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Sanchez v. Devashish Hospitality, LLC

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 18, 2017

ANA SANCHEZ, Plaintiff,
DEVASHISH HOSPITALITY, LLC d/b/a GREAT WRAPS and SAROJ BHATTARAI, Defendants. Date Range D.C. Overti me Wage Hours Worked Overtime Amount Paid by Cash for Overtime Amount of Overtime Earned Overtime Owed per Week Number of Weeks Wages Owed Total: $17, 375 Date Range D.C. Overtime Wage Hours Worked Overtime Amount Paid in Cash for Overtime Amount Earned for Overtime Amount Owed for Overtime Number of Weeks Wages Owed Total: $230 Date Range D.C. Minimum Wage Hours Worked Amount Paid by Check for Minimum Wage Amount Earned for Regular Wage Regular Wage Owed Number of Weeks Regular Wages Owed Total: Total: $160 Date Range Unpaid Wages Applicable Liquidated Damages Amount Liquidated Damages Total Total: $17, 765 $38, 901 $56, 666



         The plaintiff, Ana Sanchez, brings this action against the defendants, Devashish Hospitality, LLC d/b/a Great Wraps (“Great Wraps”) and Saroj Bhatterai, as the owner and operator of the Great Wraps restaurant located at 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue where she worked as a food preparer, see Complaint (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 2-3, 12, due to their “failure to pay [her] all earned overtime wages and . . . for all time worked, in violation of both federal and District of Columbia law, ” id. ¶ 1. Currently before the Court is the plaintiff's Motion and Memorandum in Support Thereof for Default Judgment (“Pl.'s Mot.”), which “requests that the Court enter [a] default judgment against [the d]efendants . . . on all counts, ” Pl.'s Mot. at 1, and award her damages and attorneys' fees and costs, see id. at 11-12. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the plaintiff's motion in part, enter judgment against Great Wraps and Bhatterai, and defer a ruling on the plaintiff's demand for attorneys' fees and costs pending further briefing on this demand by the plaintiff.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Great Wraps is “a [District of Columbia] domestic corporation, ” Compl. ¶ 18, that employed Sanchez “as a food preparer, performing non-exempt work . . . from on or about September 1998 to approximately November 2015, ” id. ¶¶ 12-13.[2] Sanchez alleges that she “often worked approximately [seventy-five] to [eighty] hours per week” from the end of 2012 to the end of 2014, and that she often “worked approximately [forty-five] hours per week” from December 2014, until she was terminated in September 2015. Pl.'s Mot. at 6. Sanchez was compensated at an hourly rate of $10.00, see id., Exhibit (“Ex.”) 1 (Sanchez Decl.) ¶ 27, and Great Wraps and Bhatterai “issued her paychecks for the hours she worked up to [forty] hours per week, and they paid her in cash for the hours worked over [forty] in one week, ” id. at 5.

         Sanchez claims that throughout her employment, Great Wraps and Bhatterai failed to compensate her at “one and one-half times her regular rate of pay for her overtime hours, ” as required by federal and District of Columbia law. Compl. ¶ 47. In addition, Sanchez asserts that, from July 2015, until the end of her employment with Great Wraps in September 2015, her compensation was below the minimum wage established by District of Columbia law, which was $10.50 during that time period. See Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Sanchez Decl.) ¶ 27. Due to the defendants' alleged failure to appropriately compensate her as required by both federal and District of Columbia law, Sanchez contends that she is owed approximately $44, 830.40 under the Fair Labor Standards Act, $45, 255.40 under the District of Columbia Minimum Wage Law, and $90, 510.80 under the District of Columbia Wage Payment and Collection Law, plus attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $32, 573.50. See id. at 11-12.

         On February 11, 2016, Sanchez filed this action against the defendants. Id. After three months elapsed without the plaintiff advancing her case, the Court issued a show cause order due to Sanchez's failure to prosecute this matter. See Order (May 20, 2016), ECF No. 3. Thereafter, on May 28, 2016, Sanchez served Great Wraps and Bhatterai with copies of the Summons and Complaint. See Return of Service/Affidavit, ECF No. 8; see also Pl.'s Affidavit for Default, ECF No. 10. Neither Great Wraps nor Bhatterai has responded to Sanchez's Complaint. As a consequence, the Clerk of the Court entered default against both defendants on July 6, 2016. See Clerk's Entry of Default, ECF No. 11. Sanchez now moves for entry of default judgment against both defendants, and neither of the defendants has responded to Sanchez's motion.


         Rule 55 sets forth a two-step process for a party seeking a default judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). First, “[w]hen a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk must enter the party's default.” Id. Second, “the party must apply to the court for a default judgment.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2). Despite a plaintiff's ability to acquire a judgment by default, there are “strong policies favoring the resolution of genuine disputes on their merits.” Jackson v. Beech, 636 F.2d 831, 835 (D.C. Cir. 1980); see Peak v. District of Columbia, 236 F.R.D. 13, 15 (D.D.C. 2006) (acknowledging the inherent unfairness of awarding judgment against a party for mere filing delays). Therefore, “default judgment must normally be viewed as available only when the adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party.” Jackson, 636 F.2d at 836 (quoting H. F. Livermore Corp. v. Aktiengesellschaft Gebruder Loepfe, 432 F.2d 689, 691 (D.C. Cir. 1970)); see also Teamsters Local 639-Emp'rs Health Tr. v. Boiler & Furnace Cleaners, Inc., 571 F.Supp.2d 101, 107 (D.D.C. 2008) (“[W]hen the adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party[, ] the diligent party must be protected lest he be faced with interminable delay and continued uncertainty as to his rights.”).

