In the movie “Blow,” Johnny Depp complains to the Judge about to sentence him for interstate transportation of marijuana that all he did was take some vegetation across an imaginary line.  The Judge did not listen.  In a twist on this interstate travel issue, involving the FLSA motor carrier exemption (MCE), a court has ruled that an entity transporting marijuana products failed to prove that the drivers were within interstate commerce (a necessary element of satisfying the exemption) and must defend the overtime lawsuit.  The case is entitled Waxler v. All Green Transport LLC et al. and was filed in federal court in the Western District of Michigan.

The Judge ruled that the Company did not show that the driver crossed state lines while transporting the marijuana.  The Judge noted that “the interstate commerce requirements of the Motor Carrier Exemption are not necessarily met by establishing that an employee is ‘engaged in commerce’ within the meaning of the FLSA.  The driver also alleges he was classified as an independent contractor and failed to receive overtime pay.

The employer had argued that the MCE applied, thereby requiring dismissal of the entire case.  As the Department of Transportation has primary oversight and jurisdiction over drivers, their claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act would be preempted and the case dismissed.  It depended on the interstate commerce test. The Judge noted that although the named plaintiff in his Complaint averred that he and other workers “directly and regularly engaged in interstate commerce” this was insufficient to show they actually crossed state lines which was required.

The Judge succinctly stated that “the factual allegations do not support the proposition that AGT drivers crossed state lines and therefore do not support defendants’ entitlement to the MCA exemption from FLSA’s coverage.”

The Takeaway

This highlights the sometimes overlooked requirement of interstate transportation for application of the MCE.  I believe sometimes that employers defending such truck driver cases just assume their drivers cross state lines.  All hope, however, is not lost.  Under the doctrine of practical continuity, where even intrastate drivers can be deemed to be in interstate commerce, the exemption may yet apply.  The defendant employer must be aware of all angles to the defenses it seeks to interpose.

The winning solution may be there if you look hard enough…