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Matt Stubblefield, John Knapp v. Town of West Yellowstone

March 26, 2013

MATT STUBBLEFIELD, JOHN KNAPP, AND NEIL COURTIS, PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
TOWN OF WEST YELLOWSTONE, DEFENDANT AND APPELLEE.



APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Gallatin, Cause No. 08-807AX Honorable John C. Brown, Presiding Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Michael E Wheat

Submitted on Briefs: November 21, 2012

Decided: March 26, 2013

Filed:

Clerk

Justice Michael E Wheat delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Plaintiffs Matt Stubblefield, John Knapp, and Neil Courtis (plaintiffs), police officers in West Yellowstone, Montana, appeal the District Court's denial of their combined motions to amend the judgment and for a new trial. We affirm.

¶2 We restate the issue on appeal as follows:

¶3 1. Did the District Court err by denying the plaintiffs' combined M. R. Civ. P. 59 motions for a new trial and to amend the judgment?

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

¶4 Plaintiffs are employed as police officers by the defendant Town of West Yellowstone, Montana (the Town). West Yellowstone is a small community in Gallatin County and serves as the western entrance to Yellowstone National Park. West Yellowstone receives thousands, if not millions, of visitors during the summer months due to its proximity to Yellowstone. During the off-season, however, services and amenities are limited, expensive, or altogether unavailable. Despite its relative remoteness, the town is attractive for its proximity to a variety of outdoor activities.

¶5 Officer Stubblefield has been employed as police officer in West Yellowstone since 2004, while Officers Knapp and Courtis have been employed by the Town since 2007. The plaintiffs largely relocated to West Yellowstone to partake in its recreational opportunities. However, the plaintiffs contend that the Town's on-call policy for police officers prior to 2009 was so restrictive that they could not engage in personal activities between shifts. They thus claim that they should have been compensated for their time spent on call under the Fair Labor Standards Act, § 29 U.S.C. 201, et seq. (2011) (FLSA).

¶6 The following facts concerning the on-call policy are undisputed. During the relevant time frame, the Town generally employed four police officers. One police officer was on duty at all times, with one officer working the day shift (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and another working the night shift (6 p.m. to 6 a.m.). Work periods lasted for two weeks, and officers worked three 12-hour shifts one week and four 12-hour shifts the next, totaling 84 hours of work per 14-day period.*fn1 From the beginning of their employment until a change in the collective bargaining agreement in March 2009, each officer was also required to be on-call for the 12 hours immediately preceding their shift. Thus, if an officer worked the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday day shifts, he would be on call Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights from 6 p.m. until the start of his shift at 6 a.m. the next morning.

ΒΆ7 This on-call requirement stemmed from the Town's policies requiring an additional police officer to provide backup for certain more-dangerous situations like crimes in progress, most disorderly conduct calls, and partner or family member assault. Other requests for backup were made according to the responding officer's discretion. Because the on-call requirement was intended to provide backup for potentially dangerous situations, the on-call officer was provided a cell phone and expected to be reachable at all times. This responsiveness required the plaintiffs to stay within cell service areas and keep their phone ringers loud enough to wake them if a call came while they were sleeping. The officers were also apparently expected to respond immediately, be in some sort of clothing that identified them as police officers, to have their police ...


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