KEVIN O'CONNOR; CHRISTOPHER O'CONNOR; JAMES ADAM COX; MICHAELFRASER; ROBERT MCNALLY, Plaintiffs, Appellants,
OAKHURST DAIRY; DAIRY FARMERS OF AMERICA, INC., Defendants, Appellees.
FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
MAINE [Hon. Nancy Torresen, Chief U.S. District Judge]
G. Webbert, with whom Jeffrey Neil Young, Carol J. Garvan,
and Johnson, Webbert, and Young, LLP were on brief, for
L. Schenberg, with whom Patrick F. Hulla and Ogletree,
Deakins, Nash, Smoak and Stewart, P.C. were on brief, for
Lynch, Lipez, and Barron, Circuit Judges.
BARRON, Circuit Judge.
want of a comma, we have this case. It arises from a dispute
between a Maine dairy company and its delivery drivers, and
it concerns the scope of an exemption from Maine's
overtime law. 26 M.R.S.A. § 664(3). Specifically, if
that exemption used a serial comma to mark off the last of
the activities that it lists, then the exemption would
clearly encompass an activity that the drivers perform. And,
in that event, the drivers would plainly fall within the
exemption and thus outside the overtime law's protection.
But, as it happens, there is no serial comma to be found in
the exemption's list of activities, thus leading to this
dispute over whether the drivers fall within the exemption
from the overtime law or not.
District Court concluded that, despite the absent comma, the
Maine legislature unambiguously intended for the last term in
the exemption's list of activities to identify an exempt
activity in its own right. The District Court thus granted
summary judgment to the dairy company, as there is no dispute
that the drivers do perform that activity. But, we conclude
that the exemption's scope is actually not so clear in
this regard. And because, under Maine law, ambiguities in the
state's wage and hour laws must be construed liberally in
order to accomplish their remedial purpose, we adopt the
drivers' narrower reading of the exemption. We therefore
reverse the grant of summary judgment and remand for further
wage and hour law is set forth in Chapter 7 of Title 26 of
the Maine Revised Statutes. The Maine overtime law is part of
the state's wage and hour law.
overtime law provides that "[a]n employer may not
require an employee to work more than 40 hours in any one
week unless 11/2 times the regular hourly rate is paid for
all hours actually worked in excess of 40 hours in that
week." 26 M.R.S.A. § 664(3). The overtime law does
not separately define the term, "employee."
Instead, it relies on the definition of "employee"
that the Chapter elsewhere sets forth.
definition, which applies to the Chapter as a whole, provides
that an "employee" is "any individual employed
or permitted to work by an employer, " id. at
§ 663(3). However, the definition expressly excludes a
few categories of workers who are specifically defined not to
be "employee[s], " id. at §
delivery drivers do not fall within the categories of workers
excluded from the definition. They thus are plainly
"employees." But some workers who fall within the
statutory definition of "employee" nonetheless fall
outside the protection of the overtime law due to a series of
express exemptions from that law. The exemption to the
overtime law that is in dispute here is Exemption F.
F covers employees whose work involves the handling -- in one
way or another -- of certain, expressly enumerated food
products. Specifically, Exemption F states that the
protection of the overtime law does not apply to:
The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying,
marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.
26 M.R.S.A. § 664(3)(F). The parties' dispute
concerns the meaning of the words "packing for shipment
delivery drivers contend that, in combination, these words
refer to the single activity of "packing, " whether
the "packing" is for "shipment" or for
"distribution." The drivers further contend that,
although they do handle perishable foods, they do not engage
in "packing" them. As a result, the drivers argue
that, as employees who fall outside Exemption F, the Maine
overtime law protects them.
responds that the disputed words actually refer to two
distinct exempt activities, with the first being
"packing for shipment" and the second being
"distribution." And because the delivery drivers do
-- quite obviously -- engage in the "distribution"
of dairy products, which are "perishable foods, "
Oakhurst contends that the drivers fall within Exemption F
and thus outside the overtime law's protection.
delivery drivers lost this interpretive dispute below. They
had filed suit against Oakhurst on May 5, 2014 in the United
States District Court for the District of Maine. The suit
sought unpaid overtime wages under the federal Fair Labor
Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., and the
Maine overtime law, 26 M.R.S.A. § 664(3). The case was
referred to a Magistrate Judge, and the parties filed
cross-motions for partial summary judgment to resolve their
dispute over the scope of Exemption F. After hearings on
those motions, the Magistrate Judge ruled that Oakhurst's
reading of Exemption F was the better one and recommended
granting Oakhurst's motion. The District Court agreed
with the Magistrate Judge's recommendation and granted
summary judgment for Oakhurst on the ground that
"distribution" was a stand-alone exempt
delivery drivers now appeal that ruling. They raise a single
legal question: what does the contested phrase in Exemption F
mean? Our review on this question of state law interpretation
is de novo. See Manchester Sch. Dist. v.
Crisman, 306 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2002).
issue before us turns wholly on the meaning of a provision in
a Maine statute. We thus first consider whether there are any
Maine precedents that construe that provision.
identifies one: the Maine Superior Court's unpublished
opinion in Thompson v. Shaw's Supermarkets,
Inc., No. Civ. A. CV-02-036, 2002 WL 31045303 (Me. Sup.
Ct. Sept. 5, 2002). In that case, the Superior Court ruled
that Exemption F "is clear that an exemption exists for
the distribution of the three categories of foods, "
id. at *3, as a matter of both text and purpose,
id. at *2.
Superior Court decision construing Maine law would not bind
the Maine Law Court, and thus does not bind us. See
generally King v.Order of United Commercial
Travelers of Am., 333 U.S. 153, 159-62 (1948) (rejecting
an unreported state trial court decision as binding on
federal courts); Keeley v.Loomis Fargo &
Co., 183 F.3d 257, 269 n.9 (3d Cir. 1999) (finding a
state trial court decision to be "at most persuasive but
nonbinding authority, " with the federal court instead
"look[ing] to the plain language of the statute and our
own interpretation . . . in predicting how the state supreme
court" would rule). Moreover, the Superior Court's
decision in Thompson was appealed to the Maine Law
Court, which declined to follow ...