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Falaiye v. CCA Academic Resources, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 14, 2017

AKINTOLA FALAIYE, Plaintiff,
v.
CCA ACADEMIC RESOURCES, LLC and VAN WHITFIELD, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PAULA XINIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending in this case involving alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, Maryland Wage and Hour Law, and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law is Plaintiff Akintola Falaiye's second motion for default judgment. ECF No. 21. The issues are fully briefed and the Court now rules pursuant to Local Rule 105.6 because no hearing is necessary. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant CCA Academic Resources, d/b/a Capitol Christian Academy (“CCA” or the “School”), is a private high school located in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Complaint, ECF No. 1 at ¶ 2. In December 2015, CCA hired Akintola Falaiye (“Plaintiff”) as a teacher to instruct students on United States history and government, cultural studies, and world history. Id. at ¶¶ 4, 6. Plaintiff taught classes for approximately three hours each weekday and spent an additional two hours each day planning his curriculum, grading papers, and performing other related tasks. Id. at ¶ 7.

         Plaintiff alleges that during his tenure with CCA, he often requested that CCA and the School's principal, Van Whitfield (collectively, the “Defendants”), provide him formal documentation of his salary and rate of pay. His requests were denied. Id. at ¶ 8. In fact, the Defendants kept no records pertaining to Plaintiff's employment. Id. at ¶ 9. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants did not pay him his agreed-upon compensation apart from a single $1, 000 payment tendered to him three months into his employment. Id. at ¶ 11; see also Pl.'s Mot. Default J., ECF No. 21-1 at 3. Frustrated, Plaintiff resigned in April 2016, just five months into his tenure with the School. Defendants tendered one additional payment of $500 to Plaintiff several months after he resigned. Id.

         On August 16, 2016, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this Court against the Defendants for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq.; the Maryland Wage and Hour Law (“MWHL”), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl., § 3-401 et seq.; and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law (“MWPCL”), Lab. & Empl., § 3-501 et seq. Defendants were properly served, see ECF Nos. 10 and 18, but never answered the complaint or otherwise responded. Plaintiff consequently filed a motion for Clerk's Entry of Default on November 2, 2016, which the Clerk of Court promptly entered. ECF Nos. 11 and 12. Plaintiff then filed a Motion for Default Judgment on December 5, 2016. ECF No. 13.

         On June 11, 2017, the Court issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order denying Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment and vacating the Clerk's Entry of Default at ECF No. 12. See ECF Nos. 16 and 17. The Court held that Plaintiff had not offered sufficient proof that he had properly effectuated service on CCA, and so it allowed Plaintiff fourteen days to supplement the record with such proof. The Court also held that Plaintiff had not properly alleged that Van Whitfield was his “employer” as defined by the FLSA, MWHL, and MPCWL. It allowed Plaintiff fourteen days to file an amended complaint curing this deficiency.

         On June 15, 2017, Plaintiff filed another affidavit of service as to CCA which explains that the process server served CCA on September 12, 2016 by delivering a copy of the summons and complaint “to Van Whitfield as Principal and Registered Agent of CCA.” See ECF No. 18. He then filed renewed motions for clerk's entry of default judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a) and for default judgment pursuant to Rule 55(b) on June 21, 2017. See ECF Nos. 20 and 21. The clerk entered default on July 5, 2017. In his motion for default judgment, Plaintiff explained that he is voluntarily dismissing Van Whitfield as a defendant and is now only pursuing a default judgment against CCA. See ECF No. 21-1 at 2.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 55 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure establishes a two-step process when a party applies for default judgment. First, the Rule provides that “when a party . . . has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk must enter the party's default.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). Following the Clerk's entry of default, “the plaintiff [then may] seek a default judgment.” Godlove v. Martinsburg Senior Towers, LP, No. 14-CV-132, 2015 WL 746934, at *1 (N.D. W.Va. Feb. 20, 2015); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b). “The Fourth Circuit has a ‘strong policy' that ‘cases be decided on their merits.'” S.E.C. v. Lawbaugh, 359 F.Supp.2d 418, 420 (D. Md. 2005) (citing Dow v. Jones, 232 F.Supp.2d 491, 494-95 (D. Md. 2002)). However, “default judgment may be appropriate when the adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party.” Id. at 420-22.

         In determining whether to grant a motion for default judgment, the Court takes as true the well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint, other than those pertaining to damages. See Ryan v. Homecomings Fin. Network, 253 F.3d 778, 780 (4th Cir. 2001). “It, however, remains for the court to determine whether these unchallenged factual allegations constitute a legitimate cause of action.” Agora Fin., LLC v. Samler, 725 F.Supp.2d 491, 494 (D. Md. 2010) (citing Ryan, 253 F.3d at 780-81; 10A Wright, Miller & Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2688 (3d ed. Supp. 2010) (“[L]iability is not deemed established simply because of the default . . . and the court, in its discretion, may require some proof of the facts that must be established in order to determine liability.”)). A court need not accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions but must independently review whether sufficient factual predicate exists to sustain the claim. Baltimore Line Handling Co. v. Brophy, 771 F.Supp.2d 531, 550 (D. Md. 2011) (citing Cragin v. Lovell, 109 U.S. 194, 199 (1883) (holding that “a mere conclusion of law . . . is not admitted by demurrer or default”)).

         If the Court finds that “liability is established, [it] must then determine the appropriate amount of damages.” Agora Fin., LLC, 725 F.Supp.2d at 484 (citing Ryan, 253 F.3d at 780- 81). In so determining, “the court may conduct an evidentiary hearing . . . or may dispense with a hearing if there is an adequate evidentiary basis in the record from which to calculate an award.” Mata v. G.O. Contractors Grp., Ltd., No. TDC-14-3287, 2015 WL 6674650, at *3 (D. Md. Oct. 29, 2015); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. ...


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