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Melendez v. Spilled Milk Catering, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

July 8, 2019

YAMILET MELENDEZ Plaintiff,
v.
SPILLED MILK CATERING, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Yamilet Melendez filed suit against Defendants Spilled Milk Catering, LLC and its owner Amit Gulati (collectively “Defendants”) to recover unpaid overtime wages. Compl., ECF No. 1. Defendants were served and have not responded. ECF No. 4, 5. The Clerk filed an entry of default against Defendants on December 14, 2018, ECF No. 8, and Plaintiff filed the pending Motion for Default Judgment on February 13, 2019, ECF No. 9. Again, the Defendants failed to respond. Having reviewed the motion, I find that a hearing is unnecessary in this case. See Loc. R. 105.6. Plaintiff has shown Defendants' liability, established liquidated damages, and is awarded $16, 511.38. Plaintiff also seeks attorneys' fees and costs in this matter and will be awarded $5, 250.50. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment is GRANTED as modified for $21, 761.88 in favor of the Plaintiff.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Amit Gulani owns Spilled Milk Catering, LLC (“Spilled Milk”), a Maryland entity. Melendez Decl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 9-2. Mr. Gulani “made all relevant decisions regarding Plaintiff's wages and working conditions.” Compl. ¶ 9. He also “manually wrote the pay checks and pay statements” for the Plaintiff. Melendez Decl. ¶ 6. Plaintiff worked as a cook for the Defendants from approximately September 14, 2016 to April 16, 2018 at a typical rate of $14 per hour and a rate of $16 to $17 per hour on several occasions. Id. ¶¶ 2-3. Plaintiff asserts that she regularly worked in excess of forty hours per week and was not compensated at the required overtime rate of one and one-half times the regular hourly rate. Id. ¶¶ 4-5; Compl. ¶¶ 13-14.

         On July 12, 2018, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants for unpaid overtime wages pursuant to 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. Compl. ¶ 1. Plaintiff served Defendants on August 3, 2018. In accordance with Rule 12(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Defendants' Answer to the Complaint was due to be filed on or before August 24, 2018, and the time within which Defendants could answer or otherwise defend has long since expired. Pursuant to Rule 55(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Clerk issued an Entry of Default as to each defendant on October 12, 2018. ECF No. 8. The Defendants still have not responded, and now pending is this Motion for Default Judgment, filed by the Plaintiff on February 13, 2019. ECF No. 9.

         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); seeFed. R. Civ. P. 55(b). “The Fourth Circuit has a ‘strong policy' that ‘cases be decided on their merits.'” SEC. v. Lawbaugh, 359 F.Supp.2d 418, 420 (D. Md. 2005) (citing Dow v. Jones, 232 F.Supp.2d 491, 494 (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. Ryan v. Homecomings Fin. Network, 253 F.3d 778, 780 (4th Cir. 2001). If the Court finds that “liability is established, [it] must then determine the appropriate amount of damages.” Agora Fin., LLC v. Samler, 725 F.Supp.2d 491, 484 (citing Ryan, 253 F.3d at 780-81). In order to do so, “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., No. TDC-14-3287, 2015 WL 6674650, at *3 (D. Md. Oct. 29, 2015); seeFed. R. Civ. P. 55(b).

         Discussion

         Plaintiff's well-pleaded factual allegations, taken as true, establish liability under the FLSA, MWHL, and MWPCL. The FLSA and MWHL require employers to pay one and one-half times regular hourly rates for any hours worked in excess of forty per week:

Except as otherwise provided in this section, no employer shall employ any of his employees who in any workweek is engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce, or is employed in an enterprise engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce, for a workweek longer than forty hours unless such employee receives compensation for his employment in excess of the hours above specified at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which he is employed.

29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1); see also Lab. & Empl. § 3-415(a) (“[e]xcept as otherwise provided in this section, each employer shall pay an overtime wage of at least 1.5 times the usual hourly wage, computed in accordance with § 3-420 of this subtitle”); id. § 3-420(a) (“[A]n employer shall compute the wage for overtime under § 3-415 of this subtitle on the basis of each hour over 40 hours that an employee works during 1 workweek”). Plaintiff submitted a spreadsheet showing the quantity of hours worked and wages received over eighty-three weeks from September 17, 2016 through April 14, 2018. Wage Spreadsheet, ECF No. 9-3. The spreadsheet provides data showing forty-nine weeks in which overtime hours were performed; Plaintiff alleges that she never was paid at a rate of one and one-half the regular hourly rate. Id.; see also Melendez Decl. ¶¶ 4-5.

         In Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S. 680, 686-88 (1946), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Monge v. Portofino Ristorante, 751 F.Supp.2d 789, 799 (D. Md. 2010), the Supreme Court acknowledged the hurdle that employees face when employers lack records of wages and hours. Employees “seldom keep such records themselves, ” and dismissing their claim as “insufficient ... to merely offer an estimated average of overtime worked” created a penalty that incentivized employers to not keep “proper records in conformity with their statutory duty.” Id. at 686-87. In seeking to set a “fair and proper standard” for the employee to meet, the Court ruled that an employee has carried out his burden if he proves “the amount and extent of that work as a matter of just and reasonable inference, ” which shifts the burden to the employer to “come forward with evidence of the precise amount of work performed or with evidence to negate the reasonableness of the inference.” Id. at 688-89.

         Here, in constructing the Wage Spreadsheet, to determine hours “in weeks for which Plaintiff did not have records, counsel used the data for the same week in the previous or following year, or an average of hours and rate during the given season.” Pl.'s Mem. 3, ECF No. 9-1; see also Kurzyna Decl. ¶ 12, ECF No. 9-4. Plaintiff logged thirty-two weeks using this method; of those, twenty-one weeks warranted overtime pay. Wage Spreadsheet. Defendants were entitled to challenge the reasonableness of these inferences by presenting employment records and failed to do so within the time allotted to file an Answer in accordance with Rule 12(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Anderson, 328 U.S. at 688-89. Thus, I adopt Plaintiff's records as true in light of Defendants' default. See Ryan, ...


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