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Court defers summary judgment motion in overtime case

When a defendant files a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff may either respond to the motion or ask the Court to permit more time for discovery. A federal court in New Mexico was recently presented with the latter situation in an overtime case. See Jackson v. Powersat Communications (USA) LP, No. 2:20-cv-486 KRS/GJF (D. N.M. Oct. 21, 2020). 

Federal Rule of Civl Procedure 56 provides that when a motion for summary judgment is filed: 

If a nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition, the court may:

(1) defer considering the motion or deny it;

(2) allow time to obtain affidavits or declarations or to take discovery; or

(3) issue any other appropriate order.

Defendants provide remote communications services to oil and gas customers throughout the United States, including in New Mexico. The Plaintiff worked for Defendants as a Field Service Technician, based out of Midland, Texas, from September 16, 2019 through March 11, 2020. Plaintiffs alleged they and other Field Technicians were non-exempt employees who regularly worked over forty hours per week without overtime compensation, in violation of the FLSA and NMMWA.

On July 9, 2020, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Conditional Certification and Notice to the Putative Class Members. The next day, the Defendants moved for summary judgment on Plaintiffs’ claims on the basis that one of the plaintiffs did not work more than 40 hours in any week. The defendants also moved for summary judgment on Plaintiffs’ NMMWA claims because one of the plaintiffs did not work in New Mexico. 

In response, the plaintiffs argued that it is premature for the Court to enter summary judgment at this stage of the case because the parties have not had an opportunity to engage in merits-based discovery. As such, Plaintiffs asked the Court to defer ruling on Defendants’ motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d) and allow Plaintiffs to conduct discovery pertaining to the number of hours worked by the named plaintiffs and the opt-in plaintiffs. 

The Court allowed discovery, finding that Plaintiffs had met their burden to be entitled to seek information regarding Plaintiffs’ travel time, time waiting on jobs, and job tickets, which is relevant to the issue of whether Plaintiffs were relieved from duty during the workweeks they exceeded forty hours.

The Court held that discovery on the opt-ins was irrelevant to the summary judgment motion, and thus limited discovery to the two named plaintiffs. The court also denied as without prejudice the motion for conditional certification, stating that the plaintiff could refile the motion after summary judgment on the standing issues was determined.   The court’s ruling was fair and reasonable, and it shows that a defendant cannot rush to summary judgment without allowing a plaintiff a fair opportunity to conduct merits-based discovery. 

About the author: Josh Borsellino is a Texas attorney that represents workers suing for unpaid overtime. For a free consultation, call Josh today at 817.908.9861 or email him by clicking this link.

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