West Virginia CWP Fund v. DOWCP (Harris 1/26/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that a coal miner who suffers from respiratory impairment after working in coal mines for over fifteen years may recover benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act without a diagnosis of respiratory disease if the employer fails to rebut the presumption that the impairment was caused by employment in coal mines. The court held that sufficient evidence supported an Administrative Law Judge’s (ALJ) award of benefits to a coal miner under the Black Lung Benefits Act. Consequently, the court denied the petitioner’s petition for review. Full Opinion
Maryam Balbed v. Eden Park Guest House, LLC (Motz 1/25/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that a bed and breakfast must pay its live-in innkeeper overtime for hours worked in excess of that established by contract and cannot deduct the value of lodging from any overtime pay unless the employer keeps or reasonably reconstructs accurate records of costs incurred in furnishing lodging. The compensability of the overtime hours worked also depended upon whether the hours were spent “engaged to wait,” which would be compensable, or “waiting to be engaged,” which would not be compensable. The court reversed the lower court and remanded for further proceedings. Full Opinion
US v. Robert McLamb (Thacker 1/25/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that a law enforcement officer may execute a search warrant that violates the Fourth Amendment under the United States v. Leon good faith exception where 1) a judge does not wholly abandon its judicial role in granting a warrant, 2) the affidavit used to obtain the warrant does not lack an indicia of probable cause, 3) the person filing the affidavit does not mislead the judge with falsehoods or reckless disregard for the truth, and 4) the warrant is not so facially deficient to make it unreasonable to presume that it was valid. The district court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress his hard drive containing child pornography from evidence as fruit of an invalid warrant pertaining to his charges for receipt of child pornography. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. Full Opinion
Jeanne Bartels v. Saber Healthcare Group, LLC (Traxler 1/23/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that, where a contract between a defendant and plaintiff possesses a forum-selection clause selecting one county to serve as the exclusive venue for any dispute and there is no federal courthouse in that county, a defendant is precluded from removing an action to federal court. However, when multiple defendants are named, any one defendant may remove the entire action to federal court regardless of whether the other defendants are permitted to remove their claims. Because a forum-selection clause is an affirmative defense to removal, the party asserting the affirmative defense bears the burden of proving that affirmative defense, so the party asserting the forum-selection clause must prove that the clause applies to all defendants. Here, because the asserting party failed to prove that the forum-selection clause applied to all defendants, the court vacated the district court’s order remanding the case to state court and remanded to the district court for further proceedings. Full Opinion
United States v. Adrian Hyman (Agee 1/22/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that a respondent may file a motion to dismiss under the court’s Local Rule 27(f) at any time. Local Rule 27(f) possesses broad language permitting a motion to dismiss for a procedural issue at any time. Accordingly, the court granted the respondent’s motion to dismiss. Full Opinion
George Jackson v. Home Depot U.S.A, Inc. (Duncan 1/22/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that a counter-defendant is not entitled to remove under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) or 28 U.S.C. § 1453(b) and that Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheet’s definition of a defendant is still in force in the class action context. The court also held that a motion to realign parties should be denied where there was no attempt to fraudulently manufacture diversity jurisdiction and where no other compelling arguments exist to support such a motion. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court’s decision to decline a motion to realign parties and remand the case to state court.
Maryam Balbed v. Eden Park Guest House, LLC, No. 17-1187
Decided: January 25, 2018
The Fourth Circuit held that a bed and breakfast must pay its live-in innkeeper overtime for hours worked in excess of that established by contract and cannot deduct the value of lodging from any overtime pay unless the employer keeps or reasonably reconstructs accurate records of costs incurred in furnishing lodging. The compensability of the overtime hours worked also depended upon whether the hours were spent “engaged to wait,” which would be compensable, or “waiting to be engaged,” which would not be compensable. The court reversed the lower court and remanded for further proceedings.
Here, the defendant employer Eden Park Guest House, LLC (“employer”) was a bed and breakfast who hired the plaintiff employee Maryam Balbed (“employee”) as its innkeeper. The parties entered into a written employment agreement where the employee was paid $800 per month and provided with a room in the inn, laundry, utilities, and breakfast each day. The agreement established a schedule for the employee wherein she would perform certain tasks for a designated 29 hours per week. In addition to these 29 hours, the employee was to check in guests between 4:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. and then close the bed and breakfast at 10:00 p.m. However, there was no provision in the agreement as to how much time the employee worked during those hours. The employer contended that the employee’s lodging was worth between $850 per month and $1800 per month. The employee filed suit against the employer for failing to pay her overtime wages because she alleged that she worked well over 29 hours per week. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer and the employee timely appealed.
The court concluded that the employer’s calculation of the value of lodging was improper. Regulations allow the value of lodging to be calculated either as reasonable cost or fair value. Whichever method produces a lower value must be used. To determine reasonable cost, the valuation must not include any profits to the employer. Here, the employer’s valuation calculated the value of lodging without taking out the employer’s profits, so it could not be used. For fair value, an employer may only use the fair value of housing as a credit on wages if the fair value is equal to or less than the amount that the employer pays for the housing. Thus, the employer was required to keep records regarding the cost of providing lodging for this method, which the employer failed to do. However, where an employer fails to maintain these records, the employer may reasonably reconstruct records to calculate the costs incurred and reduce those costs from the employee’s wages.
First and foremost, the court remanded to determine how many hours the employee worked each day. This would be determined by examining whether the employee was “engaged to wait,” which would entitle the employee to wages, or “waiting to be engaged,” which would not entitle the employee to wages. The Fourth Circuit also directed the district court to make a finding as to the reasonable value of the employee’s lodging and other benefits that the employee received. The Fourth Circuit also requested that the district court resolve whether the employer assigned an unreasonably short amount of time for the employee’s completion of certain tasks and whether additional tasks listed in the employment contract — i.e. answering phones and taking reservations — were already included in the contract’s calculation of weekly work hours.
Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision and remanded for further proceedings.
Jonathan D. Todd