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Freeman v. Medstar Health Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 9, 2016

DANIELLE FREEMAN, et al., Plaintiffs
MEDSTAR HEALTH INC., et al., Defendants


COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, United States District Judge.

Plaintiffs are current and former hospital employees who bring claims against MedStar Health, Inc. (“MedStar”) and against six MedStar hospitals. The hospital defendants are two District of Columbia hospitals-Washington Hospital Center and Georgetown University Hospital-and four Maryland hospitals-Franklin Square Hospital, Harbor Hospital, Union Memorial Hospital, and Good Samaritan Hospital. As the Court explained previously, essentially, Plaintiffs claim that they were not paid for work that they conducted during their meal breaks. See Freeman v. MedStar Health Inc., 87 F.Supp. 3d 249, 252 (D.D.C. 2015). As the case now stands, under Count I, Plaintiffs bring individual claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) against each of the defendants and seek to bring collective action claims under the F L S A with respect to four hospitals (Franklin Square, Harbor, Union Memorial, and Washington Hospital Center). Under Count II, plaintiffs employed at the D.C. hospitals bring individual claims pursuant to the District of Columbia Minimum Wage Act; Plaintiffs also seek to bring collective action claims with respect to Washington Hospital Center. Finally, the plaintiffs employed at the Maryland hospitals bring individual claims pursuant to the Maryland Wage and Hour Law (Count III) and pursuant to the Maryland Wage Payment Collection Law (Count IV).[1]

Before the Court is Defendants’ [77] Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to Plaintiffs Melissa Gayle, Raina McCray, Lorraine Tyeryar, and Cherry Graziosi. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [2] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court GRANTS-IN-PART and DENIES-IN-PA R T Defendants’ [77] Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. As explained further below, the Court GRANTS the motion with respect to Gayle, McCray, and Tyeryar, but DENIES the motion with respect to Graziosi.


Given the narrow scope of the issues presented in the motion now before the Court and the absence of material factual disputes as to the issues the Court resolves today, the Court reserves the presentation of the relevant facts for the discussion of the individual issues below.


Summary judgment is appropriate where “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The mere existence of some factual dispute is insufficient on its own to bar summary judgment; the dispute must pertain to a “material” fact. Id. Accordingly, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Nor may summary judgment be avoided based on just any disagreement as to the relevant facts; the dispute must be “genuine, ” meaning that there must be sufficient admissible evidence for a reasonable trier of fact to find for the non-movant. Id.


The pending motion presents three discrete issues. First, Defendants seek summary judgment with respect to the overtime claims of Plaintiffs Gayle, McCray, and Tyeryar, arguing that those claims fail because those Plaintiffs did not work more than 40 hours a week at the relevant times and places of employment. Plaintiffs concede that they do not have overtime claims. See Pls.’ Opp’n at 1. No more need be said regarding this argument, and the Court will grant summary judgment to Defendants, as requested, regarding these claims. Second, Defendants seek summary judgment with respect to these same three Plaintiffs on their minimum wage claims under Counts I, II, and III. The parties’ dispute with respect to this argument is purely legal, and the Court addresses it below. Third, Defendants seek summary judgment with respect to Plaintiff Graziosi on the grounds of judicial estoppel, arguing that she should be estopped from asserting her claims in this action in light of certain facts connected with a bankruptcy petition filed last year (which was subsequently withdrawn). The Court discusses the parties’ arguments regarding the minimum wage claims, followed by the parties’ arguments regarding judicial estoppel.

A. Minimum Wage Claims

Because Plaintiffs worked less 40 hours a week during the time periods and places of employment relevant to this litigation, as the parties agree, it is necessary to determine the “relevant unit for determining compliance with the minimum wage prescriptions of federal and local law.”[3] Dove v. Coupe, 759 F.2d 167, 168 (D.C. Cir. 1985). Ultimately, the parties’ arguments about the viability of certain plaintiffs’ minimum wage claims amount to a legal disagreement about the relevant unit for measuring compliance with the applicable statutory provisions, or “measuring rod, ” as explained further below. Because the Court agrees with Defendants that the workweek is the appropriate “measuring rod, ” and because there are no material facts in dispute, the Court grants summary judgment to Defendants with respect to the minimum wage claims at issue.

As prefatory matter, the Court must address Plaintiffs’ argument that the legal standard for minimum wage claims has previously been settled by the Court earlier in this litigation and is, therefore, governed by the “law of the case.” Plaintiffs’ argument is wrong on the law and wrong on the facts.

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (“D.C. Circuit”) has recently confirmed that the law of the case “doctrine holds that a ‘legal decision made at one stage of litigation, unchallenged in a subsequent appeal when the opportunity to do so existed, [governs] future stages of the same litigation, and the parties are deemed to have waived the right to challenge that decision at a later time.’ ” United States v. Burroughs, 810 F.3d 833, 838 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (quoting United States v. Thomas, 572 F.3d 945, 949 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (alteration in original). The doctrine also encompasses a bar on subsequent revisiting of issues previously decided by an appellate court “explicitly or by necessary implication.” Crocker v. Piedmont Aviation, Inc., 49 F.3d 735, 739 (D.C. Cir. 1995). Therefore, the law of the case doctrine is clearly inapplicable in these circumstances for a simple reason: no party has thus far appealed any decision of this Court to the D.C. Circuit.

True, courts and litigants sometimes use “law of the case” to refer to the general principle that “ ‘[w]here issues have been resolved at a prior state in the litigation, based upon principles of judicial economy, courts generally decline to revisit [them].’ ” Pro-Football, Inc. v. Harjo, 567 F.Supp.2d 46, 52 (D.D.C. 2008), aff’d in part, 565 F.3d 880 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). But even that broader principle has no application to the issue before the Court. The Court never previously decided, directly or by implication, the legal question regarding minimum wage claims that is now before the Court: whether the “workweek measuring rod” or some other unit of measurement is applicable to minimum wage claims. In their motion to dismiss, Defendants never presented any argument related to the ones they present in the motion for partial summary judgment now before the Court.[4] Therefore, Defendants never “waived” or “conceded” such an argument by failing to respond to arguments in Plaintiff’s opposition to the motion to dismiss. ...

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