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Rice v. Diversified Specialty Pharmacy, LLC

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

July 22, 2016

Jonathan Rice [1]
v.
Diversified Specialty Pharmacy, [2] LLC et al. [3] No. 134250

         Filed July 26, 2016

          OPINION

          DENNIS J. CURRAN, Associate Justice.

         Jonathan Rice is a delivery driver for Commonwealth Medical Carriers, a courier service that provides delivery services for the defendant Partners Pharmacy Services, LLC. He seeks to certify and represent a class of similarly-situated drivers who deliver Partners' products to customers across the Commonwealth. He asserts that, although he and other drivers signed employment agreements which classified them as " independent contractors, " they are, in reality, employees of Partners and are therefore entitled to compensation for travel expenses, overtime pay, and other benefits from Partners under our state wage and hour laws, G.L.c. 149, and our independent contractor law, G.L.c. 149, § 148B.

         Partners counters that neither Mr. Rice nor his putative class are Partners employees, and argues that the state laws which form the basis of the plaintiff's complaint are preempted by federal law, specifically, the Federal Aviation Administration Act, or " FAAA." It is on this basis that Partners has filed a motion for summary judgment. Mr. Rice counters that the FAAA is inapplicable to Partners. After a careful review of the parties' voluminous submissions on the preemption issue, the Court must agree that Mr. Rice's claims are indeed preempted, and therefore orders that Partners' motion for summary judgment be ALLOWED.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Partners provides " institutional pharmacy services" to customers throughout the Commonwealth. These services include, primarily, the distribution of pharmacy supplies and medications to rest homes, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities. It provides these services through a network of related limited liability companies in Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Massachusetts.

         A major component of Partners' customer service model is the delivery of the pharmaceutical products it sells directly to its consumers. Direct delivery is the sole manner in which products are provided to customers. These delivery services are a significant component of the pricing for Partners' services and the products it sells. To provide these services, Partners contracts with independent courier companies such as Commonwealth Medical Carriers, which, in turn, hire individual drivers such as Mr. Rice (and members of his proposed class) to transport and deliver Partners' products. These drivers typically use their own vehicles to deliver the products, and are classified as independent contractors.

         Partners does not reimburse drivers like Mr. Rice for any costs associated with the maintenance or insurance of their personal vehicles, the cost of fuel, mileage, or any other associated incidental costs.

         Partners complains that its product pricing, services, and delivery routes would all be significantly impacted if it were required to directly employ delivery drivers and classify them as employees. It contends that these added costs would substantially affect its profitability, pricing, as well as the routes and services it provides to customers. Although these financial concerns are of paramount concern to Partners, they must also be considered to a lesser, but nevertheless certain extent by the Court, because of the preemption law defense invoked by Partners.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

          Partners is entitled to summary judgment if it can demonstrate that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Mass.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Cassesso v. Commissioner of Corr., 390 Mass. 419, 422, 456 N.E.2d 1123 (1983). Partners, as the moving party, carries the burden of affirmatively demonstrating the absence of a triable issue, and may satisfy its burden either by submitting affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the plaintiff's case, or by demonstrating that the plaintiff has no reasonable expectation of proving an essential element of his case at trial. Flesner v. Technical Commc'n Corp., 410 Mass. 805, 809, 575 N.E.2d 1107 (1991). If Partners meets this burden, Mr. Rice is obligated to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial if he wishes to survive summary judgment. O'Brion, Russell & Co. v. LeMay, 370 Mass. 243, 245, 346 N.E.2d 861 (1976). He may not rest on his pleadings and mere assertions of disputed facts. LaLonde v. Eissner, 405 Mass. 207, 209, 539 N.E.2d 538 (1989). The Court, as it must, reviews the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, as the nonmoving party, but does not weigh evidence, assess credibility, or find facts. Community Nat'l Bank v. Dawes, 369 Mass. 550, 553, 340 N.E.2d 877 (1976).

         This action is appropriately decided on Partners' motion for summary judgment where the essential facts set out above are not in dispute, and where the disagreements among the parties concern only legal questions.

         ANALYSIS

         Applicability ...


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