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Goff v. Williams Holdings, LLC

Supreme Court of West Virginia

May 14, 2018

Roger Lee Goff, Plaintiff Below, Petitioner
v.
Williams Holdings, LLC d/b/a Williams Transport, and Teddie G. Williams, Defendants Below, Respondents

          Boone County 15-C-199

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner Roger Lee Goff, by counsel Erica Lord, appeals the Circuit Court of Boone County's March 30, 2017, order granting respondent's motion for judgment as a matter of law. Respondent Williams Holdings, LLC d/b/a Williams Transport, by counsel Daniel R. Schuda, filed a response.[1] On appeal, petitioner contends that the circuit court erred in directing a verdict in respondent's favor after the jury returned a verdict in petitioner's favor and where his evidence of damages was sufficient.

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         Petitioner worked for respondent from July 9, 2013, to May 27, 2014, transporting railroad workers in a van provided for petitioner's use by respondent. In addition to transporting passengers, respondent also required petitioner to keep his van clean and properly maintained. Petitioner, however, contended that respondent failed to pay him for the time he spent cleaning and maintaining this van; accordingly, he initiated suit on October 26, 2015, asserting various claims, including a violation of the West Virginia Wage Payment and Collection Act (the "Act"), codified at West Virginia Code §§ 21-5-1 through 21-5-18.[2]

         On February 28 and March 1, 2017, the circuit court held a jury trial on this claim. Petitioner testified at trial that he was required to be on-call for respondent. Upon being dispatched to a railyard, petitioner would report to the railyard, wait for his passengers, and then take these railroad employees where necessary. Petitioner was not informed how long he would have to wait at a given location, but he testified that he could wait for as few as ten minutes or as many as eight hours.[3] Petitioner testified that, due to the uncertain length of time he would be waiting, he was unable to clean the van during the wait. Instead,

[e]very time I washed that van I took it to the car wash, and that was either as I was going to work or coming home from work I took it and washed it, because you didn't do it on your own time, because if you got caught out driving the van on your own time, they'd terminate you.

         Petitioner testified that he was never compensated for the time he spent cleaning the van. When asked how many hours per week he spent cleaning the van, he responded, "I would say four and a half, five hours a week." This testimony was petitioner's sole evidence of his alleged uncompensated hours cleaning the van.

         Petitioner completed and submitted his timesheets to respondent, and the timesheets included detailed entries of the times petitioner was called by respondent's dispatchers, left his house, arrived at his destination, loaded his passengers, arrived at the railroad load out, departed from the load out, and returned to his initial destination. Petitioner was also required to obtain a conductor's signature on his timesheet for every trip and report his time upon reaching his home after a call.[4] But petitioner never included the time purportedly spent cleaning the van, nor did he keep records of the number of times he cleaned the van.[5]

         Respondent's owner, Teddie G. Williams, testified that drivers are expected to keep their vans clean, and that the ten- to twelve-hour compensated periods that drivers are frequently waiting for their passengers provide ample opportunity for that cleaning.

         At the close of petitioner's evidence, respondent moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure.[6] Respondent argued that petitioner failed to demonstrate that it had knowledge of petitioner's work and that his evidence of damages was speculative. The circuit court agreed that petitioner had "a lot of problems when it comes to damages, " but nonetheless denied respondent's motion. Again, at the close of evidence, respondent renewed its motion. The circuit court, "[b]y the thinnest of margins, " denied the motion and submitted the case to the jury. Finding that petitioner worked 122 uncompensated hours at $7.25 per hour, the jury returned a verdict in petitioner's favor in the amount of $885.00. Respondent again renewed its motion for judgment as a matter of law.[7] The circuit court directed respondent to file the motion in writing and set a hearing date for post-trial motions.

         On March 9, 2017, the parties appeared for post-trial motions. Respondent argued that, during the times petitioner purportedly cleaned the van outside of his compensated work hours, he was not an "employee" under the Act, which defines "employee" as "any person suffered or permitted to work by a person, firm or corporation." W.Va. Code § 21-5-1(b). Respondent also argued that petitioner "never testified that he spent any specific period of time on any specific date cleaning the van, " thus rendering his evidence of damages speculative. The circuit court granted respondent's motion for judgment as a matter of law. The circuit court found that the words "suffered" and "permitted" as used in the Act "necessarily require knowledge. . . . A reading of this statute to create an employment relationship even when the knowledge of and consent to those actions is lacking defies all logic." Because respondent had no knowledge that petitioner cleaned his van outside of his assigned work periods, the circuit court found that he was not an "employee" while cleaning the van, as defined by the Act. The circuit court also found that petitioner's proof of damages was purely speculative. These rulings were memorialized in an order entered on March 30, 2017. It is from this order that petitioner appeals.

         This Court applies

a de novo standard of review to the grant or denial of a pre-verdict or post-verdict motion for judgment as a matter of law. After considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant party, we will sustain the granting or denial of a pre-verdict or post-verdict motion for judgment as a matter ...

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