Acosta v. Cathedral Buffet, Inc., No. 17-3427 (6th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Cathedral Buffet, an Ohio for-profit corporation, does not generate a profit. Its sole shareholder is Grace Cathedral, a 501(c)(3) non-profit religious organization, which subsidizes the restaurant. The restaurant separated its workers into “employees” and “volunteers.” Volunteers performed many of the same tasks as employees, who received an hourly wage. Reverend Angley recruited volunteers from the pulpit on Sundays, suggesting that members who repeatedly refused to volunteer were at risk an unforgivable sin. The Department of Labor (DOL) filed suit; the district court held that Buffet’s religious affiliation did not exempt it from Fair Labor Standards Act. The Sixth Circuit reversed. To be considered an employee under the FLSA, a worker must first expect to receive compensation; Buffet volunteers had no such expectation. Buffet then sought “prevailing party” costs and attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412, arguing that the DOL’s position throughout the litigation was not substantially justified. The Sixth Circuit declined to address the issue: “in the usual case in which fees are sought for the entire litigation, the determination of whether the government was ‘substantially justified’ . . . is for the district court” because that court “may have insights not conveyed by the record.” Buffet did not wish to argue before the district court, which adopted the DOL’s position, but that is not a legitimate reason to forgo judicial economy. The district court is better-equipped to determine the fees, if any, that should be awarded for work at that level.
This opinion or order relates to an opinion or order originally issued on April 16, 2018.