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Seo v. Suk Oh

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 26, 2019

KANG KYU SEO, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CHARLES MOON SUK OH, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          RANDOLPH D. MOSS United States District Judge

         Courts must, at times, balance the judicial interest in requiring timely compliance with discovery schedules and the judicial interest in deciding cases on the merits. This is such a case.

         Plaintiffs are four former employees of Charlie’s Corner, a liquor store located in Washington, D.C. Dkt. 1 at 1–2 (Compl.). They allege that the store is owned by Defendants Charles Moon Suk Oh and Wade Road Inc. and that Defendants willfully failed to pay them minimum wages and overtime wages in violation of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. (“FLSA”), and the District of Columbia Wage Payment and Collection Law (“DCWPCL”), D.C. Code § 32-1301 et seq. Id. at 1–2 (Compl.). On September 10, 2018, Plaintiffs’ counsel served requests for admission, interrogatories, and document requests on Defendants. See Dkt. 12 at 2 (Pls.’ Mot. Summ. J.). By the time discovery closed on December 28, 2018, however, Defendants had not responded to any of these requests. Dkt. 12-1 (Pls.’ Discovery Request). So, five days later, Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment, relying principally on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 36(a)(3), which deemed each of their requests for admission “admitted” because Defendants failed to timely answer or object. Dkt. 12 (Pls.’ Mot. for Summ. J.). In response, Defendants have sought leave under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 36(b) to withdraw or amend their (non)responses, Dkt. 14, and, on the assumption that Court will grant that relief, have opposed Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, Dkt. 13.

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant Defendants’ motion for leave to withdraw or amend their (non)responses; will direct that Defendants fully respond to all outstanding discovery requests within 21 days of this order; will award Plaintiffs reasonable attorneys’ fees for the cost of preparing their motion for summary judgment; and will deny Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Pleadings

         On April 5, 2018, Plaintiffs filed this FLSA and DCWPCL action against Defendants, Charles Moon Suk Oh (“Oh”) and Wade Road, Inc (“WRI”), a corporation organized under District of Columbia law.[1] Dkt. 1 (Compl. 1–2). Oh is the owner of WRI; WRI, in turn, owns and operates Charlie’s Corner, a liquor store located in Washington, D.C. Dkt. 5 at 1–2 (Answer ¶¶ 3, 11). Plaintiffs Keong Kyu Seo, Danita Evette Chase, Michelle Johnson, and Tamora Agnew are all former employees of Charlie’s Corner. Dkt. 1 at (Compl. ¶ 5). They allege that Seo worked as a a cashier, although Defendants dispute this fact and allege that Seo was actually the store manager; Plaintiffs and Defendants, however, agree that Seo was paid a monthly salary. See Dkt. 1 at 4 (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 18); Dkt. 5 at 8 (Answer ¶¶ 90, 92). Plaintiffs also allege that Chase, Johnson, and Agnew were each employed at Charlie’s Corner as cashiers earning $11 an hour; that Charlie’s Corner paid them for only about 20 or 30 hours each week, even though they worked longer hours; and that they were compensated for hours in excess of 20 or 30 hours a week only “occasionally.” See Dkt. 1 at 5–8 (Compl. ¶¶ 28–46). They further allege that to the extent they were paid for those additional hours, the compensation came in the form of cash or store credits. See Id . at 5–8 (Compl. ¶¶ 28–46).

         In their answer, Defendants allege that each Plaintiff was “paid at least the minimum wage and any overtime wages.” Dkt. 5 at 8 (Answer ¶ 89). They also allege that Oh is not a party to the employment contracts at issue and that, even if Plaintiffs are owed additional compensation under the FLSA, Defendants “acted in good faith.” Id. at 10 (Answer ¶¶ 107, 110). Defendants also assert counterclaims for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and unjust enrichment against Seo. Dkt. 5 at 10–13 (Answer ¶¶ 111–37). According to Defendants’ counterclaims, Seo served as the manager of Charlie’s Corner; in that position, he was required to keep timesheets for all the store’s employees, including for Agnew, Chase, and Johnson; and that he was entrusted to take his and the employees’ salaries from the store’s gross receipts. Id. at 8–9 (Answer ¶¶ 90, 102). The counterclaim further alleges that Seo embezzled approximately $12, 000 from the store. Id. at 9 (Answer ¶¶ 98–99).

         B. Subsequent Procedural History

         After Defendants answered the complaint, the Court entered an initial scheduling order requiring, among other things, that the parties serve their initial disclosures on or before August 14, 2018 and ordered that “[f]act discovery shall close on December 28, 2018.” See Dkt. 10. Although only required to serve their initial disclosures on opposing counsel, Defendants filed them with the Court on August 15, 2018. Dkt. 11 (Defs.’ Initial Disclosure). On September 10, 2018, Plaintiffs served a fourteen-page discovery request on Defendants, which included requests for admission, interrogatories, and requests for documents. See Dkt. 12 at 2 (Pls.’ Mot. Summ. J.); Dkt. 14 at 2 (Defs.’ Rule 36 Mot.); Dkt. 14-1 (Copy of Pls.’ Discovery Request). Of particular relevance to the pending motions, the requests for admission (“RFA”) asked Defendants to admit or deny eighteen assertions, including the following:

2. Each defendant at all times relevant here was an “employer” as that term is defined by 29 U.S.C. §203(d).
4. Each defendant improperly failed to compensate each plaintiff for all time he or she was at work discharging his or her work-related duties.
5. Each defendant failed to properly administer a plan under which each plaintiff was to be compensated for excess hours worked, in the form of comp time or overtime payments, for hours worked in excess of the statutory maximum.
6. Each defendant failed to compensate each plaintiff for the hours actually worked ...

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