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Barrera v. J&L Maintenance, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 3, 2018

JOSE JAIME BARRERA, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
J&L MAINTENANCE, LLC, ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          PAULA XINIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On July 1, 2016, Plaintiffs Jose Jaime Barrera, Manuel Jesus Gomez, Jacquelinne Moreno Ramirez, Emilia Margarita Martinez, and Esteban E. Gomez filed a complaint against J&L Maintenance, LLC (“J&L”) and John F. Lynch in the above-captioned matter. ECF No. 1. Summonses were served on Defendants on August 2, 2016. See ECF No. 7. On November 7, 2016, Plaintiffs moved for entry of default against Defendants pursuant to Rule 55(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF No. 6. The Clerk entered default on May 3, 2017. ECF No. 7. Plaintiffs have moved for default judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b). ECF No. 8. Defendants have not filed a response, and the time for doing so has passed. See Loc. R. 105.2.a. Pursuant to Local Rule 105.6, a hearing is not necessary. For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiffs' Motion for Judgment by Default is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART without prejudice and with permission to supplement.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant Lynch owns Defendant J&L, a Maryland corporation. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 4, 5. Plaintiffs were employed by Defendants as laborers. ECF No. 1 ¶ 17. In their Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants failed to pay each Plaintiff fully for the time they worked. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 20-22, 25-26, 29-30, 33-34, 37-39. They bring claims under the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law (“MWPCL”) (Count I), the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) (Count II), and the Maryland Wage and Hour Law (“MWHL”) (Count III). Plaintiffs request that judgment be entered in their favor on each count, and that compensatory and statutory damages, as well as reasonable attorneys' fees and costs, be awarded to them. ECF No. 8 at 1.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Default Judgment

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b) provides that default judgment may be entered “[i]f the plaintiff's claim is for a sum certain or a sum that can be made certain by computation” and the defendant is in default for failing to appear. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(1). The entry of default judgment is a matter within the discretion of the Court. SEC v. Lawbaugh, 359 F.Supp.2d 418, 421 (D. Md. 2005) (citing Dow v. Jones, 232 F.Supp.2d 491, 494 (D. Md. 2002)).

         Although “the Fourth Circuit has a ‘strong policy that cases be decided on the merits, '” Disney Enters. v. Delane, 446 F.Supp.2d 402, 405 (D. Md. 2006) (quoting United States v. Shaffer Equip. Co., 11 F.3d 450, 453 (4th Cir. 1993)), it is within the Court's discretion to grant default judgment when a defendant is unresponsive, see Park Corp. v. Lexington Ins. Co., 812 F.2d 894, 896 (4th Cir. 1987); Disney Enters., 446 F.Supp.2d at 405-06. To determine whether a default judgment is appropriate, the Court engages in a two-step inquiry. First, the Court must decide “whether the unchallenged facts in plaintiff['s] complaint constitute a legitimate cause of action.” Agora Fin., LLC v. Samler, 725 F.Supp.2d 491, 494 (D. Md. 2010). Second, if the Court finds liability is established, it must “make an independent determination regarding the appropriate amount of damages.” Id. The Court may hold a hearing to determine damages, or it may rely on detailed affidavits or other documentary evidence in support of a plaintiff's claimed damages. Lipenga v. Kambalame, 219 F.Supp.3d 517, 525 (D. Md. 2016).

         Defendants each were served with the Complaint on August 2, 2016, and did not respond. See ECF No. 7. Defendants also did not respond to Plaintiffs' motion for entry of default judgment, nor did Defendants move to set aside the Order of Default entered by the Clerk of the Court. The Court will exercise its discretion to grant default judgment in light of Defendants' failure to respond. See Educ. Credit Mgmt. Corp. v. Optimum Welding, 285 F.R.D. 371, 373 (D. Md. 2012).

         B. Liability

         In reviewing a request for a default judgment, the Court accepts as true the well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint to determine whether the allegations make out a legitimate cause of action. Ryan v. Homecomings Fin. Network, 253 F.3d 778, 780-81 (4th Cir. 2001). Plaintiffs' Complaint, accepted as true, establishes entitlement to relief under the MWPL, the FLSA, and the MWHL.

         1. Defendants as Employers

         The FLSA defines “employer” broadly to include “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee, ” 29 U.S.C. § 203(d), and defines “employ” to “include to suffer or permit to work, ” id. § 203(g). The MWHL provides a similarly broad definition for the term “employer.” See Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl., §3-401. The MWHL defines “employ” as the act of “engag[ing] an individual to work.” Id. §3-101. The MWPCL defines “employer” as “any person who employs an individual in the State, ” Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. § 3-501(b), and defines “employ” to incude “allowing an individual to work” and “instructing an individual to be present at a work site, ” id. § 3-101(c)(2). The material pleaded by Plaintiffs includes specific factual allegations to make out that J&L and Lynch are “employers” within the meaning of the statutes and that both Defendants may be held liable under the relevant laws. See ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 4-16. Plaintiffs also plead facts that support their periods of employment with Defendants, and that they each were not compensated either at all or in full for certain periods of time worked. See ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 17-43.

         2. MWPCL ...


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