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Chevez v. Steel Products, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

February 18, 2014

EVER CHEVEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
STEEL PRODUCTS, INC., et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

PAUL W. GRIMM, District Judge.

This Memorandum Opinion and Order addresses the Motion to Dismiss and Memorandum in Support that Defendants Steel Products, Inc. ("SPI") and Denise Johns filed, ECF Nos. 19 & 19-1; Plaintiffs Alfonso Pierre and Ever Chevez's Opposition, ECF No. 23; and Defendants' Reply, ECF No. 29. A hearing is not necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. For the reasons stated herein, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART AS MOOT.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Chevez filed suit, pro se, against SPI in the District Court of Maryland for Montgomery County on June 7, 2012. State Dist. Ct. Compl., Defs.' Mem. Ex. 1, ECF No. 19-2; State Dist. Ct. Docket, Defs.' Mem. Ex. 4, ECF No. 19-5. He claimed:

I worked for [S]teel [P]roduct [I]nc. for almost 5 years. [T]here were weeks w[h]ere I worked more than 40 hrs a week and didn't get paid overtime. [A]nd some of these schools that I worked were required to pay scale and [I] never get paid the right amount of money that was required for the state.

State Dist. Ct. Compl. SPI moved for summary judgment or, alternatively, for dismissal. State Dist. Ct. Mot. 1, Defs.' Mem. Ex. 2, ECF No. 19-3. Chevez retained an attorney and moved for a continuance of the trial date, which the state district court granted on August 23, 2012 "for [the] specific purpose of allowing plaintiff's [attorney] to file [an] amended complaint." State Dist. Ct. Cmts./Hr'g, Defs.' Mem. Ex. 3, ECF No. 19-4. At trial on October 4, 2012, Chevez once again sought a continuance because his attorney was not available. Id. Noting that Chevez's counsel had not notified the court previously of his conflict, the court denied the continuance. Id. The court then granted SPI's motion to dismiss "with prejudice" because, despite the continuance that the court granted in August to allow for amendment, Chevez's counsel never filed an amended complaint. Id.

Chevez, through counsel, filed an appeal in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County on November 16, 2012. Pls.' Opp'n Ex. 1, State Cir. Ct. Docket 1-2, ECF No. 23-1. At a January 17, 2013 hearing, Chevez's counsel made an oral motion to dismiss, which the court granted. Id. at 3. According to Chevez, he dismissed his circuit court appeal "for the specific purpose of allowing Mr. Hec[h]t [Chevez's counsel] to re-file Plaintiff Chevez's Complaint in the Circuit Court (as opposed to proceeding with the pro se Complainti drafted by Plaintiff Chevez)." Pls.' Opp'n 2.

Immediately following the dismissal of Chevez's appeal, on January 17, 2013, Plaintiffs Pierre and Chevez filed suit against SPI, as well as Johns, in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. Compl., ECF No. 2. They amended their complaint on July 17, 2013, ECF No. 14. Plaintiffs alleged that SPI, their employer, failed to pay them agreed-upon wages, in breach of their employment contracts and in violation of the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law, Md. Code Ann, Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-501 - 3-509, and failed to pay them overtime wages, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219, and Maryland Wage and Hour Law, Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-401-3-431. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 8-9, 14, 18, 26, 32, 40 & 48. According to Plaintiffs,

Johns is, and was at all times relevant, the President and principal owner of the SP[I]. At all times, Johns was Plaintiffs' supervisor and independently made all decisions related to Plaintiffs' rate and method of pay. At all times, Johns was in charge of all day-to-day operations of SP[I].

Id. ¶ 3. Defendants removed to this Court. ECF No. 1.

Plaintiff Pierre accepted an Offer of Judgment, ECF No. 24, and I entered a Consent Order of Judgment, ECF No. 25. Pierre filed a Notice of Satisfaction, ECF No. 28, and is no longer a party to this case. Therefore, insofar as Defendants move to dismiss Pierre's claims against them, their Motion is DENIED AS MOOT.

Defendants also move to dismiss Chevez's claims, in part based on the grounds of res judicata. Defs.' Mem. 4. Defendants contend that, when Chevez "previously sued for the same sort of damages" in state court, his case "was dismissed with prejudice after Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff (and his counsel) failed to properly appear and prosecute the case (and defend the Motion)." Id. In Chevez's view, because his "dismissal, with prejudice was appealed de novo and thereafter dismissed, without prejudice, Plaintiff Chevez's claims in fact were never dismissed with prejudice or otherwise decided on the merits." Pls.' Opp'n 2. Alternatively, Chevez insists that, even if his claims against SPI are barred, he "should not be precluded from proceeding against co-Defendant Johns, " whom he has not sued previously. Id. at 3 n.1.

Defendants counter that "there is no evidence to support the notion that the appeal was dismissed without prejudice." Defs.' Reply 1. In any event, Defendants argue that the circuit court dismissal was of "the right to appeal, " not of the underlying case, because the circuit court did not vacate the district court's judgment. Id. at 1-2. Additionally, according to Defendants, Plaintiff ...


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