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Kieninger v. Crown Equipment Corp.

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

March 20, 2019

Christopher Kieninger and Dewayne Meek, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Crown Equipment Corporation d/b/a Crown Lift Trucks, LLC, Defendant-Respondent-Petitioner.

          ORAL ARGUMENT: October 12, 2018

          SOURCE OF APPEAL Circuit, L.C. No. 2014CV2791, Dane Ellen K. Berz Judge.

         REVIEW OF DECISION OF THE COURT OF APPEALS Reported at 380 Wis.2d 282, 913 N.W.2d 234 (2018 - unpublished)

          For the defendant-respondent-petitioner, there were briefs filed by David J.B. Froiland, Christine Bestor Townsend, and Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak, & Stewart, P.C., Milwaukee, with whom on the briefs were Lynn M. Stathas, Malinda J. Eskra, and Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren S.C., Madison. There was an oral argument by David J.B. Froiland.

          For the plaintiffs-appellants, there was a brief filed by Kurt C. Kobelt and Law Offices of Kurt C. Kobelt, Middleton. There was an oral argument by Kurt C. Kobelt.

          DANIEL KELLY, J.

         ¶1 Messrs. Christopher Kieninger and Dewayne Meek tell us that Wisconsin's statutes and regulations require their employer to pay them for the time they spend driving a company-provided vehicle between their homes and their assigned jobsites.[1] Because our laws do not impose such an obligation, we reverse the court of appeals.

         I. BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Crown manufactures industrial equipment, including forklifts. It employs field service technicians ("Technicians") throughout Wisconsin to service that equipment. Technicians travel to customers' locations in Crown's vans, which are stocked with the tools, equipment, and supplies necessary to their work.[2] Crown's dispatchers and the Technicians collaboratively schedule the service calls to, in part, minimize travel time and maximize time spent serving the customers. Technicians typically are able to choose which service calls will be the first and last of the day.

         ¶3 Technicians have the choice of commuting between work and home in either their personal vehicles or the company's vans. A Technician choosing the former drives his personal vehicle to his assigned branch prior to the beginning of his shift. There, he picks up the company van and makes his appointed rounds. At the end of his shift, he takes the van back to his branch location, and drives his personal vehicle home. If he chooses the latter option, he drives the company van home after the last service call of the shift, and the next day drives it directly to the first scheduled service call. Technicians who commute in a company van usually arrange the first and last appointments so they are as close to home as possible.

         ¶4 Crown pays its Technicians for all of the time they spend traveling between jobsites as well as between jobsites and Crown facilities. It does not pay them for commute time between home and work when using their personal vehicles. Commute time in a Crown-provided van is handled differently. Historically, Crown paid for time spent commuting in a company van between home and the first or last service call, except for the first 30 minutes of each. That policy changed in September 2013.

         ¶5 The new policy still allows a Technician to commute in one of Crown's vans. It provides that "[h]ourly Technicians who drive a company vehicle in the course of employment with Crown may be given the option to park the vehicle at home between shifts." With respect to compensation for travel between home and work, however, the Commute Travel Time Guidelines (the "Guidelines") now say the following:

         Commute Travel at the Beginning of the Work Day

         A technician will begin clocking compensated time when one of the following has occurred:

1. The technician has arrived at the customer guard shack or customer's parking space.
2. The technician has arrived at the branch.
3. The technician arrives at location for the vehicle to be serviced.
4. Forty five (45) minutes of commute travel has elapsed. Commute travel greater than 45 minutes at the beginning of the work day will be compensated.

         Commute Travel at the End of the Work Day

         The work day ends when all work related activities have been completed. This includes properly placing all tools and other items in the vehicle, completing all forms and paperwork, and communicating with dispatch as necessary. Commute time begins when the technician has left the last work location. A technician's commute from the assigned work area to home is not compensated.

         ¶6 Messrs. Kieninger and Meek are two of Crown's Technicians. They both opted to commute between home and work in Crown's vans, and each signed a copy of the Guidelines. Nevertheless, they believe that the entire time spent commuting between home and work in a company van is "an integral part of their jobs" for which they must be paid.

         ¶7 Mr. Kieninger filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (the "DWD") claiming entitlement to unpaid wages based on his commute time in a company van. The DWD dismissed the claim. Mr. Kieninger reprised his claim in a complaint filed in the Dane County Circuit Court, in which he proposed to represent a class comprising all similarly-situated Crown Technicians. He amended his complaint to add Mr. Meek as a named party, and the circuit court subsequently certified the class pursuant to Wis.Stat. § 803.08 (2013-14).[3] The parties filed competing motions for summary judgment on the question of whether commute time in a company-provided vehicle is compensable. They each assured the circuit court that the case presented no genuine issue as to any material fact.

         ¶8 The circuit court granted Crown's motion. It reasoned that it must interpret Wisconsin's labor laws consistently with federal labor laws. Because it concluded that the federal Employee Commuting Flexibility Act (the "ECFA")[4] definitively answered the question, it adopted a conforming interpretation of Wisconsin's labor regulations and dismissed the complaint. Messrs. Kieninger and Meek-we will refer to them collectively as "Mr. Kieninger" unless the context requires otherwise- appealed.

         ¶9 The court of appeals disagreed with the circuit court's use of the ECFA to develop an interpretation of Wisconsin's regulations. See Kieninger v. Crown Equipment Corp., No. 2017AP631, unpublished slip op., ¶21 (Wis. Ct. App. Jan. 18, 2018) ("Crown does not convincingly explain why ECFA language-wording that was not adopted by the Wisconsin Legislature-should control over the language actually in place."). As to whether Wisconsin's statutes and regulations- without reference to federal law-require payment for commuting time in a company-provided vehicle, the court of appeals said it was "uncertain whether under the correct standard there might be one or more genuine issues of material fact," id., ¶3, and so reversed the circuit court and remanded for further briefing. Crown petitioned for review.

         ¶10 We agree with the court of appeals that the ECFA does not guide our application of Wisconsin law in this case. However, we do not agree that further briefing is necessary, or that there may be a genuine dispute as to a material fact. We conclude that Crown is entitled to summary judgment in its favor, and so we reverse the court of appeals.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶11 We review the disposition of a motion for summary judgment de novo, applying the same methodology the circuit courts apply. Green Spring Farms v. Kersten, 136 Wis.2d 304, 315, 401 N.W.2d 816 (1987); see also Borek Cranberry Marsh, Inc. v. Jackson Cty., 2010 WI 95, ¶11, 328 Wis.2d 613, 785 N.W.2d 615 ("We review the grant of a motion for summary judgment de novo . . . .") . First, we "examine the pleadings to determine whether a claim for relief has been stated." Green Spring Farms, 136 Wis.2d at 315. Then, "[i]f a claim for relief has been stated, the inquiry . . . shifts to whether any factual issues exist." Id. Summary judgment is appropriate only "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment ...


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