United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
CHARLES B. DAY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Tony Dominguez, Kevin Cabrera, Milton Fuentes, Areberth
Gonzales, Asdruval Hernandez (“A. Hernandez”),
Maximo Hernandez (“M. Hernandez”), Jose Munoz,
Edwin Ochoa, Kunauth “Anthony” Persaud, and
Gerardo Ventura (collectively “Plaintiffs”) along
with Defendants Microfit Auto Parts, Inc., Inder S. Bian
(“I. Bian”), and Kamaljit K. Bian (“K.
Bian”) (collectively “Defendants”) have
submitted a joint motion for approval of their proposed
settlement agreement (“Settlement Agreement”).
Joint Motion for Approval of Settlement Agreement
(“Joint Motion”), ECF No. 36. Currently, both
parties have agreed that Defendants will pay a total sum of
$128, 122.49 to be divided as follows: Plaintiff Dominguez
would receive $8, 016.75 in compensation for his claims;
Plaintiff Cabrera would receive $13, 750.00 in compensation
for his claims; Plaintiff Fuentes would receive $4, 288.99 in
compensation for his claims; Plaintiff Gonzales would receive
$1, 548.76 in compensation for his claims; Plaintiff A.
Hernandez would receive $1, 171.70 in compensation for his
claims; Plaintiff M. Hernandez would receive $36, 493.53 in
compensation for his claims; Plaintiff Munoz would receive
$25, 000.00 in compensation for his claims; Plaintiff Ochoa
would receive $6, 500.00 in compensation for his claims;
Plaintiff Persaud would receive $20, 642.97 in compensation
for his claims; Plaintiff Ventura would receive $10, 709.79
in compensation for his claims. Parties also agreed that
Defendants would pay Plaintiffs' counsel $55, 000.00 in
total as reimbursement for attorneys' fees and costs
incurred throughout these proceedings.
Court has reviewed the Joint Motion, the accompanying
memorandum, and the applicable law. No. hearing is deemed
necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md.). For the
reasons that follow, the Court hereby GRANTS
the parties' Joint Motion without modification as: (1)
there exists a bona fide dispute; (2) the settlement
agreement is both fair and reasonable under the
Saman test; and, (3) the attorneys' fees agreed
to appear to be not only reasonable under Saman but
also represent a significant reduction from what
Plaintiffs' counsel incurred while prosecuting this case.
A separate Order shall issue.
A Bona Fide Dispute Exists
enacted the FLSA to protect workers from poor wages and long
hours, which are often the result of power imbalances between
workers and employers. Saman v. LBDP, Inc., No. Civ.
A. DKC-12-1083, 2013 WL 2949047, at *2 (D. Md. June 13,
2013). Even when parties submit a joint motion seeking
approval for a settlement agreement, the Court must undertake
a multi-step review of the agreement and any attorney's
fees requested to ensure its reasonableness. Id.
“[A]s a first step, the bona fides of the
parties' dispute must be examined to determine if there
are FLSA issues that are ‘actually in
dispute.'” Id. at *3 (citing Lane v.
Ko- Me, LLC, Civ. A. No. DKC-10-2261, 2011 WL 3880427,
at *2 (D. Md. Aug. 31, 2011) (citation omitted)).
fide dispute exists in this case. Plaintiffs commenced this
proceeding on February 22, 2018. Pls.' Compl. ECF No. 1.
Plaintiffs were employees of Microfit Auto Parts, a company
that Defendants owned and operated. Pls.' Compl.
¶¶ 6-9. Microfit Auto Parts “sells and
delivers automobile parts throughout the District of
Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia region.” J. Mot. 3.
Plaintiffs worked for various lengths of time as “auto
part delivery drivers, ” a role that required them to
not only deliver but to also collect payment at times. J.
Mot. 3, 13. During their employment, Plaintiffs allege that
Defendants did not pay them minimum wage or overtime. J. Mot.
3-4. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege they were paid a flat
weekly rate along with the promise of “a commission of
1% of the value of goods delivered by [Plaintiffs] over the
course of a month.” Pls.' Compl. ¶¶ 17,
21. However, Plaintiffs alleged they frequently worked more
than 40 hours a week and were unable take breaks. Pls.'
Compl. ¶ 19. Plaintiffs further alleged that Defendants
failed to pay them the promised commission. Pls.' Compl.
¶ 22. Defendants denied all liability in their response
to the complaint. Defs.' Answer, ECF No. 7. Defendants
asserted that their own time records were accurate and, in
any event, that their GPS records supported their
understanding of how many hours Plaintiffs actually worked.
