In Resch v. Krapf’s Coaches, Inc., the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that drivers who “rarely or never crossed state lines” were nevertheless covered by the motor carrier exemption to the FLSA because they worked in safety-affecting jobs and reasonably could have been expected to drive interstate routes.

The FLSA’s motor carrier exemption creates an overtime exemption for employees who are covered by the Secretary of Transportation’s authority to regulate the safe operation of motor vehicles in interstate or foreign commerce. To fall under the Secretary of Transportation’s authority, the transportation involved in the employee’s duties must cross state lines or, within a single state, be a continuation of the interstate “journey of goods.”

The exemption typically applies to drivers of large vehicles (as well as driver’s helpers, loaders, or mechanics) who work for employers providing motor vehicle transportation for compensation, or transporting their own property in support of a commercial enterprise.

The Supreme Court’s Decision in Morris v. McComb

The Third Circuit cited to Morris v. McComb, a United States Supreme Court case decided in 1947 regarding the jurisdiction of the DOT’s predecessor, the Interstate Commerce Commission (“ICC”). In Morris, the Supreme Court found that a group of truck drivers and mechanics fell within the MCA exemption even though only 3.65% of the truck drivers’ trips were interstate transport, and those trips were “mingled” with the performance of intrastate driving services. The Supreme Court noted that 41 of the 43 drivers had made at least one interstate trip, and the average truck driver had made sixteen interstate trips.

The Court held that the ICC had jurisdiction to regulate all of the drivers because interstate trips were actually taken, and had to be performed in accordance with the safety requirements established by the ICC. Furthermore, the drivers and mechanics at issue performed work of a character directly affecting the safety of those operations. Thus, the Motor Carrier Act exemption applied and none of the drivers or mechanics in Morris were entitled to overtime under the FLSA.

The Code of Federal Regulations

Furthermore, the Third Circuit cited to 29 C.F.R. § 782.2(a), which states that if the duties of a driver are such that he or she is or “is likely to be” called upon to perform activities that impact the safety of interstate transportation, the employee comes within the motor carrier exemption. That regulation further states that it “applies regardless of the proportion of the employee’s time or of his activities which is actually devoted to such safety-affecting work in the particular workweek, and the exemption will be applicable even in a workweek when the employee happens to perform no work directly affecting ‘safety of operation.’”

The Plaintiffs Reasonably Could Have Expected to Drive Interstate

In Resch, the plaintiff’s contended that they “rarely or never crossed state lines,” and thus were not covered by the motor carrier exemption.

The Third Circuit held that the plaintiffs could have been expected to drive interstate since company drivers regularly drove such routes and were trained on as many routes as possible. Furthermore, the company retained discretion to assign drivers to drive either interstate or intrastate routes at any time and adhered to federal regulations regarding its drivers. Thus, the plaintiffs were covered by the Motor Carrier Act exemption.

The Third Circuit also considered the plaintiffs’ assertion that their interstate responsibilities fell under the de minimis exception to the Motor Carrier Act exemption. The Circuit Court pointed out that a number of courts have held that drivers should seldom, if ever, fall within that exception because of the impact their work has on safety. Pointing out that the company’s interstate operations accounted for roughly 1% to 10% of its transit revenue, the Third Circuit held that the plaintiffs were covered by the Motor Carrier exemption.

Conclusion

Employers applying the Motor Carrier Act exemption therefore should be aware that the precise amount of time devoted to interstate transport may not be the sole factor determining the applicability of the exemption. Rather, employers should also consider whether an employee performs work that affects the safety of transportation operations that reasonably can be expected to cross state lines.