         “Default establishes the defaulting party's liability for the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint.” Boland v. Elite Terrazzo Flooring, Inc., 763 F.Supp.2d 64, 67 (D.D.C. 2011) (citing Adkins v. Teseo, 180 F.Supp.2d 15, 17 (D.D.C. 2001)); see also Adkins, 180 F.Supp.2d at 17 (“A defaulting defendant is deemed to admit every well-pleaded allegation in the complaint.”). “After establishing liability, the court must make an independent evaluation of the damages to be awarded and has ‘considerable latitude in determining the amount of damages.'” Ventura v. L.A. Howard Constr. Co., 134 F.Supp.3d 99, 103 (D.D.C. 2015) (quoting Boland, 763 F.Supp.2d at 67). The court must only “ensure[] that there [i]s a basis for the damages specified in the default judgment.” Id. (second alteration in original) (quoting Transatlantic Marine Claims Agency, Inc. v. Ace Shipping Corp., 109 F.3d 105, 111 (2d Cir. 1997)). “‘[T]he plaintiff must prove [her] entitlement to the amount of monetary damages requested' using ‘detailed affidavits or documentary evidence' on which the court may rely.” Boland v. Providence Constr. Corp., 304 F.R.D. 31, 36 (D.D.C. 2014) (quoting Fanning v. Permanent Sol. Indus., 257 F.R.D. 4, 7 (D.D.C. 2009)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Because the Clerk has already entered defaults against both Great Wraps and Bhatterai, the Court will proceed to step two of the default judgment analysis. The Court therefore “must determine whether entry of [a] default judgment is appropriate, and if it is, whether [Sanchez] is entitled to the full amount of relief she requests.” Ventura, 134 F.Supp.3d at 103. To make this determination, the Court will assess the defendants' liability for the alleged unpaid wages and overtime compensation, the proper amount of liquidated damages, and Sanchez's request for attorneys' fees and costs. In making these determinations, the Court will accept Sanchez's well-pleaded allegations as true. See id.

         A. Liability

         “[F]ederal and [District of Columbia] law provide employees with a cause of action for failure to [be] pa[id] overtime wages at a rate equal to time and a half for hours worked over forty hours a week.” Martinez v. China Boy, Inc., 229 F.Supp.3d 1, 3 (D.D.C. 2016); see also 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(2)(C) (2012); D.C. Code §§ 32-1003(c), -1012(a) (2012). From July 1, 2015, until July 1, 2016, employers[3] in the District of Columbia were required to pay their employees no less than $10.50 per hour. See D.C. Code § 32-1003. Here, Sanchez “has not produced timesheets and the defendant[s have] failed to respond, ” to Sanchez's Complaint; therefore, “the Court will accept [Sanchez's] declaration, submitted under the penalty of perjury, as to the hours she worked and wages she received, except to the extent that her declaration seeks relief beyond that sought in the [C]omplaint.” Martinez, 229 F.Supp.3d at 3.

         In her declaration, Sanchez represents the hours she worked and the fact that Great Wraps failed (1) to compensate her at least at the minimum wage of $10.50 from July 2015, to September 2015, and (2) to pay her for overtime from the end of 2012, to the end of her employment in September 2015. See generally Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Sanchez Decl.). Sanchez further contends in her declaration that based on the base pay she was entitled to receive, she is owed approximately $22, 627.70 in unpaid wages and overtime compensation. Id. ¶ 32. Based on these uncontested facts, Sanchez has established that the defendants are liable for unpaid wages and overtime pay under both federal and District of Columbia law.

         Despite this determination, “[w]hether the entry of a default judgment is appropriate is committed to the sound discretion of this Court.” Boland v. Yoccabel Const. Co., 293 F.R.D. 13, 17 (D.D.C. 2013) (Walton, J.) (citing Jackson, 636 F.2d at 836). For the Court to enter a default judgment, “the defendant must be considered a ‘totally unresponsive' party whose failure to ‘respond to the summons and complaint, the entry of a default, and the motion for a default judgment' demonstrates plainly willful behavior.” Id. (quoting Teamsters Local 639, 571 F.Supp.2d at 107). “The Court may enter default judgment when a defendant makes no request ‘to set aside the default' and gives no indication of a ‘meritorious defense.'” Ventura, 134 F.Supp.3d at 104 (quoting Int'l Painters & Allied Trades Indus. Pension Fund v. Auxier Drywall, LLC, 531 F.Supp.2d 56, 57 (D.D.C. 2008)). Given that both Great Wraps and Bhatterai have refused to engage in the adversary process by failing to respond to Sanchez's Complaint, have not petitioned for the Clerk to set aside the default, and have not presented any meritorious defense to Sanchez's motion, the Court finds the defendants liable and, therefore, the entry of a default judgment against them is appropriate. See id.

         B. ...

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