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Posted in Blog on September 13, 2021   |  by Gary Burger

Hootselle v. Missouri Department of Corrections Remanded Back to Trial

The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the trial court’s judgment in this case - and remanded it back to the state court for a new trial. Hootselle v. Missouri Department of Corrections, 624 S.W.3d 123 (Mo. banc 2021).

This was a unanimous decision of all six Judges handed down June 1, 2021.

The case was transferred from the Supreme court back to the trial court. We appeared before our new judge and set the trial of the case June 11, 2022 in Cole County Circuit Court.

Although we obviously do not agree with the reversal of the money verdict, we and our clients remain unbowed and ready to win the case again in our second trial. The Supreme Court Judges put a lot of work and thought into their decision.

And there are a lot of pretty significant victories affirmed by the Supreme Court in the remand. These are not silver linings – but rather first of their kind wins in Missouri.

The Supreme Court affirmed that:

  1. This is an appropriate class action as certified.

    The defendant opposed certification by arguing that the Correctional Officers failed to demonstrate that common issues predominated because they worked at a variety of facilities where the time spent on pre- and post-shift activities differed to some extent.

    The trial court rejected defendant’s argument because Correctional Officers performed virtually identical pre- and post-shift activities which began and ended their workdays at all prisons and their employment was governed by the same contract and department policies.

    As a consequence, the question of defendant’s liability to all Correctional Officers would be determined based on those documents and the same legal theories. The fact that individuals’ damages recoveries might differ did not preclude finding predominance. Hootselle, 624 S.W.3d at 132.

  2. There is no sovereign immunity from this claim. This was the primary and first issue on appeal. The courts analysis is best summed up:

    Unlike the plaintiffs in Nuñez, the corrections officers do not claim the state has waived sovereign immunity for claims arising under the FLSA. Their counts alleging causes of action under the FLSA have been dismissed. The corrections officers and MDOC negotiated labor agreements that expressly incorporated MDOC’s FLSA obligations. The corrections officers are suing for breach of those labor agreements. They are alleging state-law breach of contract claims, not freestanding claims for violations of the FLSA as the Nuñez plaintiffs sought to do.

    Breach of contract claims may be maintained against the state to enforce an express contract even when that contract incorporates statutory obligations. Dierkes v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mo., 991 S.W.2d 662, 668 (Mo. banc 1999). The state waives sovereign immunity when it enters into an express contract. Kubley v. Brooks, 141 S.W.3d 21, 28 (Mo. banc 2004). Therefore, the corrections officers’ breach of contract counts seeking to enforce against the state an express contract with terms that incorporate FLSA obligations do not circumvent the FLSA and do not implicate the state’s sovereign immunity. The corrections officers can maintain claims against the state for breach of an express contract even though the contract incorporates obligations imposed by the FLSA.

  3. The contract in this case is established and enforceable,

  4. The contract was breached by MDOC; they violated the FLSA contrary to their contractual promises

  5. Significant damages resulted fromt that contract breach.

  6. "During [pre and post shift activity], corrections officers are, as a job requirement: “on duty and expected to respond” to incidents involving offenders; required to act as prison guards whenever they are inside the prisons; and required to remain vigilant and respond to incidents as they arise.” Id. at 141.

  7. The time the class spends “on duty” is compensable as a matter of law under counts III and VI: “once they are in the presence of inmates and “on duty and expected to respond” to emergent incidents, they are performing the work they are employed to do.

  8. “Corrections officers are required to perform essentially the same duties during preshift and postshift time as they are required to perform when on shift.”

  9. Time spent ”Picking up and returning equipment” is compensable as a matter of law.

  10. Time spent after the first compensable activity until the last is compensable under the continuous workday rule, re-affirmed by the Supreme Court.

  11. Regarding the other activities, the court “is not finding on the merits that those activities that were not shown to be compensable affirmatively are not compensable” “If the remaining activities are indispensable and integral to the corrections officers’ work or if they occur after the first and before the last principal activity, they are compensable.”

We will go forward to trial to again prove our damages. We hope to get a large recovery for the really large loss the corrections officers have and continue to suffer.

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