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Avila v. Caring Hearts & Hands Assisted Living & Elder Care, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 1, 2016

MARIA ANTONIETA VALE AVILA, Plaintiff,
v.
CARING HEARTS & HANDS ASSISTED LIVING & ELDER CARE, LLC and BARBARA MCDONALD, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG United States District judge.

         On December 23, 2015, Plaintiff Maria Antonieta Vale Avila ("Vale") filed a Complaint against Defendants Barbara McDonald, who is self-represented, and Caring Hearts & Hands Assisted Living & Elder Care, LLC ("Caring Hearts"). Vale alleges that she worked approximately 84 hours per week at Caring Hearts but was not appropriately compensated under the overtime pay requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-19 (2012), the Maryland Wage and Hour Law ("MWHL"), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. 99 3-401-31 (West 2016), and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law ("MWPCL"), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. 99 3-501-09 (West 2016). Presently pending before the Court is McDonald's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed on February 22, 2016. The Motion is ready for disposition, and a hearing is unnecessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the following reasons, the Motion for Summary Judgment, construed as a motion to dismiss, is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are alleged in the Complaint. Vale was employed as a "helper" by McDonald and Caring Hearts between June 1, 2009 and November 23, 2015. Compl. ¶17. McDonald and Caring Hearts are a single enterprise with an annual gross volume of business in an amount exceeding $500, 000. McDonald controlled the day-to-day operations of Caring Hearts. She had the power to hire, fire, suspend, and discipline Vale; supervised Vale; directly or indirectly set and controlled Vale's work schedule or had the power to do so; and directly or indirectly set and determined the rate and method of Vale's payor had the power to do so.

         During her employment period, Vale worked approximately 84 hours per week and was paid, at various times, at weekly rates of $600 or $700 per week. When Vale worked over 40 hours per week, she was not compensated at 1.5 times her regular hourly rate for those overtime hours. All told, Vale claims that she is owed $51, 818.40 in unpaid minimum and overtime wages. She claims $103, 636.80 in damages for violations of the FLSA, $155, 455.20 for violations of the MWPCL, and $51, 818.40 for violations of the MWHL.

         DISCUSSION

         McDonald asserts that Vale's Complaint should be dismissed on several grounds. First, she asserts generally that she may not be sued in her individual capacity because she is insulated from liability by the corporate veil. Second, she asserts that Vale's FLSA claim should be dismissed because none of Caring Hearts' employees is engaged in interstate commerce. Third, McDonald asserts that Vale's MWHL claim should be dismissed because her allegations are untrue and that her MWPCL claim should be dismissed because she may not recover overtime wages under that law. Each of McDonald's arguments will be addressed in turn.

         I. Motion on Behalf of Caring Hearts

         As a preliminary matter, the Court construes the Motion, submitted under McDonald's signature, as filed on behalf of McDonald alone, not on behalf of Caring Hearts. In the Motion, McDonald states that she is the owner and operator of Caring Hearts. However, Caring Hearts, as a limited liability company, may appear in court only through a licensed attorney. See United States v. Lavabit, LLC, 749 F.3d 276, 290 n.17 (4th Cir. 2014) (citing Rowland v. Cal. Men's Colony, Unit II Men's Advisory Council, 506 U.S. 194, 202 (1993)) (holding that artificial entities may not proceed without counsel). Because McDonald is not a licensed attorney, she may not file a Motion on behalf of Caring Hearts. See id; United States v. Hagerman, 545 F.3d 579 581-82 (7th Cir. 2008) (holding that an LLC must be represented by counsel because "the right to conduct business in a form that confers privileges, such as the limited personal liability of the owners for tort or contract claims against the business, carries with it obligations one of which is to hire a lawyer if you want to sue or defend on behalf of the entity").

         On March 1, 2016, the Clerk issued an Order of Default against Caring Hearts pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55 because Caring Hearts has filed neither an Answer nor a Rule 12 motion through counsel. Caring Hearts remains in default.

         II. Legal Standard

         McDonald has captioned her filing as a "Motion for Summary Judgment" and invokes Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), 12(b)(6), and 56. The Court, however, construes the Motion as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12. Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) govern motions to dismiss, not motions for summary judgment. McDonald's Memorandum of Point and Authorities in support of the Motion provides only the legal standard for a motion to dismiss. Moreover, there is no record upon which McDonald can assert a lack of a genuine issue of material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). McDonald has attached two exhibits to her Motion: (1) a letter from Yale's counsel alleging FLSA, MWHL, and MWPCL violations and making a settlement proposal, and (2) a responsive letter from McDonald disclaiming liability and declining the settlement offer. McDonald cites these letters as evidence that Yale attempted "to shakedown Defendants for money that she is not entitled to, " Def.'s Mem. Point Authorities in Supp. Def's Mot. Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mem.") at 2, not to establish the lack of any genuine dispute of material fact. Finally, as a self-represented litigant, McDonald may not be aware that motions for summary judgment are generally filed after the close of discovery and are appropriate only when the evidence reveals that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Here, discovery will not begin until the Court issues a scheduling order, so it is premature to assess whether there are material factual disputes between the parties, such as whether Yale was appropriately paid overtime or minimum wages. For these reasons, the Court construes the Motion as a Rule 12 motion to dismiss.

         Specifically, the Court construes the Motion as a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Although McDonald also references Rule 12(b)(1), she does not provide any argument that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction Indeed, because Yale brings her claim under the FLSA, the Court clearly has federal question subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Because Yale's MWHL and MWPCL claims form part of the same case or controversy as her FLSA claim, the Court also has subject matter jurisdiction over these state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Therefore, the Court construes McDonald's Motion as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.

         To defeat a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v.Iqbal,556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible when the facts pleaded allow "the Court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Although courts should construe pleadings of self-represented litigants liberally, Erickson v.Pardus,551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), legal conclusions or conclusory statements do not suffice, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in the ...


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