The Missouri Supreme Court will hear remote oral arguments on Wednesday morning in a case involving a lower court’s decision to award more than $113 million in overtime pay for Missouri corrections officers.
Because of COVID-19 concerns, only Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice George Draper is expected to be in the Jefferson City courtroom on Wednesday. He’ll face a screen through which attorneys will participate remotely by videoconference. The other six judges will be participating remotely via teleconference. You will be able to listen to the oral arguments live on the Supreme Court’s website.
This will only be the second time in history that the Missouri Supreme Court has used remote arguments. The first time was last week in the Lamar Johnson case.
Wednesday’s oral arguments are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.
Following a jury trial, Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce awarded the money to the corrections officers, and has also ordered the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) to pay for pre- and post-shift activities for officers, such as time to pick up and return radios and inventory weapons.
A corrections officer named Thomas Hootselle Jr. and other officers sued the DOC, on behalf of a proposed class of more than 13,000 officers, for allegedly failing to pay them under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act for pre- and post-shift activities. Labor agreements executed between the DOC and the Missouri Corrections Officers Association do not specifically address pre- and post-shift activities.
The Cole County circuit court has ruled that pre- and post-shift activities are compensable.
The DOC is being represented at the Missouri Supreme Court by the state attorney general’s office. In its 127-page brief, state Solicitor General D. John Sauer says the court erred in its decision and ruled in favor of the corrections officers after a one-sided jury trial. Sauer says only the corrections officers were allowed to present expert evidence.
“This case involves a judgment imposing enormous liability on Missouri’s taxpayers without legal justification,” Sauer writes in his brief to the Missouri Supreme Court.
Mr. Sauer is asking the high court to reverse the circuit court’s decision.
Mr. Hootselle and the corrections officers are represented by St. Louis attorney Gary Burger.
In his 135-page brief to the Missouri Supreme Court, Mr. Burger says the class of more than 13,000 Missouri corrections officers “risk their lives every day maintaining safety and security at appellant Missouri Department of Corrections’ prisons.” He says the DOC requires its officers to perform pre- and post-shift activities that are critical to prison safety and security, but has refused to pay the officers for these activities.
“The officers’ claim here is simple: MDOC must pay guards for guarding,” Burger writes.
Counselor Berger also says that the time between shift changes, when pre- and post-shift activities happen, “are often when prisoners attack others, try to escape, or try to smuggle contraband.”
The class action lawsuit began in 2012, and the circuit court issued its ruling in 2018.
While the Missouri Supreme Court will hear the case on Wednesday, there is no timetable on when they will issue a decision.
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