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Debnam v. FedEx Home Delivery

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 8, 2014

DARRELL D. DEBNAM, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
FEDEX HOME DELIVERY, a division of FEDEX GROUND PACKAGE SYSTEM, INC., Defendant, Appellee

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS. Hon. George A. O'Toole, U.S. District Judge.

James W. Simpson for appellant.

William M. Jay, with whom James C. Rehnquist, Kate E. MacLeman, Molly Rhodes, and Goodwin Procter LLP were on brief, for appellee.

Before Kayatta, Baldock,[*] and Selya, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 94

KAYATTA, Circuit Judge.

Darrell Debnam filed a complaint against FedEx asserting wage payment claims that can only be brought by an employee against an employer, and also asserting an unfair business practice claim under Massachusetts' so-called " Chapter 93A," Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. 93A, that cannot be brought by an employee against his employer as such. The actual facts alleged in the complaint painted an ambiguous relationship between Debnam and FedEx. Conclusory allegations of the complaint, however, forcefully and without reservation staked out the position that Debnam was a FedEx employee. Reading the complaint through the prism of the unambiguous conclusory allegations, the district court dismissed the Chapter 93A claim as incompatible with an employer/employee relationship. Debnam thereafter made no attempt to amend his complaint, despite ample opportunity to do so. After discovery, the district court ruled on summary judgment that Debnam was not an employee under the wage law, dismissing his remaining claim. Debnam now appeals the district court's earlier dismissal of his Chapter 93A claim to the extent that dismissal was predicated on his being an employee. We affirm, concluding that regardless of whether Debnam was an employee, the allegations in his complaint do not plausibly establish that his actions satisfied Chapter 93A's conception of " trade or commerce," as required to prevail under the relevant provision of Chapter 93A.

I. Background

Because this appeal challenges the dismissal of Debnam's claim on a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), we take as true the facts presented in his complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. A.G. ex rel. Maddox v. Elsevier, Inc., 732 F.3d 77, 80 (1st Cir. 2013).

Debnam began work for FedEx in 2004. Starting as a driver with a single route, he soon acquired the rights to service multiple routes, operating nine of them as of June 2009. In this capacity, Debnam owned or leased eleven delivery vehicles, which he paid to maintain, repair, and insure. He also oversaw drivers working under him, paid their federal employment taxes, purchased their uniforms, and hired temporary replacements when they took time off.

Page 95

Debnam signed a form agreement with FedEx classifying him as an independent contractor.[1] Under the agreement, FedEx retained the right to:

o promulgate mandatory standards regarding the appearance of vehicles and drivers;
o promulgate mandatory standards regarding the qualifications of people ...

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