Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro et al.

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Ninth Circuit

No. 16-1362. Argued January 17, 2018--Decided April 2, 2018

Respondents, current and former service advisors for petitioner Encino Motorcars, LLC, sued petitioner for backpay, alleging that petitioner violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by failing to pay them overtime. Petitioner moved to dismiss, arguing that service advisors are exempt from the FLSA’s overtime-pay requirement under 29 U. S. C. 213(b)(10)(A), which applies to “any salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles, trucks, or farm implements.” The District Court agreed and dismissed the suit. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. It found the statute ambiguous and the legislative history inconclusive, and it deferred to a 2011 Department of Labor rule that interpreted “salesman” to exclude service advisors. This Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s judgment, holding that courts could not defer to the procedurally defective 2011 rule, Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro, 579 U. S. ___, ___–___ (Encino I), but not deciding whether the exemption covers service advisors, id., at ___. On remand, the Ninth Circuit again held that the exemption does not include service advisors.

Held: Because service advisors are “salesm[e]n . . . primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles,” they are exempt from the FLSA’s overtime-pay requirement. Pp. 5–11.

(a) A service advisor is obviously a “salesman.” The ordinary meaning of “salesman” is someone who sells goods or services, and service advisors “sell [customers] services for their vehicles,” Encino I, supra, at ___. P. 6.

(b) Service advisors are also “primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles.” “Servicing” can mean either “the action of maintaining or repairing a motor vehicle” or “[t]he action of providing a service.” 15 Oxford English Dictionary 39. Service advisors satisfy both definitions because they are integral to the servicing process. They “mee[t] customers; liste[n] to their concerns about their cars; sugges[t] repair and maintenance services; sel[l] new accessories or replacement parts; recor[d] service orders; follo[w] up with customers as the services are performed (for instance, if new problems are discovered); and explai[n] the repair and maintenance work when customers return for their vehicles.” Encino I, supra, at ___. While service advisors do not spend most of their time physically repairing automobiles, neither do partsmen, who the parties agree are “primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles.” Pp. 6–7.

(c) The Ninth Circuit invoked the distributive canon—matching “salesman” with “selling” and “partsman [and] mechanic” with “[servicing]”—to conclude that the exemption simply does not apply to “salesm[e]n . . . primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles.” But the word “or,” which connects all of the exemption’s nouns and gerunds, is “almost always disjunctive.” United States v. Woods, 571 U. S. 31. Using “or” to join “selling” and “servicing” thus suggests that the exemption covers a salesman primarily engaged in either activity.

Statutory context supports this reading. First, the distributive canon has the most force when one-to-one matching is present, but here, the statute would require matching some of three nouns with one of two gerunds. Second, the distributive canon has the most force when an ordinary, disjunctive reading is linguistically impossible. But here, “salesman . . . primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles” is an apt description of a service advisor. Third, a narrow distributive phrasing is an unnatural fit here because the entire exemption bespeaks breadth, starting with “any” and using the disjunctive “or” three times. Pp. 7–9.

(d) The Ninth Circuit also invoked the principle that exemptions to the FLSA should be construed narrowly. But the Court rejects this principle as a guide to interpreting the FLSA. Because the FLSA gives no textual indication that its exemptions should be construed narrowly, they should be given a fair reading. P. 9.

(e) Finally, the Ninth Circuit’s reliance on two extraneous sources to support its interpretation—the 1966–1967 Occupational Outlook Handbook and the FLSA’s legislative history—is unavailing. Pp. 9–11.

845 F. 3d 925, reversed and remanded.

Thomas, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Alito, and Gorsuch, JJ., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined.