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Specht v. City of Sioux Falls

February 26, 2010

MICHEAL SPECHT, TRENT BOE, MARK DONELAN, BOB DYKSTRA, MARK EGGER; ROCKY FOSTER, JAMES HAIAR, JON KOLBA, BO MORTENSEN, WADE MULDER, JIM POWERS, NATHAN RUML, JASON SCHIEBOUT, SCOTT SCHILTZ, GRANT VAN RIESEN, AND BOB VOSBURG, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE CITY OF SIOUX FALLS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John E. Simko United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Pending is the Motion for Summary Judgment of the City of Sioux Falls (Doc. 20). This case is for trial to the court without a jury. Also pending is the City's Motion to Strike (Doc. 46). The ultimate issue to be decided is whether the hours the firefighters were fighting wildfires in western South Dakota in 2006 should be combined with their regular duty hours for the purpose of calculating overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The specific issue is the City's affirmative defense that the firefighters were exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act. 29 U.S.C. §207(p)(1) establishes a special detail exemption so that hours worked on special detail are not combined with the regular hours for calculating overtime compensation.

JURISDICTION

Jurisdiction is pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 207. The parties consented to have the U.S. Magistrate Judge preside pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(c).

FACTS

Plaintiffs are firefighters employed by the City of Sioux Falls in the Fire Rescue Department (SFFR). During July and August of 2006, all of the Plaintiffs were deployed to assist in fighting wildfires. In July of 2006, Ricky Larsen, who was the Chief of SFFR received a call from the South Dakota state fire dispatch requesting assistance in battling wildfires. There was a list of SFFR firefighters who were wildland firefighter certified. Each firefighter has the right to accept or deny when offered an opportunity at deployment. Reimbursements to the City by the State for the firefighters' compensation were made pursuant to a contract between the City and the State.*fn1 The normal schedule called for the firefighters to work 204 hours during a 27 day pay period. Typically a firefighter's deployment for wildland firefighting is not more than 14 days. There was a concern that deployed firefighters would be paid less than if they had stayed in Sioux Falls and worked the normal 204 hours work schedule. SFFR agreed to pay the difference between 204 hours and the hours actually worked during a 27 day period in which a firefighter was deployed if a firefighter's hours during the 27 day period totaled less than 204.

CLAIMS OF THE PARTIES

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Specht inquired about recording work times and was told it was not necessary to call in times on a daily basis because the firefighters would be credited for their full 24 hour normal shifts. Further, the firefighters needed only to complete SFFR timesheets for hours actually worked during their normal off-shift days. Specht noticed on August 18, 2006, when he received his paycheck that he had been paid for 59.5 hours of overtime, but he knew that he had worked 141.5 hours extra beyond his regular shifts, i.e. he had been shorted 82 hours of overtime compensation. It turned out that the time sheet he turned in, together with the hours automatically recorded by the computer software for normal shift time, had been changed at the direction of the deputy fire chief. A handwritten note on the time sheet says "Mike hit his 204 plus overtime so remove these hours to reduce OT." The other plaintiffs received similar underpayments of overtime.

Plaintiffs claim the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay their employees for all time spent working on their behalf. 29 U.S.C. §§ 206 & 207. They claim they were on a greater than 24 hour shift and that 29 CFR § 553.220(a) controls. They claim time spent on firefighting pursuits and under severe restrictions is compensable under 29 CFR § 553.221(b) and (c). They also claim 29 CFR § 553.222(c) provides sleep time is compensable.

Defendants.

Defendant City asserts that plaintiff Specht is not entitled to more overtime than the $2,001.19 which was paid. The City acknowledges the following note was written on Specht's time card: "Hours were added to insure 204 hours in 27 day cycle -Mike Hit his 204 overtime so remove these hours to reduce O.T."*fn2 The City claims it is in compliance with the FLSA regarding all plaintiffs. The City acknowledges that plaintiffs have correctly quoted sections of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), but assert that other regulations, statutes, and case law govern. Among other affirmative defenses, the City asserts that the special detail provision under 29 U.S.C. § 207(p)(1) applies. This statute provides that hours worked on special detail shall be excluded in the calculation of overtime.

FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT

29 U.S.C. § 207(p)(1).

Judge Royal Furgeson, W.D. Texas, provided the following background about the FLSA:

Congress passed the FLSA in 1938 during the New Deal era on a finding that there were widespread labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers. Congress sought to correct and as rapidly as practicable to eliminate these conditions, and accordingly included in FLSA several key rules, such as minimum wage requirements and child labor restrictions, that employers had to observe in structuring their employment relationships.

One of these rules was the overtime pay requirement. This rule set forth the following general mandate: No employer shall employ any of his employees ... 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. This general mandate was qualified by several exceptions, known as "exemptions," but it remained the overarching principle.

The overtime pay requirement remains in force today, and it is the basis for the Officers' lawsuit here.

Jackson v. City of San Antonio, 2006WL2548545 (W.D.Tex. 2006)(footnotes and internal quotations and punctuation omitted).

ยง 207(p)(1) Special Detail ...


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