CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has ruled that the downtime between transporting students in Jackson County between the schools and their vocational school does not count as hours worked.
Edwin E. Staats appealed Kanawha Circuit Court's Feb. 9, order affirming the West Virginia Public Employee Grievance Board's June 13, 2014, order denying his grievance.
On appeal, Staats alleged the administrative law judge erred in finding that the time he spent between dropping students off and picking them up from the local vocational school did not count as hours worked, according to the decision.
Justices Robin Jean Davis, Brent D. Benjamin, Menis E. Ketchum and Allen H. Loughry II all concurred in the decision. Chief Justice Margaret L. Workman did not participate in the decision.
"This court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal," the decision states. "The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument."
Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs and the record presented, the court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error, according to the decision. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court’s order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.
Staats is employed as a school bus driver by Jackson County Board of Education, and, in addition to his regular duties, he was also employed to provide transportation for students from the county's two high schools to the vocational school for a morning session.
Per the school board's policies, the bus must remain at the vocational school until the students are to return several hours later. Staats is free to leave the vocational school, but it is located in a remote area, and he alleged he has no practical way of leaving the vocational school’s premises.
Prior to March 7, 2013, Staats and other bus operators who transported students to the vocational school would take one bus into town to run errands and return in time to pick up the students. However, in a memorandum dated March 7, 2013, the assistant superintendent for respondent stated that this violated applicable policies and that the bus operators were to remain at the vocational school during the time between transporting students.
By memorandum dated April 10, 2013, the assistant superintendent clarified that his earlier memorandum, stating that only the buses had to remain on the vocational school’s premises and the bus drivers were free to leave the premises while waiting to transport the students from the vocational center.
In March 2013, Staats filed a grievance against the board, seeking to have the time he spent waiting between trips to and from the local vocational center counted as hours worked.
Following a Level One conference, the superintendent for respondent granted, in part, and denied, in part, his grievance by letter dated April 29, 2013. The grievance was granted, in part, for the period of March 7, 2013, through April 13, 2013, based upon the fact that bus operators were required to stay on the premises during this time period.
On Aug. 8, 2013, a Level Two mediation was held, which ultimately proved unsuccessful. Staats then filed for a Level Three grievance and the Level Three hearing was held in December 2013, after which the Administrative Law Judge denied the grievance upon a finding that the approximately two hours of downtime between transporting the students to and from the vocational center was not considered hours worked.
Staats the appealed the decision to the circuit court and the circuit court affirmed the Grievance Board’s decision. Staats then appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
"Upon our review, the court finds no error in the circuit court’s decision below," the decision states. "Specifically, petitioner’s argument on appeal mirrors that raised before the circuit court; namely that, pursuant to West Virginia Code § 18A-4-8(q), his time spent between transporting students to and from the vocational school must be considered hours worked."
The Supreme Court stated that upon its review and consideration of the circuit court’s order, the parties’ arguments and the record submitted on appeal, they found no error or abuse of discretion by the circuit court.
"Our review of the record supports the circuit court’s decision to affirm the administrative law judge’s ruling based upon the specific findings and petitioner’s arguments on appeal ..," the decision states. "Indeed, the circuit court’s order includes well-reasoned findings and conclusions as to the assignments of error raised on appeal."
The Supreme Court ruled that, given their conclusion that the circuit court’s order and the record reflected no error, they adopted and incorporated the circuit court’s findings and conclusions as they relate to petitioner’s assignments of error raised.
Staats was represented by John Everett Roush.
Jackson County Board of Education was represented by Howard E. Seufer Jr. and Joshua A. Cottle.
W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals case number: 15-0227