount and briefing. (See Doc. 65 at 5-6.) The incoming supervisor then heads to the muster room-the non-secure area of the facility-where incoming detention recruits and officers are waiting, and conducts a group briefing about the upcoming shift. (Id. at 6.) The group briefing conveys information such as the inmates who need to be prepared for court, inmates on suicide or medical watch, inmates who had been disruptive during the previous shift, upcoming visits from law enforcement, and mechanical issues with the facility. (Id.)

         After the group briefing, individual officers and recruits head to their respective posts and conduct a post-specific briefing with their outgoing counterparts. (Id. at 7.) The post-specific briefing includes information such as the inmates who need recreational time or who need to be released for work details during the upcoming shift. (Id.) Until the post-specific briefing is complete, the outgoing detention recruit or officer may not leave his post-so if the post-specific briefing started or ran late, the outgoing employee would be conducting the briefing outside of his scheduled hours. (Id.) Despite the pre- and post-shift time Workers spend, the County only pays for time worked during scheduled shifts. (Doc. 64 at 23.)

         The Correctional Officers sued the County for its employment practices, alleging violations of New Mexico and federal employment laws. (Doc. 1 at 4.) Among other things, the Correctional Officers argue that they were unfairly compensated for their pre- and post-shift work and that the County incorrectly calculated their compensatory time. (See Id. at 2-4; Doc. 64 at 23.) The County seeks partial summary judgment on the Correctional Officers' claims. (Doc. 44 at 1.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment is not appropriate, however, if there are factual issues that “may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). In deciding whether there are genuine factual issues, a court cannot weigh the evidence, id. at 249, or judge the credibility of witnesses, Fogarty v. Gallegos, 523 F.3d 1147, 1165 (10th Cir. 2008). Instead, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolve all factual disputes and reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. Cillo v. City of Greenwood Vill., 739 F.3d 451, 461 (10th Cir. 2013).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Burden of Proof

         Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to protect vulnerable employees from “substandard wages and excessive hours which endangered the national health and well- being . . . .” See Brooklyn Sav. Bank v. O'Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 706 (1945). Part of the FLSA's regime for protecting employees is to facilitate shorter workdays by requiring employers to pay increased, overtime wages to employees who work overtime hours. See Chavez v. City of Albuquerque, 630 F.3d 1300, 1304 (10th Cir. 2011). To make possible enforcement of its terms, § 11 of the FLSA compels employers to “make, keep, and preserve records” of their employees' “wages, hours, and other conditions and practices of employment . . . .” 29 U.S.C. § 211(c).

         If an employer does not pay an employee adequate overtime wages, the employee may sue for unpaid overtime compensation. In such a suit, the burden of proof usually rests on the plaintiff-employee to prove by a preponderance of the evidence the number of hours worked and the amount of wages owed for each pay period. See Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S. 680, 686-87 (1946) (superseded by statute on other grounds). But if the employer fails to keep adequate records as required by § 11, then the plaintiff-employee has a lower burden of proof: produce evidence of the amount and extent of uncompensated overtime work as a matter of “just and reasonable inference.” Baker v. Barnard Const. Co., Inc., 146 F.3d 1214, 1220 (10th Cir. 1998).

         The “just and reasonable inference” standard is applicable in this case, as the evidence shows that the County did not keep adequate employment records. The County's timekeeping system registered an employee's “actual” clock-in and clock-out time as well as the “official” clock-in and clock-out time used for paying wages. (See Doc. 64-A-2 at 1.) The “actual” time registered often differed from the “official” time. (See Id. at 6.) For example, detention officer Santana Bustamante's timesheets reflect that she actually clocked in at 7:29 p.m. on September 21, 2015, but her official clock-in time showed 8:00 p.m. (Id.) Aside from the mismatched actual and official times, the accuracy of the recorded actual time is also in doubt. When Bustamante inspected the time-in and time-out for November 26, 2017, the display on the timekeeper showed Bustamante's time-in as 7:30 p.m. (Doc. 64-A-3.) The timesheets produced in discovery, on the other hand, show Bustamante's actual time-in as 7:27 p.m. and official time-in as 8:00 p.m. (Doc. 64-A-2 at 19.) This means the time displayed on the physical timekeeper differed from both the actual and official time on the timesheets. Further, Bustamante documented clocking in at 7:46 p.m. on December 9, 2017, (Docs. 64-A at 4; 64-A-6), but the timesheet shows Bustamante's actual clock-in time as 8:00 p.m., (Doc. 64-A-2 at 19). Viewed in the light most favorable to the Correctional Officers, a reasonable inference from the evidence is that the County's timekeeping is inaccurate. The Correctional Officers may thus estimate their hours worked and unpaid compensation as a matter of just and reasonable inference.

         II. Computability of Time Worked and Wages Earned

         Case law details what satisfies the just and reasonable inference standard. In Mencia v. Allred, the Tenth Circuit clarified that neither an expert nor an economics report is necessary to establish a just and reasonable inference. Mencia v. Allred, 808 F.3d 463, 473 (10th Cir. 2015). “[A]ll a fact-finder needs to calculate damages is the hourly wage, the number of hours worked, and the amount already paid.” Id. Because two people had testified about the plaintiff's hours in Mencia, the Tenth Circuit held that “there is sufficient evidence in the record for a fact-finder to estimate [the plaintiff's] hours.” See Id. In Jimenez v. Board of County Commissioners of Hidalgo County, the Tenth Circuit held that under “the more lenient ‘just and reasonable inference' standard of proof, ” testimony about the length of pre-shift briefing was sufficient for a factfinder to calculate how much overtime plaintiffs were owed. Jimenez v. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs of Hidalgo Cty., 697 Fed.Appx. 597, 599 n.2 (10th Cir. 2017). And another trial court in this district has suggested that testimony enabling a court to find “a consistent pattern of overtime work” may be sufficient when coupled with other types of evidence. Bustillos v. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs of Hidalgo Cty., No. CV 13-0971 JB/GBW, 2015 WL 7873813, at *15 (D.N.M. Oct. 20, 2015), aff'd in part, rev'd in part sub nom., Jimenez v. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs of Hidalgo Cty., 697 Fed.Appx. 597 (10th Cir. 2017) (citations omitted).

         Pre-Shift ...


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