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Melendez v. Declercq, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 14, 2016

EDGAR A. MELENDEZ, Plaintiff
v.
DECLERCQ, INC., d/b/a Community Landscape Services, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PETER J. MESSITTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Edgar A. Melendez has sued Declercq, Inc. d/b/a Community Landscaping Services and William DeWitt (collectively, "Defendants*'), alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 206, 207. Melendez and Defendants have now reached a settlement, and they ask for the Court to approve the settlement and dismiss with prejudice all claims in the Complaint and Amended Complaint. For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS the Joint Motion for Settlement (ECF No. 37) and DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE all claims in the Complaint (ECF No. 1) and Amended Complaint (ECF No. 19) as to both Defendants.

         I.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Defendant Declercq, Inc. (hereinafter Community Landscaping Services, or "CLS") is a landscape management company with its principal place of business in Virginia. CLS's grounds management and landscaping services include, among other things, grounds maintenance, seasonal flower rotations, irrigation maintenance, and tree care. Defendant DeWitt is the owner and President of CLS.

         Melendez was employed as a landscape crew supervisor for CLS on several sites in both Virginia and Maryland from approximately 1995 until his discharge by the company on February 7, 2014. During his employment with CLS, Melendez was assigned to supervise one of the landscape management company's largest projects: the Ashburn Village Development in Northern Virginia. Throughout the period at issue in the Amended Complaint, Melendez was paid a salary of more than $900 per week.

         After his discharge from CLS, Melendez sued CLS and DeWitt. In his Complaint, filed on July 15, 2014, Melendez claimed that Defendants failed to pay him minimum wages for all of the hours he worked and failed to pay him overtime premiums for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week. ECF No. 1. On the basis of these contentions, Melendez alleged one claim for unpaid minimum wages and overtime wages under the FLSA and two similar claims under the Maryland Wage and Hour Law (MWHL) and Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law (MWPCL). Id.

         On November 10, 2014, Defendants moved to dismiss Melendez's Maryland law claims and his allegation that Defendants willfully violated the FLSA. ECF No. 7. The Court granted Defendants' Motion to Dismiss without prejudice with respect to the MWHL and MWPCL claims, but denied the Motion as to Melendez's allegation that Defendants willfully violated the FLSA. ECF No. 18. Melendez thereafter filed an Amended Complaint on March 16, 2015, dropping his MWHL and MWPCL claims and proceeding only on his FLSA minimum wage and overtime pay claims. ECF No. 19. Defendants answered the Amended Complaint on March 26, 2015, denying any liability on Melendez's overtime claim and also notably asserting a defense that Melendez was not entitled to overtime pay pursuant to the FLSA's "Executive Exemption." ECF No. 20.

         The parties subsequently conducted discovery. Defendants took Melendez's deposition and obtained other sworn testimony and admissions through written discovery requests. On the basis of the information obtained, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on all claims. ECF No. 26. Defendants established (1) that Melendez had received more than the federally mandated minimum wage for the hours he claimed to have worked during the period at issue, and (2) that they did not "willfully" violate the FLSA and, accordingly, that a two-year statute of limitations applied.[1] ECF No. 26-1. Melendez conceded both points in his Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment.[2] ECF No. 30.

         Defendants also asserted that the FLSA's Executive Exemption applied to Melendez's employment.[3] ECF No. 26-1. In response, Melendez contested that the Executive Exemption applied, but further conceded that Defendants had established at least two of the four elements of the test for application of the Executive Exemption: (1) that Melendez was paid a weekly salary of at least $455.00 which was not subject to reductions based on the number of hours worked (the "salary basis" test), and (2) that Melendez customarily and regularly directed the work of two or more full-time employees or their equivalent. ECF No. 26-1. The only two issues with respect to Defendants" Motion for Summary Judgment that were not conceded by Melendez where whether he: (1) had management as his primary duty, and (2) had the authority to hire and fire workers. Id.

         On February 17, 2016, the parties argued their respective positions before the Court. ECF No. 34. The Court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants and against Melendez with respect to all unpaid FLSA minimum wage claims and all unpaid overtime FLSA claims for hours worked before July 15, 2012. The Court then denied summary judgment with respect to Melendez's FLSA unpaid overtime claims on or after July 15, 2012, but stated the following concerning Defendants' Executive Exemption defense:

This is a case where the defendants have put on a very, very strong case to suggest that the executive exemption should apply, and the Court, while it could grant summary judgment at this point, is somewhat loathe to for the following reason, even though there's case law that would probably support it.. . .
If this matter goes to trial on the single issue of whether the plaintiff Melendez had primary management responsibility or authority to hire and fire or recommending hiring and firing, there is a strong likelihood that the jury would agree with the defendants anyway and this would moot out any question on appeal.. ..
My view of the case is that if this case tries on this single issue [whether Melendez's primary duty was management and whether he had the authority to hire and fire employees (or make recommendations regarding such decisions that were entitled to ...

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