United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
JUAN CARLOS MONTOYA, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated Plaintiff,
CRST EXPEDITED, INC., and CRST INTERNATIONAL, INC. Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
B. SARIS, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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. 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.
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.
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).
following facts are drawn from the Plaintiff's First
Amended Complaint (Docket No. 90) (“FAC”) and
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.
Phase 1, participants must attend, without pay, a driver
training program at an educational facility operated by a
third party. Phase 2 consists of orientation, also
unpaid, at a site selected by CRST. 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.
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.
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
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
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.
Enforceability of the Forum-Selection Clause
Which Way to the Forum
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.
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 ...