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Halle v. Galliano Marine Service, L.L.C.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

April 19, 2017

KYLE HALLE, Individually and On Behalf of Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiff-Appellant,

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

          Before PRADO, HIGGINSON, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.


         Plaintiff-Appellant Kyle Halle sued Galliano Marine Service, LLC[1] and C-Innovation, LLC (collectively, "the Defendants") under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("the FLSA" or "the Act") to recover unpaid wages for overtime worked during his employment at C-Innovation. The district court granted summary judgment against Halle because it concluded that Halle qualified as a "seaman" under the FLSA and was thus exempt from the Act's overtime provisions. Halle appealed. We REVERSE and REMAND this case for further proceedings.


         On October 30, 2015, Kyle Halle sued the Defendants under the FLSA for unpaid overtime.[2] The Defendants in this case run a remotely operated vehicle ("ROV") business for offshore applications and employed Halle from May 12, 2009, to October 12, 2015, as an ROV Technician and ROV Supervisor.

         ROVs are unoccupied mechanical devices used, among other things, to fix, service, and repair offshore, underwater drilling rigs. They are generally used to perform tasks that otherwise could not be performed by human divers because of depth or water conditions. Technicians like Halle navigate and control ROVs aboard an ROV Support Vessel, to which the ROVs remain tethered while in use. ROV Support Vessels serve as "a means of transporting their attached ROVs over water" and are specially outfitted for this purpose. The ROV's "handling system, wench, A-frame, hydraulic power unit[, ] vans, and control system" are all welded to the support vessel.

         The technicians who steer the ROVs work inside a windowless shipping container converted into an ROV command center located on the support vessel. From there, the ROV Technicians steer and control the ROVs using a video feed and joysticks. Although the ROV command center is located on the support vessel, technicians are not mixed with the support vessel's crew, cannot see whether any navigational issues are affecting the support vessel, and, according to Halle, are considered by the crew to be "passengers" or "third parties." According to Halle, ROV Technicians are subject to a chain of command separate and apart from that of the support vessel. Halle in particular always reported to C-Innovation's Operations Coordinator and Operations Manager, both of whom are land-based.

         Halle's particular duties were dedicated only to ROVs. According to Halle, he took no part in upkeep of the support vessel-he never performed maintenance work like sanding, painting, or chipping the ROV Support Vessel. Rather, the only maintenance work he performed was to the ROVs themselves. Halle also never steered the support vessel but, in his role as ROV Supervisor, did occasionally relay GPS coordinates from C-Innovation's customers to the support vessel captain either by radio or by pointing to a location on a chart. This process apparently never took more than a few seconds. Despite his knowledge of the support vessel's final destination, Halle had "nothing to do with determining the ROV Support Vessel's path to the intended target, steering, anchoring, making any navigational decisions[, ] or taking any navigational actions."

         Halle sued the Defendants on October 30, 2015, for failing to pay him for overtime as purportedly required by the FLSA. The Defendants moved for summary judgment on January 25, 2016, arguing that Halle was exempt from the FLSA's overtime provisions because he qualifies as a "seaman" under the Act. On February 25, 2016, the district court granted the Defendants' motion and dismissed Halle's claim with prejudice. Thereafter, Halle filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied on April 18, 2016. Halle now appeals.


         "We review a grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standard that the district court applied." Smith v. Reg'l Transit Auth., 827 F.3d 412, 417 (5th Cir. 2016). Summary judgment is proper where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, factual inferences are viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Smith, 827 F.3d at 417.

         The FLSA requires employers to provide overtime pay to any employee who works more than forty hours per week unless an exemption from this protection applies. 29 U.S.C. §§ 207, 213; Coffin v. Blessey Marine Servs., Inc., 771 F.3d 276, 279 (5th Cir. 2014). It is the "employer [who] bears the burden to establish a claimed exemption." Songer v. Dillon Res., Inc., 618 F.3d 467, 471 (5th Cir. 2010). This case involves the "seaman" exemption to the FLSA's overtime provision, 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(6), and presents an issue of first impression: whether ROV Technicians are seamen under the FLSA.

         An employee is a seaman when the following criteria are met: "(1) the employee is subject to the authority, direction, and control of the master; and (2) the employee's service is primarily offered to aid the vessel as a means of transportation, provided that the employee does not perform a substantial amount of different work." Coffin, 771 F.3d at 281 (citing 29 C.F.R. § 783.31). Per Department of Labor ("DOL") regulations, [3] "work other than seaman work becomes substantial if it occupies more than 20 percent of the time worked by the employee during the workweek."[4]Id. at 279-80 (citing 29 C.F.R. § 783.37). This Court must "evaluate an employee's duties based upon the character of the work he actually performs and not on what it is called or the place where it is performed." Id. at 280 (citing 29 C.F.R. ยง 783.33). ...

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