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Hickman v. Riverside Park Enterprises, Inc.

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk, Business Litigation Session

June 21, 2019

Dakota HICKMAN et al., Individually and on Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated
v.
RIVERSIDE PARK ENTERPRISES, INC. dba Six Flags New England et al.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Kenneth W. Salinger, Justice

         Dakota Hickman and Matthew D’Agostino work at the Six Flags New England amusement park. They claim that the park’s owner, Riverside Park Enterprises, Inc., violated Massachusetts law by not paying overtime and for meal breaks. The court (Sanders, J.) certified a class as to overtime pay, for seasonal hourly workers employed since February 2013, but denied class certification as to meal break pay.

         The overtime claims turn primarily on whether and to what extent Riverside can claim the statutory exemption for amusement park employees. By law, amusement parks that operate their rides and other attractions for no more than 150 days during a year do not have to pay overtime wages. See G.L.c. 151, § 1A(20).

         Plaintiffs and Defendants have each moved for partial summary judgment as to liability on the overtime claims.

         Defendants are entitled to summary judgment in their favor as to hours worked during 2013, 2014, and 2016; the amusement park exemption applies because Riverside operated its attractions for no more than 150 days during those years.

         But Plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment in their favor, at least in substantial part, as to hours worked during 2015, 2017, and 2018, because Riverside operated its attractions for more than 150 days during each of those years. With respect to 2015, Defendants’ argument that some days the Park was open should count only as "partial" days is unavailing. With respect to 2017 and 2018, although hours worked during the "Holiday in the Park" days in November and December fall within the seasonal exemption to the overtime statute, they still count as days that Riverside’s facility was being operated as an amusement park.

         1. Undisputed Material Facts

         The following facts are not in dispute, at least for the purpose of resolving the cross motions for partial summary judgment, as demonstrated in the evidentiary materials submitted by the parties or reasonable inferences that one could draw from those facts.

         Riverside owns and operates Six Flags N.E. amusement park in Agawam, Massachusetts ("Six Flags N.E."). Co-defendant John Winkler has been President of Riverside throughout the relevant period.

         During its regular operating season, Six Flags N.E. consists of a theme park and water park offering thrill rides, water rides (offered during the summer months only), games, shows, concessions, and other attractions. The regular season runs from April (when the park opens for the year) to around the end of October. The water rides generally open in late May on Memorial Day weekend and close for the year in early September on Labor Day. Riverside hires roughly 3, 000 seasonal, hourly employees each year to work at Six Flags N.E. In addition, 110 to 115 hourly employees work for Riverside at this facility on a year-round basis performing mechanic and trade skill duties, to maintain the facility and keep it in good repair.

         During 2017 and 2018, Six Flags N.E. was also open from late November to around the end of December for a second season that Riverside calls "Holiday in the Park." During that period the facility continues to function as an amusement park with thrill rides (but no water rides), games, shows, and other attractions. Weather permitting, sledding and ice skating are also available. And Riverside adds seasonally-themed entertainment, such as a Santa’s Workshop and strolling carolers, as well as Christmas-related decorations.

         The Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards granted seasonal exemptions from the overtime wage law, pursuant to G.L.c. 151, § 1A(9), for hours worked during the 2017 and 2018 Holiday in the Park periods.

         The seasonal employees work at Six Flags N.E. at certain times when Riverside is not operating its amusement park attractions. Some of them work before the regular season doing maintenance, hiring and training employees, ordering and stocking supplies, and other tasks to prepare the park for opening. Some work on certain days during the regular season when the park is not open, doing maintenance, training, and other activities not involving or related to operation of the park’s attractions. In addition, some seasonal employees work at the facility after the park closes for the year, doing clean-up, housekeeping, and other tasks to close the facility at the end of its operating year.

         During 2013, Six Flags N.E. was open to the public and generated attendance revenue by operating the amusement park’s attractions for a total of 148 days.

         During 2014, Riverside again operated the Six Flags N.E. amusement park attractions for a total of either 147 or 148 days. The park was open to the public and generated attendance revenue on 147 days. In addition, Riverside held a media day promotional event on May 15, 2014, to introduce a new ride called "the New England Sky Screamer" to the media and non-paying invited guests. On that day Riverside operated many of the Six Flags N.E. rides, though it did not operate any games, shows, or concessions and did not generate any attendance revenue. On three other days in May 2014, Riverside rented the Six Flag N.E. parking lots to a company that hosted a car show there; according to Riverside’s Rule 30(b)(6) witness, during the car show the vender "brought in fancy high end vehicles, that a ...


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