J. Mot. 5-6, 13-14. Defendants made no admissions of
liability with this Settlement Agreement. J. Mot. 5. The
Joint Motion also highlights specific areas of the case about
which the parties disagree. See J. Mot. 13 (enumerating three
“significant disputes in this case” as the
accuracy of time records, GPS records, and delivery records).
Accordingly, the parties were and remain at odds with one
another in regard to Plaintiffs' compensation-or lack
thereof-as employees of Defendants.
The Settlement Agreement Passes the Saman
bona fide dispute exists, the next step in the
analysis is to assess the fairness and reasonableness of a
settlement agreement using the following factors:
(1) the extent of discovery that has taken place; (2) the
stage of the proceedings, including the complexity, expense
and likely duration of the litigation; (3) the absence of
fraud or collusion in the settlement; (4) the experience of
counsel who have represented the plaintiffs; (5) the opinions
of [ ] counsel ...; and (6) the probability of
plaintiffs' success on the merits and the amount of the
settlement in relation to the potential recovery.
Saman, 2013 WL 2949047, at *3 (quoting Lomascolo
v. Parsons Brinckerhoff, Inc., No. 08-cv-1310, 2009 WL
3094955, at *10 (E.D. Va. Sept. 28, 2009)). Here, the
settlement agreement appears to be fair and reasonable under
the Saman factors.
Extent of discovery
to the Joint Motion, a significant amount of discovery has
been exchanged. J. Mot. 4. Specifically, Plaintiffs state
they served Defendants with written discovery requests after
Defendants filed their Answer. J. Mot. 4. Defendants
responded by producing “thousands of pages of relevant
documents.” J. Mot. 4. These documents included
“available work and hours records, GPS records and
delivery records.” J. Mot. 4. In fact, the bulk of what
remains in dispute between the parties resulted from
diverging interpretations of the information exchanged during
this discovery process, including the reliability of the
records. J. Mot. 5-6. While Plaintiffs “believe that
certain documents . . . had not yet been produced by
Defendants, ” discovery is significantly underway. J.
Stage of the Proceedings
settlement comes months after the case was filed with the
Court. In the course of that time, the parties engaged in the
exchange of a significant amount of discovery, formal
mediation with Magistrate Judge Schulze, the exchange of
offers of judgment, and what appears to have been continuous
and vigorous negotiations. J. Mot. 4-7. While the matter
settled before trial or even summary judgment motions were
filed, it seems apparent that written discovery was nearly
completed, although Plaintiffs still believe there are
relevant documents in Defendants possession. J. Mot. 14.
While it is unclear the extent to which parties may have
sought to conduct depositions, it is doubtful that they would
have made much difference in bringing the matter to a
Absence of Fraud or Collusion
is no evidence that the Settlement Agreement is the product
of fraud or collusion. “There is a presumption that no
fraud or collusion occurred between counsel, in the absence
of any evidence to the contrary.” Saman, 2013
WL 2949047, at *5. Here, even with this settlement the
parties remain staunchly divided on the facts of the
situation. See J. Mot. 7-12 (listing the amount
awarded to each Plaintiff, their position on their personal
claim and Defendants' response contradicting their
position). Further, “[b]oth parties submit that
attorneys' fees and costs were negotiated separately and
only after a resolution was reached with respect to the
Plaintiffs' settlement outcomes.” J. Mot. 16.
Accordingly, no fraud or collusion appears present in this
Experience of Counsel
are represented by the law firm Hoffman Employment Law, LLC
(“Hoffman Law”). In support of this motion,
Plaintiffs' counsel provided declarations detailing their
qualifications and experience. Specifically, Plaintiffs were
represented by Howard B. Hoffman, the founding member of
Hoffman Law and the primary counsel on this matter.
Declaration of Howard B. Hoffman (“Hoffman
Declaration”) ¶¶ 1-2, ECF No. 36-3. Mr.
Hoffman has approximately nineteen (19) years of experience
as an attorney. Hoffman Decl. ¶¶ 2, 11. In his
declaration, Mr. Hoffman details his “extensive
experience prosecuting and defending wage and hour cases and
other employment law cases.” Hoffman Decl. ¶ 2. He
included a list of nine “widely cited decisions”
in wage and hour cases that he was involved in. Hoffman Decl.
¶ 10. He also included citations to various First
Amendment cases he prosecuted and news articles relating to
his practice. Hoffman Decl. ¶¶ 11-12. Mr. Hoffman
bills at $400.00 per hour and completed 64.0 hours of work on
this matter. J. Mot. 16; Hoffman Decl. ¶ 4. The two
other members of Plaintiffs' counsel were associates at
Hoffman Law each with between three and four years of
experience practicing law. Given Mr. Hoffman's active
participation in this matter and the extent of his
experience-as supported by the citations to several cases
brought in this District-Plaintiffs' counsel has
sufficient experience in this area of law to competently