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Montoya v. CRST Expedited, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 30, 2018

JUAN CARLOS MONTOYA, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated Plaintiff,




         This case involves a putative class of truck drivers who seek redress for alleged unpaid wages and unlawful deductions from their pay. The named Plaintiff is Juan Montoya, a former employee of the Defendants, CRST Expedited, Inc., and CRST International, Inc.[1] His complaint asserts causes of action under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), and various provisions of Iowa law.

         In March 2016, the Defendants moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or to transfer to the Northern District of Iowa under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). They relied primarily upon a forum-selection clause in one of Montoya's employment contracts that fixes venue in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. At a hearing in February 2017, the Court denied the motion without prejudice, mainly due to concerns about whether Montoya, whose native language is Spanish, was able to comprehend the forum-selection clause, which, like the rest of the contract, was written in English. The Court also expressed uncertainty over what weight to afford a forum-selection clause in an FLSA action. After discovery, the Defendants renewed their motion to dismiss or transfer in September 2017, which the Plaintiff opposed. The renewed motion is now ripe for decision.

         After considering the initial record and the parties' supplemental materials, the Court declines to enforce the forum-selection clause against Montoya because to do so would be unreasonable and unjust. The Court further concludes that CRST has not met its substantial burden to override the plaintiff's choice of forum, as required under § 1404(a) when the parties are not bound by an enforceable forum-selection clause. Therefore, the Court again DENIES the Defendants' motion to dismiss or transfer (Docket No. 7).


         The following facts are drawn from the Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (Docket No. 90) (“FAC”) and attached documents.

         Montoya, a resident of Boston, Massachusetts, worked for CRST from October to December 2014. Both CRST entities are Iowa corporations that ship goods in interstate commerce. The Defendants recruited drivers, including Montoya, by promising sign-on bonuses and “free” commercial driver's license (“CDL”) training. CRST requires new drivers to complete a training program that consists of four phases.

         In Phase 1, participants must attend, without pay, a driver training program at an educational facility operated by a third party.[2] Phase 2 consists of orientation, also unpaid, at a site selected by CRST.[3] Phase 3 entails hands-on over-the-road training with another CRST driver. In Phase 4, drivers receive specialized classroom training and mentoring. During Phases 3 and 4, drivers are paid at a per-mile rate while they are driving, but they are not paid when the truck is not moving (e.g., loading and unloading time) or when another driver is driving.

         Drivers are required to attend Phase 1 training regardless of whether they already possess a valid CDL. Only after traveling to the third-party facility are drivers asked to sign a Pre-Employment Driver Training Agreement, the first of two contracts relevant to this case.

         The Pre-Employment Agreement explains that CRST considers the amounts it pays upfront for trainees to attend the Phase 1 and Phase 2 programs -- for instance, their travel, lodging, and tuition expenses -- to be advances. Accordingly, the Pre-Employment Agreement provides, in part, that if a driver is dismissed or withdraws from the program prior to Phase 3, or breaches the subsequent Employment Contract or is terminated within eight months of being hired, the driver must repay the advanced sums -- an amount that “will equal or exceed the sum of $2, 000” -- plus interest. Alternatively, once a trainee completes the first week of Phase 4, CRST begins to deduct up to $40 per week from the driver's weekly pay until the advanced sums are repaid in full.

         After completing Phase 2, drivers are required to sign the second relevant contract, the CRST Driver Employment Contract. This document reiterates the repayment provisions just discussed. It also includes a choice-of-law and forum-selection clause stating that Iowa law shall govern interpretation of the contract and that “any claim, litigation, or dispute arising from or related to this Contract shall be litigated in the appropriate federal or state court located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.”

         The FAC alleges that, as a result of the practices described above, CRST drivers are often paid less than the federal minimum wage. It also alleges, among other things, that CRST makes deductions from drivers' paychecks for improper purposes, that certain deductions constitute unlawful kickbacks to the Defendants, and that CRST charges an excessive interest rate.


         I. Enforceability of the Forum-Selection Clause

         A. Which Way to the Forum

         In seeking to enforce the forum-selection clause through dismissal or transfer, CRST argues that Montoya's English language proficiency is irrelevant to whether the clause is enforceable. In the alternative, it argues that Montoya's job application, deposition testimony, and other evidence unearthed in discovery reveal that Montoya's English is not so poor as to preclude enforcement of the forum-selection clause. It also argues that forum-selection clauses are routinely enforced in FLSA cases.[4]

         Montoya argues that discovery has bolstered his assertion that he is unable to read written English and therefore could not have understood the forum-selection clause in the Employment Contract. He also argues that the circumstances under which he signed the Employment Contract would make it unreasonable and unjust for the Court to enforce the forum-selection clause against him. Alternatively, Montoya argues ...

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