On remand from the Ninth Circuit, the United States District Court for the Southern District of California issued its decision on August 27, 2012, holding Affinity Logistics Corporation (“Affinity”), a motor carrier, carried its burden of establishing it properly classified as independent contractors a certified class of former owner-operator delivery drivers (the “contractors”) under California law. Ruiz v. Affinity Logistics Corp., No. 05CV2125, slip op. at 21 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 27, 2012).
The Southern District previously reached this same conclusion under Georgia law, which applies a presumption of independent contractor status, to the facts adduced at a three-day bench trial. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit concluded California, not Georgia, law should apply to the contractors’ relationship with Affinity and remanded the case. California law applies a presumption of employment status that a putative employer may overcome if the weight of the evidence supports a finding of independent contractor status when the court applies a multi-factor, common law right of control test.
When it revisited the issue under California law, the Southern District applied the right of control test with “with deference for the remedial purposes of California’s protective legislation.” Id. at 6. This notwithstanding, the court found evidence that the contractors could “hire others to complete the deliveries Affinity hired them to do is strong evidence suggesting that Affinity did not have the requisite level of control over the manner and means of [the contractors’] work.” Id. at 7. The court further found the majority of the “secondary factors” considered by California courts, including, e.g., investment in equipment and opportunity for profit or loss, among others, favored independent contractor status. Id. at 20-21.
While the court further found Affinity exercised “some control” over the contractors, the court deemed this evidence irrelevant to the ultimate question because “this control was either unrelated to the manner and means by which [the contractors] accomplished their work, or it was a result of other factors—such as federal regulatory requirements or [customer] preferences—rather than direct control by Affinity.” Id. at 21.
The court therefore found in favor of Affinity. Judgment has been entered against the plaintiff and class of contractors. Plaintiff filed a Notice of Appeal on August 29, 2012.