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Moody v. Royal Wolf Lodge

Supreme Court of Alaska

November 14, 2014

JEFF MOODY, Appellant and Cross-Appellee,
v.
ROYAL WOLF LODGE, LINDA BRANHAM, and CHRIS BRANHAM, Appellees and Cross-Appellants

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Stephanie E. Joannides, Judge. Superior Court No. 3AN-08-07621 CI.

Kenneth W. Legacki, Anchorage, for Appellant and Cross-Appellee.

William M. Bankston and John R. Crone, Bankston Gronning O'Hara, P.C., Anchorage, for Appellees and Cross-Appellants.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.

OPINION

Page 637

BOLGER, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

A pilot who worked at a remote fishing lodge filed a claim under the Alaska Wage and Hour Act (AWHA) for unpaid overtime wages. Applying the four-part test of Dayhoff v. Temsco Helicopters, Inc.,[1] the superior court concluded that the pilot was a " professional employee" who was exempt from the overtime requirement. But the legislature amended AWHA in 2005 to adopt the federal definition of this exemption.[2] The federal definition restricts the exemption to employees in " professions where specialized academic training is a standard prerequisite." [3] Applying this definition, we conclude that the pilot was not exempt under AWHA and reverse.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Facts

Chris and Linda Branham own and operate the Royal Wolf Lodge, a fishing lodge that operates seasonally from June to September. The lodge is located in Katmai National Park, a remote location without access to roads. Employees reside on the premises during the season, and all materials must be flown in by airplane. The lodge first hired Jeff Moody as a pilot for the 2002 summer season and terminated him after the 2007 season.

Moody was the only pilot who flew the lodge's de Havilland Beaver aircraft. The parties contest the details of Moody's responsibilities at the lodge, but they agree that Moody was responsible for many tasks involving the airplane. For example, Moody flew clients between the lodge and the fishing destinations, prepared and cleaned the airplane, and monitored it for potential mechanical problems. He also flew food, fuel, and other supplies to the lodge. When he was not on duty, Moody was allowed to engage in personal errands and leisure activities.

Although Moody does not have a college degree and did not receive flight training in a formal academic setting, he hired flight instructors to teach him, and he studied from manuals to take the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) oral and written tests. Moody holds a commercial pilot license, an airline transport pilot license, a certified flight instructor rating, an instrument rating, a multi-engine rating, a single engine land rating, a single engine sea rating, and a second class medical certificate. His experience includes over 14,000 hours of flight time.

B. Proceedings

Moody filed a complaint against Chris Branham, Linda Branham, and the Royal Wolf Lodge (together " Royal Wolf Lodge" ) for unpaid overtime wages from the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Moody had a written employment agreement for those seasons, and he

Page 638

was paid $9,500 per month in 2006 and $9,750 per month in 2007. Moody claimed that he had worked more than eight hours per day and more than 40 hours per week and that he was therefore entitled to overtime pay under AWHA. Royal Wolf Lodge contended that Moody was a professional employee and was thus exempt from AWHA's protections.

At trial, Royal Wolf Lodge presented evidence that Moody was paid a set monthly salary equivalent to 40 hours regular pay and 32 hours overtime pay per week. But some of Royal Wolf Lodge's evidence was inconsistent. Chris Branham testified that Moody's salary was for a 30-day period, but he also testified that Moody was paid by calendar month. Moody's employment contract specified that his salary was based on 30 days per month, but it listed hourly rates inconsistent with Chris Branham's testimony. The parties also disagreed about whether Moody worked overtime hours.

Applying the four-part test of Dayhoff v. Temsco Helicopters, Inc.,[4] the superior court ruled that Moody was an exempt professional employee who was not entitled to overtime pay under AWHA, regardless of the number of hours he worked. But the court determined that, by the terms of his employment contract, Moody was entitled to extra pay if he worked more than 30 days per calendar month or more than six days per week. The court found that Moody worked every day during the 2006 and 2007 seasons and awarded him unpaid wages for the 31st days of July and August for both seasons as well as for the extra day per week he worked.

Both sides moved to adjust the award. Royal Wolf Lodge sought attorney's fees under Alaska Civil Rules 68 and 82. Moody opposed this motion, arguing that he was the prevailing party and that, under AS 23.10.110(f), a defendant cannot be awarded attorney's fees when a plaintiff litigates his AWHA claim in good faith. Moody also reiterated his claim that Royal Wolf Lodge had violated AWHA and argued that he was entitled to mandatory liquidated damages and attorney's fees under AS 23.10.110(a) and (c). He further claimed that he was entitled to receive an additional penalty payment from Royal Wolf Lodge under AS 23.10.140.[5]

The superior court determined that Moody was the prevailing party and that Royal Wolf Lodge was not entitled to an award of attorney's fees. But the court, noting its previous conclusion that Moody was exempt from AWHA, also rejected Moody's argument for a larger award under AS 23.10.110. And the court rejected Moody's argument for a penalty payment under AS 23.05.140 based on its findings that Moody's right to overtime compensation was unsettled when he left Royal Wolf Lodge and that Royal Wolf Lodge had not intentionally withheld compensation from him. The superior court issued a final ...


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