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Harney v. Speedway SuperAmerica

May 30, 2008

BRIAN HARNEY, BRETT DEBOARD AND DARLA GREINER, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
SPEEDWAY SUPERAMERICA, LLC, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 05 C 1912-Larry J. McKinney, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bauer, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED APRIL 18, 2008

Before BAUER, FLAUM and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

Plaintiffs brought a class action lawsuit against their employer, Speedway SuperAmerica LLC, alleging that the manner in which Speedway pays and forfeits its employees' bonuses violates Indiana's Wage Payment Statute and Wage Claims Statute. The district court granted summary judgment to Speedway, finding that Plaintiffs' bonuses did not constitute "wages" under Indiana law, and therefore the two statutes did not apply. At best, the district court held, the bonuses were a form of "deferred compensation," which were forfeited when Plaintiffs failed to meet the bonuses' condition of continued employment with Speedway. Plaintiffs now appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment to Speedway, claiming that the district court erred in determining that the bonuses were not "wages" under Indiana law, and that the retention element of Speedway's bonus programs violates Indiana law.

We have reviewed the issues addressed by the district court and have determined that it ruled appropriately and without error in granting Speedway's motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, we adopt the district court's thorough and well-reasoned order, dated September 13, 2007, as our own and affirm the judgment of the lower court on all counts. A copy of the district court's order is attached and incorporated herein.

Plaintiffs also move to certify certain questions of state law to the Indiana Supreme Court, and to stay this appeal pending a decision from the Indiana Supreme Court. Plaintiffs contend that there is no clear controlling precedent to guide the state law issues of (1) whether the Plaintiffs' bonuses constitute "wages" under Indiana law; (2) whether the retention element of Speedway's bonus programs violates Indiana law (specifically, Indiana's Ten Day Rule) and is void as a matter of law; and (3) whether Speedway's bon uses constitute "present" or "deferred" compensation.

A case is appropriate for certification where it " 'concerns a matter of vital public concern, where the issue is likely to recur in other cases, where resolution of the question to be certified is outcome determinative of the case, and where the state supreme court has yet to have an opportunity to illuminate a clear path on the issue.' " Plastics Eng'g Co. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 514 F.3d 651, 659 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Allstate Ins. Co. v. Menards, Inc., 285 F.3d 630, 639 n.18 (7th Cir. 2002)); see also Cir. R. 52; Ind. R.App. P. 64(A). Questions that are tied to the specific facts of a case are typically not ideal candidates for certification. Plastics Eng'g Co., 514 F.3d at 659. Thus, if certification would produce a fact bound, particularized decision lacking broad precedential significance, certification is inappropriate. Id. (citing Erie Ins. Group v. Sear Corp., 102 F.3d 889, 892 (7th Cir. 1996)).

This case hinges entirely on whether the Plaintiffs' bonuses were "wages" under Indiana law, since Indiana law makes clear that bonuses may be conditioned how-ever an employer sees fit, and that these bonuses would at best be deferred compensation subject to forfeiture. Dove v. Rose Acre Farms, Inc., 434 N.E.2d 931, 934 (Ind. Ct. App. 1982) ("An employee is not entitled to a bonus until after the time stipulated in the contract for its payment, or until other conditions designated in the contract for its payment have been fulfilled . . ."); Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Guignet, 45 N.E.2d 337, 339-40 (Ind. Ct. App. 1942) (explaining that bonuses contingent on continued employment are valid and benefits of bonus are not conferred upon employee unless all conditions of the bonuses are met); Swift v. Speedway SuperAmerica LLC, 861 N.E.2d 1212, 1215-16 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), reh'g and trans. denied (concluding that these same bonuses were at best deferred compensation but were forfeited because employee had failed to meet the eligibility requirement of continued employment). So, we need only decide if certification is appropriate on the issue of whether Plaintiffs' bonuses constitute "wages" under Indiana law.

Our analysis in this case involves the interpretation of a specific bonus program of a single Indiana employer as applied to Plaintiffs' particular factual circumstances. It is difficult to see how the determination of these employees' personal circumstances could have a far-reaching precedential effect for others. As the district court's opinion makes clear, the Indiana Supreme Court has provided guidance on when bonuses constitute "wages" under Indiana law. Because Plaintiffs are merely seeking a determination that their bonuses constitute wages, this case is not appropriate for certification.

We affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment to Speedway and deny Plaintiffs' request for certification.

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA INDIANAPOLIS DIVISION

ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

This cause is before the Court on Defendant's, Speedway SuperAmerica, LLC ("Speedway"), Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 22). Plaintiffs, Brian Harney ("Harney"), Brett DeBord ("DeBord")*fn1 , and Darla Greiner ("Greiner") (these defendants collectively, "the Managers"), filed this lawsuit in state court before it was removed to this Court pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. The Managers seek to recover on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated pursuant to Indiana's Wage Claims Statute (Indiana Code ยง 22-2-9-1 et seq.) and Wage Payment Statute (Indiana ...


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